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.
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.
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.