Under Rip Rapson's watch, the Kresge Foundation in Troy, Michigan, has invested more than $100 million in urban-renewal projects in nearby Detroit. Recently, however, Rapson, the foundation's president and CEO, has encountered pushback from Detroit mayor Dave Bing and City Hall officials over the direction and leadership of those efforts, the Wall Street Journal reports.
In the five years since Rapson joined Kresge, the foundation has been an important catalyst in the construction of a riverfront promenade and new greenways in the city. But the next steps for Kresge's support of Detroit Works — the mayor's signature campaign to consolidate the city's population into healthy neighborhoods and re-purpose vacant land — remain unclear in the wake of disagreements with City Hall over its use of outside consultants. Indeed, the foundation's $35 million commitment to the "M1" light-rail line figures prominently as the private partnership investing in the rail project works through areas of disagreement with the city.
Since the 1950s, Detroit has lost more than a million people — with the city's population shrinking more than 25 percent in the past decade alone — leaving large pockets of vacant land and a small tax base relative to the city's size. While administration officials argue that mapping out the Detroit's future is a job for local leaders, Rapson has pushed city officials to seek leadership from people who have more experience with urban-renewal projects, even if it means they aren't from Detroit.
But in a city long suspicious of outsiders, the relationship between the administration and private funders is vital to the success of those efforts. For his part, Rapson believes foundations will continue to play an important role in the city's transformation, noting at a recent gathering of urban planners in Detroit that "Philanthropy has emerged as the sector best able to provide the long-term vision and shorter-term investment of capital the city needs to right itself."