Skip to content

New book edition traces 30 years of Kresge’s work in Detroit

Centennial, Detroit

A tale of unlikely partnerships, unique collaborations, varied financial tools … and bold bets

Nearly a decade ago, The Kresge Foundation contracted with two veteran journalists to write a series of case studies documenting the role of philanthropy in Detroit, from the 2008 financial crisis through the city’s emergence from bankruptcy in 2013.

The thought was that Tony Proscio (a former associate editor of the Miami Herald, noted urban affairs commentator and consultant to nonprofits and foundations) and Myron Farber (a former New York Times investigative reporter and contributor to Vanity Fair and Smithsonian Magazine) would produce perhaps 60 pages on M-1 Rail, the Detroit Future City Project Plan and other Kresge efforts.

In researching those case studies, Proscio says the focus was on how “Kresge’s resources meshed with the talents, energy, and investments of other Detroiters in government, philanthropy, and community organizations large and small.” Proscio and Farber found that “each case study pointed us to other examples of creative networking, cases that were just as important, just as interesting. Every path we followed led to a new path.”

Proscio continued:

“Soon, it became clear that this was not a collection of separate, intriguing stories so much as one big story that was really extraordinary — something outstanding in the history of urban philanthropy,” he said. “We ended up seeing a foundation that wasn’t merely investing in a city, supporting an initiative here and there, or backing an assortment of causes or interesting developments. Instead, we saw a story about embracing a city —  whole, complex, rich and full of possibilities — arm in arm with all the other people and institutions that give the city life. Ultimately, that’s the story we hope we managed to tell.”

The effort that began in 2015 is now taking a final form with the release of Embracing a City: The Kresge Foundation in Detroit 1993-2023 (Momentum Books). An earlier version covered 1993 to 2017 and a range of Kresge endeavors in the city, from M-1 Rail to arts and culture to work in neighborhoods.

For this new edition, Proscio added a chapter on the evolution of the Marygrove educational campus. Meanwhile, longtime Detroit journalist John Gallagher updated the original chapters to turn Embracing a City into a 30-year panorama of the intertwined histories of Detroit and the foundation.

Kresge has invested in its hometown since its earliest grants in the 1920s. But 1993 is the starting point for the book’s main narrative, as that year marked the quiet launch of the Detroit Initiative. This initiative still adhered to the foundation’s principles of funding capital projects with matching funds but with a new focus on building organizational endowments. That cautious beginning paved the way for the more dynamic, strategic approaches that came to dominate in the 2000s — following the arrival of President and CEO Rip Rapson in 2006 — including unlikely partnerships, unique collaborations and the use of varied financial tools to catalyze a sustainable and equitable recovery for Detroit and its residents.

And with a three-decade sweep, the book now complements the roster of history-minded events and undertakings marking The Kresge Foundation’s centennial.

For the new edition, Gallagher notes the central role that the COVID-19 pandemic played in the book’s fate. The 2020 pandemic scuttled launch activities that otherwise would have promoted the earlier edition’s release. As a result, Gallagher writes in the preface that the book “never drew the audience we think it deserves.”

However, he continues, there are other reasons for updating the history rather than simply republishing and promoting it.

“As it turns out,” Gallagher said, “2018-2023 saw Kresge up its game in remarkable ways. During these recent years, there was an ever-intensifying focus on Detroit’s neighborhoods and a new explicitly stated commitment to racial equity after the 2020 murder of George Floyd. Projects like the Kresge-backed QLINE transit system survived the pandemic shutdown, and the foundation led a remarkably creative transformation of the former Marygrove College in Detroit. Numerous nonprofit neighborhood groups drew new levels of support from Kresge, and the foundation scrambled to find innovative ways of making a difference in a distressed environment.”

Over the next several weeks, follow for excerpts from each chapter of Embracing a City, covering Kresge’s bold bets on the future of Detroit: the development of a shared community vision through efforts such as the Detroit Future City Project Plan, the work of reviving the Woodward corridor and city neighborhoods, the creation of the QLine streetcar, the elevation of arts and culture, the reinvigoration of the Marygrove campus. The book concludes with a look at the road ahead for the city and Kresge’s role.

The ultimate goal isn’t simply to establish Kresge’s recent history in Detroit. As Gallagher writes, the intent is to “serve as a guide to other philanthropic endeavors in Detroit and elsewhere as America faces up to the challenges in its cities.”

Download the first chapter of the book here. You can also order the book from Momentum Books and other booksellers.