An Interview With Toni Griffin

by Nico Chiodi

“I was trained as an architect,” Ms. Toni Griffin says as soon as she’s
settled herself down for an interview. She was influenced at a young age
by the TV show the Brady Bunch (Mr. Brady was an architect) and a high
school drafting class. The teacher of her drafting class thought she
showed talent and entered her into several competitions, which she won.
She goes on to explain how one of her counselors found a program at
Notre Dame where high-schoolers could live on campus for a three-week
architecture program. “After that,” she says, “I got hooked.”
“I do
what I do in part by influences of when I was young and in high school,”
Ms. Griffin says as she concludes her answer about why she chose
urbanism as a career path. “The other reason is because I grew up in
Chicago and I really noticed the differences in the parts of the city. I
think from there, I didn’t just want to do buildings, but I wanted to
look at the issues in neighborhoods and the city overall and the issues
of how certain areas were one way and other areas were another.”
Toni Griffin’s mission at the moment is Detroit, which filed for
bankruptcy earlier in 2013, and already she is working to make the city
better. According to her website,,
“Detroit is poised to reposition itself as Michigan’s leading urban
center once again, if there is a coordinated regional urban agenda that
enables more mutually beneficial relationships with the region, state,
and nation.” 

“I’ve been working on a project called ‘Detroit Future City,’” she says. There is a website which outlines their whole plan.
of the coolest things her group has done, she thinks, is involving
youth by creating an online game that they could play. For about four to
six weeks, they posed real life problems once a week for the teens to
solve. Afterwards, the Detroit Future City group would look at the
answers. “They came up with really cool ideas,” she finishes.
 In thinking about her hopes for Detroit in particular and urbanism in general, Ms. Griffin says,
cities like this people leave.” Explaining that when people have the
opportunity, they leave their cities. They leave because they don’t
think that the city offers everything they want or it’s not safe enough
for them. Her hope is that the ten year old of today, when he is twenty,
will get a college education he chooses and then come back to the city
where he grew up because he thinks it has all he wants and needs from
it. Her worry is that that is not happening today because of expense or
safety and that kids and families are moving out to the suburbs instead
of the city.
“I hope, in the very short period of time we have with so many really
smart people,” she says in response to a question about her hopes for
the Remaking Cities Congress, “that some new ideas come forward that we
haven’t heard about before. What’s nice about this conference is that
there are people here from Europe as well as the U.S. I oftentimes find
that other countries (and cities) that have different national
government structures are able to see things in different ways that we
can’t. It’ll be interesting to see if some of those ideas can come over
here and be our new ideas, just in the same way that they look at us and
see if there are things that we’re doing that they’re not. New ideas
are what I want to see come out of this.”
Ms. Griffin has spent her life working on urbanism and equality and is
an inspiring figure. Every day she is changing lives and trying to help
people. Not just trying but actually making a difference. I feel truly
lucky to have had this opportunity to interview her.


  • Ananya Cleetus

    I really like how much detail and effort you put into this article. You gave the reader a clear picture of Ms. Griffin and covered so many aspects within one piece. You’re a great writer; keep up the good work, Nico! I look forward to reading more pieces by you.

    21 Oct
  • lisa schamess

    I am a writer who has worked with Ms. Griffin. You really did an excellent interview! You captured the spirit and energy of her intellect, and communicated her work to a younger audience–as well as an older one! I have worked with Ms. Griffin and I learned a lot from your in-depth questions and approach to this story. Well done!

    31 Oct
    • Nico Chiodi

      Thank you so much for your nice comment, Ms. Schamess. I was very excited to get it and it means a lot to me that you took the time to read my story and comment on it. Thank you.

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