News, People

Detroit: Leading the way to a new American dream?

Bud Liebler At The Whitney In Detroit

Has there ever been a city with more incongruities than Detroit?

Mayor Kilpatrick is a young dynamo who’s rebuilding the city.  Wrong.  He’s a thief who’s destroying it with his backroom, under-the-table antics, so he’s going to prison.

The City Council has signed a Consent Agreement with the State.  Wrong.  They’ve changed their minds and don’t consent on anything.

The Council hates the idea of an Emergency Financial Manager (EFM).   On second thought, they’ll cooperate with him.  Oops, on third thought they won’t.  They’re bringing in Jesse Jackson to fight the whole idea.

Bud Liebler

Bud Liebler

The Lions are Super Bowl bound…

Detroit is anything but boring…or predictable.

In comes the Emergency Financial Manager.  And with him comes more talk of the “B” word, bankruptcy.  Not only bankruptcy, but THE BIGGEST CIVIC BANKRUPTCY IN HISTORY!!!!  The City Council continues to fight the idea, the Mayor goes along with it, the residents say it’s unconstitutional, the business community, which is booming,  says, ‘Bring him on!  Let’s get it done.”

So here we sit in downtown Gilbertville waiting for the sky to fall, or for the Phoenix to rise, the axe to cut or the buds to blossom.  Which will it be?  Who has the crystal ball?

Well, I’ve been accused of being too optimistic more times than I can count but when you live and work in a place like we do (and own a large, upscale landmark restaurant like I do) optimism is often a necessary tool.  After all, what are the choices?  Throw up your hands and give up?

That’s not what Governor Snyder is doing.  Or Mayor Bing.  Or Kevin Orr, the new EFM.   It’s not what Dan Gilbert and his team at Quicken Loans are doing or what all the businesses investing in the city or moving into the city, or the individuals taking jobs in the city (135,402 people now work in the Greater Downtown area), or moving into the city (97 percent of available rental units are occupied) are doing.

Today there are 36,550 people living in the 7.2 sq. miles that make up “Greater Downtown Detroit.”  That’s 5,076 people per square mile.  Cleveland and Pittsburgh combined cover 4.5 square miles and house 13,577 people, about 3,017 per square mile.  Even if there’s still not as much going on as we might like, there’s still lots of life in Detroit. Lots of voices.  Lots of opinions.

Detroit 7.2 map

Map of Greater Downtown Detroit

In its recently released “7.2 Square Miles” report that dives into the city’s demographic data, the Hudson-Webber Foundation refers to downtowns in general  as being “owned by everyone” and points out that downtown Detroit is home to “high-rise and low-rise living, our richest cultural assets (72 of them), the center of Detroit’s business world, the region’s sports and entertainment hub (with 13,000 seats – and growing –the second largest entertainment district in America), some of the city’s most storied neighborhoods, and some of Southeast Michigan’s leading educational and medical institutions.”

Yet people in the region still often ask, ‘Who needs Detroit?’ or ‘Why do we need Detroit?’  Richard Florida, often called “the world’s leading urbanist,” spoke at the Chamber of Commerce Opportunity Detroit conference a month ago and asked (and answered) the same question, ‘Who needs Detroit?’

“Things that human beings need are done in cities,” Florida said.  “They are the single most important economic and social organizer of society.  Economic growth comes from cities.  Knowledge, creativity, talent, diversity all come together in cities.  Cities are where ideas come to interact and mate and where we stimulate each other with our own creativity.  It’s where we use our innate human capability to reach for a whole new emerging kind of American dream,” he said, “and diversity of people and of ideas coming together, is key. That happens in cities.”

Having married a woman from Birmingham, Florida follows Detroit closely.  He’s followed what’s happened here over the past few decades and is a fan of the city.  He likes what he sees happening here.  “If you had asked me ten years ago if all that’s come together in Detroit could happen in this period of time,” he said, “I’d have said no.”

Florida is an optimist about our city’s future.  Incongruities and EFM’s aside, so am I.  Detroit can be a fabulous 7.2 square miles if we’ll let it be, if we all pitch in and give it a chance.  Downtown, Midtown, New Center, Corktown and the Eastern Market are all on the move.  Wayne State and the DMC are building.  The riverfront is expanding.  Developers are fighting over new opportunities.  The Creative Corridor is blossoming.  Our cultural institutions are fighting back and winning.  People are pulling together and rooting for the city.  There is hope.

Detroit is the unquestioned birthplace of the old suburban American dream – a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.  Now the city is on the precipice of helping to launch that “new emerging kind of American dream” Florida referenced, the one that’s transforming suburbs and making  urban cores once again what they were always  intended to be, the heart of creativity, excitement, culture, entertainment, work and life.  Getting on with it is our only real choice and it’s getting to be a truly realistic and exciting possibility of what Detroit’s future really will be.

About the Author

8 comments on “Detroit: Leading the way to a new American dream?

  1. What about the people that live outside the 7.2 square miles? I understand the focus on a smaller scale of the city is more managable, but seriously. Are we just going to pretend like the rest of the city is negligible? If we don't want riots in that 7.2 square miles 10-20 years from now we definitely have to think about integrating the burgeoning population with the preexisting population, otherwise we repeat the same social cycle the city has been caught in over the last several decades. Just food for thought.

  2. Detroit definitely poses a complex problem. Bankruptcy isn't the end of the world. In fact, it's a method by which an entity can get finances back under control. You avoid it if possible because it hurts credit, but sometimes you have to step back and assess just what it is your city is capable of right now.

    No effort will get very far without the people at large. Balancing assistance for those who really need it with the message that it's ultimately up to you, the individual, is the key. Ideally, people who can help themselves should, which is why I like the optimistic premise so much. You need to hold to that ideal that anyone, no matter their origin, can rise up and be successful.

  3. I agree, it has to be right for all demographics, genders, and races, or what have you. No doubt we are heading in the right direction, but no doubt not all demographics, their issues, let alone a way to solve them being equally represented, or equally aknowledged. Bottom line, it all starts with education, and the willingness to integrate, not replace. A lot of people have have lived in the city a lot longer than most of us, they need to be incorporated instead of being pushed to the side, the city is big, there is enough for everyone, and it sure as hell is only going to get bigger and better if we dream larger than 7.2 measley miles, and cooperate with every inch and every problem of every person that lives in the city limits and wants to be proud of living in Detroit. There is momentom and it's an amazing thing to see, and be apart of, let's not pigeon hole progression.

  4. Detroit was built from the in-out. It needs to be fixed from in-out.. simple as that.

  5. Did anyone see the story on NBC news with Brian Williams the other night? This story discussed a sucessful man who returned to his home town roots of New Orleans and opened supermarkets in the inner city. The allowed people to get fresh products at competive prices, plus the store offers free shuttle rides home for anyone spending more then 50 bucks. Detroit is a great city and has produced so many wealthy persons. What about giving back to your community??

  6. With the city changing to a District concept, it is the responsibility of the residents of that District to hold their City Council Representative accountable for the progress and development of each respective District. No longer can residents select City Council members by the number of yard signs posted or because they have a recognizable name. The City of Detroit will require educated, open-minded, inclusive individuals that are not concentrating on race, gender of sexual oriantation. We must be inclusive to grow and proper as a city. No Detroit will not become the "Great American City" without the support of the ENTIRE CITY. But, those outside the 7.2 miles must stop slumbering and concentrating on "what Detroit was" It's not that any longer! It will take work and involvement of each of us. I live in Midtown and am excited about the progress. But, I am not involved, and that is a sad. But this summer, I will change that and dedicate my time and passion to a cause that I truly get behind. I'm looking…and the organization that garners my support will be better for the relationship. Go Detroit!

  7. Well I like the idea. You can't eat an elephant with on bite, but taking small steps can lead to bigger steps. Detroit is in trouble, but bringing businesses back into the city is a tax base, and where there is a tax base, there is money to hire more cops, and rebuilt. I hope some people stop looking at all the negative and think about the future. Right now, Detroit can't do anything but go up!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *