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Detroit’s path to development using the PASH (Power, Agency, Scale and History)

Detroit has gone through many stages of development and change since it was established in 1701. In the study of international development, there are many approaches you can take to understand and explain development paths. The PASH framework that focuses on power and agency, scale, and history, provides a specific framework to understand the depth and nature of the changes and development that has taken place. Other approaches such as looking at the geography, politics or economy are also significant, as are development theories such as neo-liberalism, structuralism or people-centred approaches. However, PASH looks at characteristics of development which allows for a more in-depth explanation.

Chambers defined development, at its most basic and abstract, as ‘good change’. Therefore, it’s important to understand the impacts of change to be able to class it as development or not. Development can be tricky in this regard because it does not impact everyone in the same way. Power and agency are part of the PASH framework and aid those studying development to understand the impacts it has had. The two aspects are intricately linked but can be differentiated in the sense that power is linked to development and positive freedom, the power to do and achieve things. Whereas agency is linked to security and negative freedom, the freedom from issues and fears such as hunger (Berlin). Detroit’s development and expansion during the boom of the auto industry and the wartime efforts, provided employment and therefore agency and power to citizens by way of a salary and housing. However, due to the dominance of the auto industry there were few other jobs for the unemployed and little culture other than capitalism. This reduced the power and the positive freedom of the people to achieve their own goals. With the decline of the auto industry as a result of international competition and the oil crisis, unemployment decimated the city and removed a lot of power from its residents, especially those who did not have the agency to move. Since then though, Detroit is beginning to develop again, this time with a much more localised, community effort and this has led to citizens reclaiming ‘power with’, where they establish power through combined efforts. New projects such as Urban Farming and Flip the Script are changing the status of the city and giving agency back to the people. However, to understand the impact of this development it’s important to look at other factors such as scale.

Scale, another aspect of the framework, focuses on the scope and size of development. At some points along Detroit’s path of development, the scale of development was incredibly large. It became the fourth largest city in the country and was home to the first freeway which connected it nationally. The technology developed there changed technology and industrialisation internationally. In other senses, a lack of development at a larger scale than the city, held it back; such as how the racial division that existed in the South and much of America, flourished once again in Detroit. Even as it developed technologically, it could be argued it did not develop socially. Currently, in Detroit, there are community projects that are rejuvenating and developing the city once more, but viewed through the scope of this framework these projects are small and possibly not enough to really root out inequality and discrimination, and intervention for those issues require development on a much larger scale. History is also a significant part of the PASH framework because without understanding the past, it is impossible to notice the change that has occurred. Detroit as a case study shows that development is not a linear process, it is not the same for every person and it has to be understood within its context. Detroit’s key development factor was the establishment of the first auto assembly in the city in 1913 and for a while it developed rapidly as a result of that event, becoming the 4th largest city in the USA by 1940, but filing for bankruptcy in 2013. This shows that development will not always lead to further development. It’s important to link the different aspects of the framework to understand development, for example, if you include power and agency with history, it is clear that at some points development for some is positive because it provides them with positive freedom such as how building suburbs provided new housing for white communities. But the same event removed power and agency from black communities as it increased racial segregation and left the black communities in poorer, less developed housing. Development has to be understood in how it affects all people rather than which economic model it took, which is where neo-liberal or structuralist approaches fall down.

Through the lens of neo-liberal, structuralist or interventionist approaches, current changes in Detroit could be seen as de-industrialisation or a lack of development because it does not follow their plans or fit the scale of these development models. Therefore, it is important to use frameworks like PASH to understand aspects that theories don’t recognise. However, there are less-recognised theories such as the people-centred approach that would fit Detroit’s current model of development, the main issue is whether it can be scaled up. People-centred projects like Urban Farming which was established in Detroit, have been successful on an international scale though, with the project now operating in over 30 countries. The combination of the PASH framework and development theories helps to gain a deeper understanding and although the PASH framework is useful to understand it, combining it with other approaches will always provide a deeper explanation, even if the alternative approaches are not enough by themselves.

When explaining development paths, the PASH framework is very useful because instead of looking at development through a specific viewpoint it looks at the different aspects of it, possibly with less bias. However, as with any study, it is important to use various different approaches to gain a wider and more in-depth understanding. The PASH framework explains a lot of Detroit’s development path, but a deeper understanding will always be achievable through using a multitude of approaches.