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Opinion: Detroit Policy Conference was a gang of do-gooders, optimists and shameless accelerators

Stage at Detroit Policy Conference
Editor’s note: This piece is written “tongue-in-cheek.” The quotes are real (she attended the Detroit Policy Conference), but this post should be viewed as tongue-in-cheek satire in regard to the naysayer attitude about Detroit.

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.

StageThey 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.

karen bThen 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.

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5 comments on “Opinion: Detroit Policy Conference was a gang of do-gooders, optimists and shameless accelerators

  1. Now that is a piece of fine writing. Go Dybis! You tell those people that there's no such thing as a a free slice of optimism!

  2. Your sarcasm borders on actual disdain. Are there great things happening in some areas and business sectors in Detroit? Yes there are. Is the entire city seeing a resurgence? Not a bit. If this is a

    It's hard to know which is parody/satire and which is not. Richard Florida's comment about Detroit's turnaround over the last decade – did he really say that and were you seeking to be ironic by posting that on the day sinks deeper into it's financial sinkhole?

  3. I agree that these people should stop tooting the Detroit horn its getting really obnoxious. Detroit is still in the Dark Ages, and is far from being turned around. Until 90 to 100% of the city can read, crime goes down and there is more than 1 mill people living within city limits; then we are still in a world of shit. I mean look at the half mile between downtown and midtown there's nothing. Not to mention downtown is still far from being a "real" downtown/business district. Go down their during the middle of the day and there's hardly anyone about, walking around, shopping or doing anything. If it was any other major city people would be everywhere. The hubris of these people is ridiculous, they are only going to hurt themselves with it, exercise some humility will ya. The city is DEAD! We are far from the light, and its not that I don't want their business but stop with the whole Detroit is back thing. We are not, get in touch with reality.

    PS. I do live in the city and enjoy it very much so. But their are major problems that people need to see.

  4. um no Detroit is far from dead. Really? where exactly do you live? at least these people are doing SOMETHING besides sitting on their asses complaining on the internet. MI people= complainers not doers

  5. Detroit is a unique city……industry left thanks to "free trade"and it has no mass transit system… lost almost all of its taxpayers to the suburbs….which are now in dire straits and don't forget it history of racial problems

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