There is so much good going on in Detroit right now: The M1 Rail is on the tracks as we speak, being tested for operation. The Detroit Pistons are slated to move downtown, creating huge synergy among the city’s sports teams. Businesses are opening with such regularity that it’s becoming difficult to keep track. Housing is starting to show improvement with new developments like the one in Brush Park and major lenders moving into Detroit with budgets for rehab and more.
Perhaps my pessimism has its roots in history; modern-day Detroiters never get used to good times for too long. For every good thing, there seems to be a bad thing. For every announcement, there is another story about senseless murder, a school without resources, a business owner struggling to find customers.
I’d like to share two short stories to illustrate what feels like a tenuous moment we find ourselves in as Detroit lovers. On one side, you have something amazing: Young people flooding Detroit with good tidings. My example is that of my niece, who decided that she wanted to celebrate her 17th birthday in Detroit. Another example is a family friend who regularly posts pictures of herself in the city, hanging out at cultural institutions of all kinds.
Here is what both of those examples have in common: Both young women live in suburbs that have wealth beyond compare. In theory, there is no reason for them to venture out of their secure little bubbles. They could find great food, good times and like-minded people just in their backyards. But they went out of their way to explore Detroit – the downtown, the neighborhoods. They shared what they saw and experienced on social media. That’s a good thing, particularly as Millennials see and emulate those images. More people = more investment.
But here’s what also worries me, even in the midst of what seems like the city’s stable revival. Recently, my family and I went to Fort Wayne for a holiday tour of this historic site. The volunteers could not have been more cordial. The setting was magnificent. The stories were impressive, told by docents and people dressed as characters of every time period from President Lincoln to World War II. The tour took nearly three hours to complete, and we got to see and experience the majority of this historic site.
Yet the evidence of decades of disinvestment were easy to see. Houses that once held soldiers and their families are now falling into the ground. These homes and buildings were stripped of their basic needs, such as gutters. Volunteers repaired what they could with limited resources. But with a small budget and little to no support from the outside, many of the historic buildings are now in such a state of disrepair that they likely cannot be fully restored.
My only thought that afternoon was: Please, Detroit, don’t screw this up. Find a way to save your historic sites. Write one more grant. Seek one more foundation to contribute. Start an online fund that we all can contribute to, even if it’s $5 like we paid per person for this very fine tour. There are so many good things in this city; surely, they can outweigh the bad.
For all of my confidence that Detroit is beyond the tipping point…that is has tipped toward the right direction and then some…you see a place like this, and you realize just how significant the fight is to regain the glorious city that once was and certainly can be again. And you steel yourself to continue to support Detroit in any way you can – by moving there, by shopping there, by working there, by pushing for good government and hoping for great leadership.
Dearest Detroit, don’t screw this up.