First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for reading and responding to my blog entries. The purpose of a communication such as this is not to attack one another, to tell someone their opinions don’t count, or to say people have no right to voice their observations about Detroit -- it’s to create a dialogue. To help dispel myths, or at least spark conversation between individuals who have a passion for something.
With that being said, I wanted to talk about what Detroit can do to make it more attractive to the younger generation. How the City can, as one commenter said, get residents who want to "roll up their sleeves and commit to Detroit."
Unfortunately we can’t put the cart before the horse -- we do need committed, voting, engaged people living in the City, but that’s not going to happen when potential residents are looking for things Detroit isn’t offering right now. Most (not all) people aren’t willing to make the committed to downtown until downtown is committed to improving for its people.
When I first started at the Chamber, I became involved with Fusion, a young professionals organization and program of the Chamber. Fusion’s goal is to get young professionals to live, work and play in Detroit. Last September the director of Fusion and I attended a summit where we heard Rebecca Ryan, author of Live First, Work Second: Getting Inside the Head of the Next Generation, speak of seven factors that make a city attractive to new and current residents – things that make people want to be a part of a particular city. Of course this is just one way to measure Detroit’s strength, but it makes sense.
The indexes are: vitality, earning, learning, social capital, cost of lifestyle, after hours and "around town."
Vitality refers to the City’s commitment to the environment – which can mean air and water quality, as well as green space. Basically, it’s a city that puts the environment first, and creates spaces that are conducive to recreational activities, as well as reliable city services.
Certainly Detroit does extremely well in some of those areas. We have farmers markets, parks and rec space, but the City could do a better job at keeping certain areas safe, clean and up-to-date – including important City services.
Earning just doesn’t mean how much money a person is paid, it refers to the breadth and depth of occupational options, as well as how friendly a city is to new start-up companies. It can also include the diversity of the local economy.
I think Detroit definitely has a diverse workforce. Lawyers, bankers, IT professionals, broadcasters, writers, designers, chefs and countless other professions are represented in the City. Detroit is fairly attractive to larger companies (in terms of tax incentives), and they seem to do well with attracting younger start-ups as well.
However, the job market in Detroit, as with that of the entire state, could be much better.
Learning, as the term implies, refers to the available educational opportunities. It doesn’t jut include universities, community colleges and technical schools, it also means yoga, dancing, art, cooking and foreign language classes. The index also looks at the percentage of community graduates from high school, college and postgraduate institutions.
Clearly Detroit has a leg up on some of these learning opportunities. We have Wayne State, Detroit Mercy, College for Creative Studies and a smattering of other college satellite campuses in and around the City proper. The new YMCA centers offer various exercise classes, while community centers offer cultural and vocational classes.
One area where Detroit needs definite improvement is with its education system. Between 2001 and 2007, the DPS student population fell by nearly 55,000 kids (from 159,768 to 105,000). In 2006, the school board approved a $1.4 billion budget, which seems huge, but was a drop of about $44 million. The shortfall resulted in the elimination of 800 jobs, a decrease in salaries, school supplies, per student spending…and ultimately, a loss of nearly 9,000 students the following year. It has been said that by 2009, the Detroit school system will have closed nearly 110 of its more than 220 schools due to declining enrollment, or for lack of meeting federal test guidelines.
Social Capital is a term used to describe the value of diverse urban neighborhoods. It not only refers to the diversity within a community, but the level of each resident’s engagement in that community.
There’s no use in having ethnic enclaves in the city if those residents aren’t actively involved in Detroit. Of course I’m not saying the people living in those diverse neighborhoods aren’t ever engaged in what’s going on, but resident’s need to feel empowered to immerse themselves into each facet of Detroit’s cultural diversity.
Cost of Lifestyle is pretty simple – it compares the cost of living in the city to the wages. It’s not just beneficial for a particular city if cost of living is lower than most areas, the wages must be competitive too, or else it’s a wash.
I’m not sure how many single professionals making $45,000 a year can afford a $250,000 loft, but they seem to be popping up everywhere throughout Detroit. Instead, construction companies could put their money into rehabbing architecturally beautiful homes, pricing them to be attractive to first time homebuyers.
Perhaps the City could provide housings credits or incentives to young people to create a draw for people to buy in Detroit, rather than in other suburban areas. Most people of our generation want homes with character, and if the price is right (and we don’t have to spend money or time fixing it up), we’ll buy.
After hours is another pretty straightforward concept – how many things are there to do "after 5 p.m.?" Maybe it’s a sports, wine, or martini bar - people of the younger generation want to live in an area where there’s a lot of choice when it comes to unwinding after work.
Certainly Detroit does well in this area with its plethora bars, restaurants and bar/restaurant combos, accommodating the after work crowd. And depending on the season, people can catch an opera, show, ball game, hockey game, or one of Detroit’s many special events after work and on the weekends.
Finally, around town takes a look at the accessibility or physical connectivity of a community. It includes such things as the proximity of the next big metro area; reliable transportation systems like trains, highways and subways; the community’s friendliness to runners, bikers and pedestrians; and whether the community has rush hours or rush minutes.
Obviously Detroit is near other large cities, and it’s very easy to connect to those areas – but the City is lacking an effective public transportation system. Detroit could also do a better job at catering to the "weekend warrior" by creating more hiking and biking paths.
The basic premise is: the higher a city scores in each of these areas (and there’s some scientific formula involved, but it’s too much to outline here), the more attractive the city is to young talent and new residents.
Hopefully we all recognize that continuing a dialogue between residents and non-residents is extremely important. We all have our opinions on what’s wrong or right with the City, and we all have personal of professional reasons for thinking the way we do. People can’t be afraid to speak up about the positives of the city, while others need to be prepared to hear about the negatives, no matter how many times they’ve heard them before. Each interaction is an opportunity to promote Detroit. Everyone knows change takes time and things won’t happen overnight, but as one blog commenter said, "every little bit helps."
If I don’t live in Detroit proper I’m told my opinions on the City don’t matter.
If I talk about living outside the City, but mention I patronize and promote Detroit, I’m told I am a non-voting pseudo-cheerleader -- which means I have no right to speak my opinions on the City.
Fortunately, a blog, by definition, is a personal commentary.
The unfortunate thing is, the same stale issues and problems preventing people, like me, from moving downtown still exist. Clearly government and civic organizations aren’t receiving the message; otherwise they’d be making changes to combat the issues Detroit is facing. In fact, most of the attraction efforts led by the various City organizations are not aimed at getting people to move into the City, they’re focused on getting more people to visit the City. Is that to blame?
A few years ago I was going to move to Detroit but when it came down to it, the astronomical cost of my car and renters insurance made it virtually impossible. When I was looking to buy a home this past year, the same issues arose. Except this time I had to worry about high City property taxes and potentially losing my investment if the Detroit housing market didn’t rebound. We all have our reasons for moving (or not moving) to the City, but part of the problem might just be the elitist attitude some Detroit residents have when it comes to "outsiders" talking about their City.
It’s going to take more than a few new restaurants, cultural events, lofts or attractions for people to start moving back. Some serious changes need to be made. If potential residents and businesses don’t think they can trust their leaders, or think City officials are corrupt, they won’t reside in Detroit anyway. When residents perceive the City to care more about tourists than the people actually living in the City, what are we left with? Could that be an issue needing to be sorted out?
The only hope the City has is for us "cheerleaders" to talk about Detroit. Maybe then more people will come downtown, pumping more money into the local economy, creating more City jobs, justifying more reliable city services and amenities, ultimately attracting more people to move downtown. In fact, I think an endorsement by a non-Detroit resident is a positive thing -- especially if that person has had negative experiences in the City. I’ve taken relatives and friends to areas downtown they never knew existed, to eat at restaurant they’ve never heard about, and to see new developments being built. Every time, those same people are surprised at what’s going on downtown, mentioning how they are now going to promote the positive changes in Detroit. The only way to combat Detroit’s perception is through education.
I admire those who are able to live in Corktown, buy a fixer-upper in Boston Edison, or afford one of the new lofts -- those who want to live downtown-- because they believe in the City and want to be a part of the resurgence. But there are many of us who can’t, or won’t, because our personal and financial situations won’t allow it.
Someone recently made a good point: Ultimately Detroit needs to get its priorities straight. It not so much about the pridefulness of City residents and suburbanite naysayer’s, it’s about Detroit taking care of its residents first. What matters more -- the “flash in the pan” economic burst that comes along with tourism? Or is it a stable economy made up of satisfied Detroit residents who live, work and positively promote the city.
I attended the D Brand Summit this past Friday. The all day seminar was hosted by the Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), and gave those not familiar with the new tourism attraction strategy some insight into how the Detroit region is being marketed.
The particular age range the CVB hopes to attract is 21-34, a very unconventional age range, as far as marketing strategy goes. Their hope is to appeal to young professionals from across Michigan and the United States.
Their definition of "Detroit Region" includes areas as far south as Wyandotte, as far north as Auburn Hills, as east as Mount Clemens and as far west as Dearborn. The goal it to highlight all there is to do in Southeast Michigan when it comes to, what the CVB deems to be, the five core attraction categories: cars, culture, gaming, music and sports.
Many of the people attending the Summit were from a large cross section of industries. There were professionals representing banking, health care, technology, design, sports – you name it, they were there.
While most businesses and organizations may not be able to directly incorporate the marketing strategies outlined at the event, most people walked away with the tools to infuse their current marketing with "Detroit positive" messaging.
The key is to be proud of Detroit, making the City something businesses want to promote, rather than shy away from. One panelist, from an IT consulting firm with locations across the country, talked about one of her requirements for hiring. She said each member of her team, whether they were based in Michigan or not, must be proud their headquarters was located in Detroit. In fact, everyone being considered by the company has to come to Detroit for their interview. It’s a small step, but a great way to start showing people everything the region has to offer…and be proud of.
I think the attendees were energized by this new strategy, but those sitting at my table started to discuss our thoughts. I was seated with a two people I work with, both graphic designers, as well as a woman from a printing company, two people from a production house and a few people from the banking industry. All of us lived in the suburbs, but were currently working downtown or had worked in Detroit in the past. While we all thought the new Detroit branding strategy had promise, we all mentioned the best way to attract "outsiders" to the City is to positively promote Detroit when we talk about it. This, of course, brought up a discussion of some of the challenges Detroit is currently facing.
For example, Detroit has no mode of public transportation. Ok, we do have buses but it’s not any quicker, safer or easier than driving to work. We don’t have designated bus lanes, and any hold up a bus encounters (red lights, snow, etc.) we would have to face in our cars anyway. It’s just not a reliable and convenient form of transportation.
I suppose we also have the People Mover, which is a sorry excuse for “public transportation” if you ask me. It goes in one direction, some of the stops are just blocks away from one another (i.e. Bricktown and Greektown), or the stops are just a bit too far away from the attractions they were meant to serve. The People Mover is only convenient if you’re going to lunch in the middle of the workday, or parking and riding it to an event. Very few citizens can use the People Mover as their main form of transportation.
If Detroit wants to attract the young professional crowd, we need some form of public transportation. We’re talking about a generation with exposure to the conveniences of the subways of New York and the transportation systems of Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. If I could hop a train from Ferndale to downtown, I’d do it in a heartbeat. Not only would I save money on gas, I’d also be helping the environment. It would be wonderful to catch the subway to go to a bar in Hamtramck or Detroit and not have to worry about finding someone to drive, or worse…trying to drive home after drinking. So in effect, a public transportation system would help save lives.
The group at my table also discussed the issue of safety. Not only the perception of Detroit’s safety, but how safe the City actually is.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been mugged twice, at gunpoint, while downtown. No, I wasn’t walking around wasted in the middle of the night, nor was I walking in an area that I shouldn’t have been. The first time I was visiting a friend who lived on Prentis. The second time I was going to a bar near Atwater. Both times I was with other people (which included at least one male) and both times more than one person mugged me. And the most annoying part of it all, both times the police were little to no help. In each instance we were treated like the stereotypical "suburban white kids" who weren’t aware of their surroundings or were doing something stupid downtown – which was not the case.
The City isn’t just perceived to be a danger for suburbanites, but can be unsafe for its residents as well. I once had a friend who lived in a house at 4th and Willis. She had her house broken into and her car stolen in the same week. Countless other friends have had their cars broken into (or stolen) and others have had their apartments broken into or windows shattered by stray bullets.
It’s unfortunate that if you live downtown, having your property stolen or broken into comes with the territory. Why should anyone, no matter where they live, expect to have those things happen? Your home is a place where you’re supposed to feel safe, not a place where you have to hide everything before you leave just in case someone breaks in. When you go downtown to eat or see a show, you shouldn’t have to worry that if you park too far off Woodward your car’s going to be broken into.
Between my personal experiences, and those of my friends, I vowed not to become fearful of the City. Yes, for the first few weeks after each incident I was probably hyperaware of what was going on around me, but I got over it. And now when I recount my stories, I do so to remind my friends they shouldn’t take their luck of having nothing happen to them while downtown for granted.
Now, I know I’m just as likely to be mugged in Troy, Royal Oak or even Ferndale, but Detroit is a struggling city. Many people are homeless or jobless and will resort to any means necessary to survive.
After I shared a few of my stories with the people at the D Brand Summit, I made a point to mention that I still talk positively about the City. Sure it would have been easy for me to never want to come downtown, or to talk trash about how unsafe and scary Detroit is, but even with its problems, Detroit has a lot to offer.
Kwame….Kwame….Kwame….what are we going to do with you.
I've worked downtown for the last five years, which means I've paid Detroit taxes for the last five years. However, I've never had an official say in what happens to the City.
Those of us who work downtown, but don't reside there, are certainly affected by what goes on in Detroit. It's simple -- when your job is downtown, you spend money downtown. You eat at restaurants, you go to bars, you spend time at museums and you cheer on teams at sporting events. But for those of us who don't live in the City, but contribute to Detroit's economy (forcibly or recreationally), our voices are never heard.
The success and economic stability of Detroit affects me every day. When there's a rise in crime and a decrease in the police force, the walk from my parking garage on the Riverfront to my office building (at the corner of Jefferson and Woodward) is a bit more stressful. Actually, my walk from anywhere downtown to my car is a bit more stressful – mostly because I've been mugged twice in the last three years. When there's an economic slump, my favorite downtown eating establishments and bars go out of business. When suburban residents are too afraid to venture to Detroit, the cultural viability of the City suffers.
I had high hopes for Kwame. Being elected Detroit's youngest mayor at the age of 31, I thought his vision for the City could be realized. I'm sure many of Michigan's young professionals looked up to him, perhaps even admiring such a young guy with big dreams.
Kwame talked about his agenda for improving the perception of the City, attracting new businesses and increasing tourism. And for a short while, I thought it could work. The casino's were thriving, subsequently moving to bigger and better locations and attracting visitors in droves. The Convention and Visitors Bureau launched a new marketing campaign to attract young professionals to Detroit. Compuware came downtown, causing the area around Campus Martius to build up. The Riverfront was being rebuilt and revitalized. There was talk about expanding Cobo. Things were looking good, and I stuck up for the city I loved – challenging those who called Detroit a hopeless "has been".
Then there was the smattering of Kilpatrick's (one too) many controversies – many of them potentially compromising any progress Detroit has made.
Manoogian Mansion parties. Lincoln Navigator shenanigans. Murdered strippers. Civic Fund misappropriations. Whistleblower scandals. Slander lawsuits. Nepotism allegations. Infidelity. Perjury. Will it ever end?
Because so many of Detroit's residents believed in the Mayor's ability to revitalize Detroit, and some of us suburbanites who work in the City wanted to see Detroit become a thriving metropolis, the Mayor's latest scandal was a hard pill to swallow.
The alleged indiscretions Kwame has been accused of during his tenure could possibly put the brakes on any momentum Detroit has built up. Will it compromise the trust placed in him by investors, business owners or residents? Will people become so fed up with how the City is being run that they'll move away? Detroit has already endured so many hardships, is it possible for us to bear any more?
While listening to Kwame's speech on Wednesday night, there were so many things I wanted to hear him say. Some people argue what allegedly happened has no bearing on how Kwame runs the City. But is that really true? How will businesses, being recruited to locate in Detroit, deal with the conflict of making deals with a Mayor who has so many black marks against him? Will current Detroit businesses be so ashamed or fed up with what's been happening that they'll close up shop and move elsewhere? Will our cultural attractions suffer because people stop coming downtown? Can anyone trust and believe what the Mayor tells us anymore? Has Detroit taken a giant step backward?
While leaving work the other day, the Colman A. Young building was swarmed with protesters. Some of them were supporting the Mayor and promoting forgiveness, but most of those braving the bitter cold were shouting "Hey. Ho. Kwame has to go". I suppose we'll just have to wait and see if it's easy for Detroit to forgive and forget.
We all know Detroit doesn’t have the greatest reputation. There’s no doubt the City could definitely use some financial and political help, but there’s a contingent of us who wish for the "glory days" of old Detroit - a city that’s revitalized and thriving.
When I was a kid, my parents would take us downtown for family outings. Sometimes we’d go to a Tiger’s or Red Wings game, or maybe we’d visit the Belle Isle aquarium or zoo. I would take elementary school field trips to the Detroit Science Center and DIA. As a Girl Scout, we visited Greek Town and strolled through the now defunct Trapper’s Alley. I may not remember every specific detail of my downtown trips as a child, but I do remember the fear that was instilled in me.
"Hold my hand and don’t talk to anyone."
"Lock the doors."
"Make sure you stay with your buddy."
"Avoid the homeless people sleeping on the People Mover."
"Keep your money hidden in your shoe.”"
From an early age, most suburban kids are taught Detroit is a scary place. A city you visited, did your thing and immediately left. You never stayed in the City longer than you had to, and you never drove the side streets after dark.
It wasn’t until I graduated from college and started frequenting the usual downtown haunts, that I started to have respect for our struggling City.
Growing up, I’d heard some stories of Detroit’s "past life". My mom told me how she and her friends would take the bus downtown to spend the day shopping at Hudson’s. My dad’s eyes lit up when he recounted stories of going to ball games as a child, and made a point to take my sister and I to as many games as possible. My grandfather talked about his father and how he moved to Michigan, from Mexico, to work on the line for booming auto industry. We frequently had family celebrations in Mexican Town, where my grandfather knew virtually every shop owner and restaurateur. But even with all of the fond memories, each time we ventured downtown, the look and feel of the City reminded us of its decline. Nobody ever mentioned the history of behind Detroit -- how Boston Edison or Indian Village came to be, how Motown got its start in Detroit or the abundance of ethnic enclaves within (and surrounding) the City.
It wasn’t until I started researching Detroit’s history for Motorcityrocks.com that I discovered the City’s rich past, and how it tied to the surrounding suburbs, and all of Southeast Michigan. Now if only we could bring some of that "magic" back to Detroit and make it like it was before. I think we’re on track, but we still have a long way to go.