Business, Development, New Economy

A stranger in a strange land or … A realization about how newcomers view our city

I brought a newcomer to Detroit, and here was her reaction: “Wow. I’m shocked. This is nothing like I imagined. … I could live here.”

Trust me, Dear Readers, I told her everything. I told this friend of mine from Atlanta all about our sinking schools, our governmental meltdown, our seemingly endless divides. She saw the graffiti, walked past the empty buildings, saw the strange parallel of new construction next to devastation. There was no sugar-coated fantasy.

Yet this lovely Wednesday afternoon also had streets full of people, thanks to a Tigers game at Comerica Park. There were bodies everywhere: eating, smiling, waving, visiting. The garden next door to American Coney and Lafayette Coney islands was buzzing from more than just honey bees. You couldn’t create a better setting to show someone Detroit for the first time.

This wasn’t the Detroit she had read about. This wasn’t the Detroit she had seen on television. In fact, this was such a shock to her that she asked to be dropped off back to her hotel (Greektown – perfect location for a newcomer) so she could take stock of what she had just experienced. In less than two hours together, I had blown her mind. She had to take in everything – and we only got through a third of the itinerary I had planned.

This is what Detroit is. It’s not what you expect – it is more. It is glorious. It is growing. It is spectacular.

She wanted to hear about the new Detroit. So I showed her all the things and new buildings that I had forgotten were even there until we saw them in context. There was the mighty Penobscot, the wondrous Fisher, the magnificent Guardian. But there also was the Taubman Center at the College of Creative Studies – what a stunner. There were the new hotels, the spectacular restaurants like Roast. You forget when you’re here that things are getting better.

That’s the emphasis I wanted to make here – things are getting better. And what’s more important…people need to know about it.

The only sad part of my story for my friend was it took two weeks of research on her part to find out anything “good” about Detroit. She couldn’t find anyone to say anything good about it. Even people who were still living in Metro Detroit were flummoxed to find somewhere she should visit while in town for three days. Really? It took me second to post a request on Facebook for places to show her – my phone could have run out of batteries with how many times it chimed to tell me that someone else thought of a cool place to visit or a “must-see location.”

Sara Janes Boyers

Trust me, she tried. She said she called the Mayor’s office. She called the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. She called Pure Michigan. No one called her back. She had to hire a researcher to track down someone who cared about the city.

She also knew me. And, now, her mind is open to what the city could be.

It’s a pretty spectacular thing when you can introduce someone to your city and show them all the good things that are here. Again, I told her about the deficit, that the schools are awful in large part, that there is crime and there is poverty. She saw that.

But she also saw what it could be and what it really is. And that’s Detroit. Let’s not forget about that. Let’s congratulate ourselves on having Dan Gilberts to champion Big Business and the Emily Linns to ignite Small Business. It’s all here – they’re working together. This is gonna happen. We’re not blind…just sometimes the good stuff is hard to see unless you look for it.

2 comments on “A stranger in a strange land or … A realization about how newcomers view our city

  1. Karen, I'm not the least bit surprised that she struggled to glean info from the mayor's office, DEGC, etc. it's because she didn't "know" someone on the inside, and it's that endemic nature that permeates many of Detroit's institutions — even those that are front-and-center in the city's revitalization.

    Trust me, I know. It's infuriating. I want to stay in Detroit, but I'm being courted by firms in Chicago, San Francisco, and New York — not one of my phone calls has been returned here in the D. Until this city is run by those that judge on merit an capability rather than social prowess, Detroit will struggle.

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