Blog: Sean Mann

Issuing the call for city champions is Sean Mann, director of the "Let's Save Michigan" campaign to promote core communities in the Great Lakes state. This week he wades into the sexiness of density and the need for better collaboration between Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Post 3: Personal Action and a Culture of Opportunity

Having worked in the legislature for years, I would hate to think that the state's future is solely in the hands of our elected officials. To create the types of cities people want to live, work, and play in, to bring about change in Michigan, people have to care as well.

But the solution to keeping our college graduates here, or attracting others, isn't just about talking positively about the state or what we need moving forward.

The Let's Save Michigan campaign urges Michiganders to accept responsibility that their personal actions have shaped the current state of Michigan, but more importantly, will shape its future.

First off, we'll never have distinctive and engaging communities if we fail to support the businesses and institutions that make them that way. Through our campaign we push individuals to shop on their Main Street and support local businesses and to stop accepting Meijer's faux Main Street façade as an acceptable alternative.

Furthermore, it's essential for us to be engaged in public policy debates during this period of transition. We must take the time to vote, to patronize cultural institutions, to support public festivals, and to even consider living in a city.

But in arguing for personal actions and Michigan's future, the Let's Save Michigan campaign can't help but highlight the state's greatest asset. Amidst all of the recent turbulence and transudation, Michigan's cities have emerged as unparalleled playgrounds for the creative that want to leave a mark on a community and maybe even the world.

A few personal examples that jump to mind when I think of our burgeoning culture of opportunity:

Last spring in Detroit I witnessed the revival of the Marche Du Nain Rouge. A champion of Detroit pulled together a group of friends and organized a revival of a 1700s parade where people were asked to dress up as alter egos and help banish a personified version of an evil dwarf, which according to ancient lore has been taunting the city since its inception.

What started out as an off-the-wall attempt among friends to revive a long forgotten tradition turned into a brilliant event that brought out some 300 costumed people on a beautiful afternoon to march through Detroit's Cass Corridor . . . . which is certainly not one of the city's more vibrant stretches. The revelers were merrily led by the rogue Detroit Party Marching Band to Cass Park in front of the Masonic Hall, where speeches were made and the Nain Rouge was eventually burned in effigy in a steel drum, ringing in spring and hopefully bringing good fortune to Detroit for the coming year.

I myself started the Detroit City Futbal League, an adult co-ed recreation soccer league in Detroit, even though I hadn't played 'organized' soccer since I was 10. What made the league unique and resulted in some 400 participants was each of the teams was based around the historic neighborhoods that make up Detroit. In the process, the league fostered stronger ties within communities and across the city while promoting the notion that Detroit is more than a burnt out hulk of decay but is comprised of a series of distinctive communities. Most importantly, six people told me they were moving in to the city based on their experience in the league!

It seems like foundations and government programs are always striving to create hip destinations for artists and creatives, throwing around grants for thousands, if not millions of dollars. My very own neighborhood was able to do this through a yard sale and a handful of flyers. When the annual event was coming around last month some neighbors got talking and realized that nearly all of the participants were in bands. By renaming the yard sale, "The Rock 'n' Roll Yard Sale" and listing all the bands living in the neighborhood we were instantly able to brand the neighborhood as residential destination for musicians. And we used the event to expose bargain hunters to available apartments and houses in the neighborhood. While anecdotal, each of my neighbors and myself can report an uptick in people asking about available housing in our 'up and coming' musicians neighborhood.

For those who weren't there, I'm sure these projects sound silly, mundane, or insignificant, but they proved a couple of things. Firstly, quality of place isn't always about "brick and mortar" establishments. The desirability of city goes beyond the coffee shops, restaurants, and public spaces. While those are important, it is also about the community and the people that make up the city, and the events that bring them together.

Michigan's cities are for creators and those who enjoy watching creators in action. Our cities are places where young people can become entrepreneurs and impact the social dynamics of a city. If you are a young, ambitious individual in Detroit, Flint, or Ypsilanti (where I see a tremendous amount of potential for creative entrepreneurs) there is an opportunity for you to step in and take an active role in shaping the future of that community.