POST SCRIPT: Hey, Reader: This is Karen Dybis, the author. My sincere apologies to anyone who read this and thought I was mocking the Detroit Policy Conference, the Detroit Regional Chamber or any one mentioned in this piece. I was attempting humor, and I am sorry if I failed in my mission. I genuinely enjoyed the event, the people and the ideas there. Please do not read this blog post as a true view of how The Detroit Regional News Hub approaches its work here in the city. Rather, consider it an experiment that clearly didn’t succeed. Maybe I was channeling my inner Colbert. Sincerely, KD
I’ll be blunt here – there are some really pushy people involved with this whole “Let’s turn around Detroit” thing. In fact, I’m gonna be bold and just call them obnoxious.
They think if they just will this thing into working – and throw millions of dollars and community groups and foundations and business leaders – behind it, they’ll create real, substantial, sustained change. Really, the drum beat of optimism is bordering on outrageous.
In fact, they all got together Thursday for something called the Detroit Policy Conference. Somehow, they talked the Detroit Regional Chamber into organizing it. Whoever got duped into this one is probably feeling pretty embarrassed right about now. ‘Cause hundreds of people showed up and many of them talked about their experiences on Twitter and Facebook. Wow. Talk about egg on your face.
Let’s start with Matt Cullen. This guy is CEO of Rock Ventures and head of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, so I’ll give him all due respect. But I’ve noticed he won’t take “no” for an answer. And he’s really brash when someone tells him Detroit has few prospects. He even thinks his buddy, some guy named Dan Gilbert, is going to back up all of his pronouncements and announcements. Good luck with that, Big Guy.
Anyway, Cullen is all Detroit has “tremendous opportunity.” Then he called it “an exciting city with a vibrant future.” I mean, who is he trying to convince here? He even showed a bunch of pictures of community gardens, the RiverWalk and Rosa Parks Transit Station, as if these shiny, pretty places were enough to convince people that Detroit has potential. Look, you might have Kid Rock slinging your hash in a big commercial, but we all know he’s just a guy from Romeo.
Then he blah-blah-blahs about 100 percent occupancy in Rock Venture’s buildings. And he talks about a new, free waterpark at Mt. Elliott Park. And he droned on and on about those hipsters will have 25 miles of connected greenways between Wayne State University and the water. And then Cullen goes on about retail, new buildings and other foundational work that will alter Detroit’s downtown. He even wants architects from around the world to design an “iconic” building to go in where the old Hudson’s used to be. Does he really believe Capitol Park will be full of residential development? Is he delusional when he says there will be a gorgeous outdoor promenade down Woodward Avenue? And he’s just nuts if he really thinks you can redesign Hart Plaza and make it even better.
“I think we can. I think we will,” he brags. “We all believe this is our time. A vibrant downtown is essential to the success of our region and we need to start acting that way. … We have to take it on.”
Whatevs, Cullen. Sheesh.
Then some doctor dude, Richard Florida, gets up on stage. This guy. This guy is out there. He called Detroit’s turnaround over the past decade “incredible.” And he added that as an urbanist he finds the city’s opportunities “enriching.” I think he might be drinking whatever Cullen is drinking, and I’d like to have some of that stuff. Wait, maybe not.
Now, Florida is obviously blinded by love for the state because he told the audience he met his wife here, and her family is still based in Michigan. And he talked all about how he’s impressed with Cullen, Gilbert and these other loony-tunes. He actually seemed to think that if you repair Detroit’s relationship with the suburbs and then get the region and the universities involved (Wayne State, University of Michigan and Michigan State University), then this city would be on a path to greatness. As if our core was awesome and even better than Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Minneapolis. Duh. As if.
Somehow, Florida signed onto the radical memo supporting the “Work, Play, Live” thingie that Detroit has been touting for a while now. He somehow thinks that if you get a good mix of residents (hipsters, seniors, stroller pushers and more) as well as retail and entrepreneurs that Detroit could be a great environment. That if you give people a sense of place, if you give them an “open-minded community that accepts and absorbs them,” if you let them become engaged with the city and recruit others, then Detroit could thrive. Nuts to that. Florida, what’s gotten into you?
And one more thing. I hate to disagree with Mayor Dave Bing, but he’s a little touched in the head as well. He told the Detroit Policy Conference attendees Thursday that people need to show up at meetings and show their support for Detroit. That’s just trouble. He just encouraged them to act silly and put themselves out there in favor of supporting Detroit, even if they aren’t living there. What the?! That’s just crazy talk.
Finally, to all of those panelists like Toby Barlow (Team Detroit), Linda McIntosh (Somerset Collection) Rachel Lutz (Peacock Room & Emerald), Karen Buscemi (Detroit Garment District), Olga Stella (Detroit Economic Growth Corp.) and the like, you all need to stop the madness. Stop creating events, like October’s FashionSpeak conference at the M@dison. Stop creating downtown retail and giving money to Detroit charities, like the Somerset Collection. Stop making people feel happy about how much fun they’re having at events like Noel Night, DLECTRICITY and Marche de la Nain Rouge. It’s all poppycock, and you know it.
There. I feel much better. Thanks for letting me get that out. Detroit. What a bunch of punks. It’s about time they got their due.