There is a universal truth to parenthood: You want your child to have a life a little better than the one you’ve lived.
This week, something happened. Something on top of all the many, many other blips of good fortune we’ve been enjoying lately. More than $8 million in private investments that directly benefit the city were unveiled in the past five days. On Monday, a group of business leaders announced the city will receive the use of 23 new ambulances and 100 new police cars to boost public safety not only in the core downtown but within the neighborhoods. Improve the city’s reputation for safe streets? Check. (Or, at least, a strong start.)
On Thursday, the Rock Ventures along with the Downtown Detroit Partnership and Detroit Economic Growth Corporation announced a placemaking plan. Using Woodward Avenue as the unifying element, this plan will unite retail with six distinct destinations (read: green spaces or parks or what have you) that will connect the things that make downtown great. It will link people with the waterfront, with fresh food and fashion and with one another. Moosejaw is staying. Papa Joe’s is coming. Shopping and a walkable urban environment? Check.
The connections are coming fast and furious. People are defending the city, expressing pride in Detroit and uniting to call this place their home. There are amazing new events, like Nerd Night Detroit, that are selling out tickets on their first go-around because people want to be together. Bumping shoulders with your neighbor has never been easier or more enjoyable. Educating yourself about Detroit, its history and its future has meaning and purpose.
The unifying theme for me is that we are doing exactly what Colin McConnell and Michael Haas had hoped we’d do when they launched their T-shirt company last year. We are respecting Detroit. (Hey, if you don’t have the millions of dollars that Rock Ventures, Penske Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the other usual suspects have, you’ve got to give the city something. And respect sure would be a good start.)
Yes, I’m going to take a T-shirt slogan and stretch it as far as I can. That’s because I truly believe McConnell and Haas tapped somehow into the collective consciousness of this city revival. Not only is their company aptly named – Detroit Respect – but its newest design pretty much should be the slogan of this unbelievable, seismic shift in the city.
Their latest T-shirt offers a local take on a popular phrase – their version reads, “Believe There is Good in Detroit.” Take a second look, and the two-toned colors straight out of a Wham music video (think “Wake Me Up” era) reveal the secondary message: “Be The Good.”
Put up or shut up. Create the change. Believe in Detroit – but do something to affect the city in the present tense. That’s what Dan Gilbert and Matt Cullen told the crowd on Thursday – that change was going to come within weeks and months…not years. That old-fashioned schooner of hoping for change in this city has sailed. If you aren’t making art, writing poetry, opening a storefront, building a business, feeding the masses, housing the cold, etc. etc. … Then you aren’t helping Detroit. You’re a hindrance. And nothing gets better.
McConnell and Haas are smart businesspeople. They saw how people wore Detroit T-shirts and jerseys no matter where they lived or how the teams were playing. But they also noticed how people created and wore shirts that made the city look ridiculous. You know the ones…”Detroit: Where the Weak are Killed and Eaten.” Or the picture of a man holding a gun saying, “Come Back to Detroit. We Missed You.”
So as the duo tried to come up with a company name to their T-shirt company (a subset of Haas’ printing shop in Rochester) they kept coming back to two words: Detroit (natch) and Respect.
“We wanted that energy, that positivity,” McConnell said. “Detroit used to be the kind of place where you didn’t have to look as you drove for people crossing the street. Now, you actually have to yield for pedestrians.”
Sounds strange, doesn’t it? A city where having people walking about was so unusual? Now, here we stand, just a few benches, sand boxes and WiFi hotspots away from a walkable, pedestrian-friendly Detroit. I’m incredibly charged up…and so is Detroit Respect.
“We call my nephew our marketing director. You’ll see Bradyn on our Facebook page all the time. We’re just excited that we can take him downtown almost every weekend because there’s something to do,” McConnell said. “He’ll have these amazing memories of Detroit with his uncles, aunts, mom and dad. … We want him to take pride in the city and show the love.”
Yes, we hope for better things for our kids and our city. We have a good team in place – Mayor Dave Bing, an Emergency Manager (the sublime Kevyn Orr), mega business superstars and an engaged community of people who care. The ball is rolling. Now we’ve all got to keep it going.