City Transformation, People

A friend’s triumphant return to Detroit reveals the deep sense of hope emerging here

Detroit 1

This past week, a friend announced on social media that he was moving from Chicago to take a job in Detroit. Out of curiosity, I kept an eye on his Facebook post, waiting for the inevitable.

One of the city's finest painted ladies.

One of the city’s finest painted ladies.

I was waiting for the negative comments. Waiting for the hateful descriptions of Detroit, its residents or its lack thereof. I anticipated a few snide remarks about the ruins, maybe somewhere toward the end. There was no way Detroit could escape unscathed.

I was wrong. Very wrong. And I couldn’t be happier to say it.

Not one of the dozens of people who replied to his post had a bad word to say. Nearly every one of them had the words, “Congratulations!” and “That’s awesome!” in them. Hundreds of people clicked “like,” which in social-media terms is the equivalent of a high five. It was fantastic.

This was my favorite comment of all: “This is wonderful news for Michigan. We got one back!”

Perhaps I’ve lived in Metro Detroit too long in that I even thought that the comments on my friend’s Facebook post would be negative. Whenever someone announces they are moving to Detroit, you once worried about them. You used to think, “Where possibly could they get food, clothing or the basics of life?” Sure, there are still safety issues. But I can think of dozens of stores – including many fine grocers – that have made that narrow-minded line of questioning obsolete.

The joy that my friend expressed in returning to the city was clear. His contributions here will be significant in terms of not only rent and reinvestment, but in his enthusiasm for Detroit. He will be the best kind of ambassador – well-informed. He already has a deep knowledge of the city’s neighborhoods and longtime storefronts. He doesn’t have to go through the basic training of finding his way around and discovering the train station or the RiverWalk. He’s been a fan all along.

Shinola's commitment to the city boosts confidence in Detroit.

Shinola’s commitment to the city boosts confidence in Detroit.

Thankfully, his career is at a point when a promotion will allow him to be closer to his family, his friends and the city that he has always represented well. We all knew that he wanted to come home, to come back to Detroit. And now he is fulfilling his destiny. Detroit will be better for having him.

Realistically, I’ve been writing about Detroit for nearly my entire reporting career. For the past five or so years, I have focused most of my blogging life on the city, doing stories about perception, reality and everything in between. I have enjoyed the ups and downs of such a job – the negative replies, the strange trolls and the occasional bouts of infamy that comes with writing about one of the most interesting cities in the nation.

It has been my honor to watch the city transform, watching the significant changes in business development, public interest and community engagement. People have started defending Detroit, showing interest in the city’s recovery and promoting their part in its renaissance. There is a pride that I didn’t see a decade ago – a pride, obviously, from those who live there, but also from those who previously might not have cared because they lived outside of Detroit in a suburb, far, far away.

The DIME project shows how investment is coming back.

The DIME project shows how investment is coming back.

I did an informal poll of people in my area about why they felt Detroit was on the rise. Answers ranged from the expected – the name “Dan Gilbert” popped up along with his huge real-estate investments – to the surprising. There was a lot of credit given to the fast-paced bankruptcy: Kevyn Orr, Gov. Rick Snyder, the willingness to negotiate new contracts, the agreement of corporations to support the Detroit Institute of Arts. There was excitement over new renovations, such as the state’s improvements on Belle Isle.

All agreed that the city has years of work ahead of it. Years of decay take years to remedy. But there was such a sense of hope. Of excitement. Of potential, finally being realized.

And, like those who might still carry the hurts of old, I can let down my guard a little more. I can believe that Detroit’s name has less baggage. I can see where there is work still to be done and feel assured that the end result will be a healthier, happier city. I’ve been cheering for Detroit all along, but it might not have been loud enough. I won’t let that happen again.

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