Blog: Gregg Newsom

Gregg Newsom is a native Detroiter and co-founder of Detroit Evolution Laboratory --a wellness and education center -- in Eastern Market. He's seen Detroit through the eyes of a late 80's/early 90's anarchist punk as well as the eyes of a young professional during a recent five-year stint working for Compuware. Gregg will be writing will about how Metro Detroit needs to embrace a process of economic and community evolution rather than chasing the single big fix.

Post No. 4

I was seven years old when the Renaissance Center was going up. I remember the first time I walked into the “city within a city.” My very active imagination was certain I had stumbled upon a yet to be revealed Star Wars set. The pods hanging in mid air, rough cement staircases and walkways, and glass and steel all seemed so futuristic. Today, the design elements of the RenCen are slowly becoming aspects of a future that never saw full light. Of course, I was pretty much unaware of the social and economic challenges that the city faced at this time.

I do remember watching the news in ‘77 and that there was a great deal of rhetoric behind the erection of these towers. I certainly recall the buzz and phrases like “phoenix from the ashes” being thrown around. This massive project was going to save the city and true to its namesake, the Renaissance Center would create a new enlightened age. It one sweep the nightmare of
Twelfth Street would be negated, the destruction of Paradise Valley would be forgiven and those who fled the city would find their way back home.

Instead the failed revolution of the sixties was simply followed by a failed seventies renaissance. White flight continued and Mayor Young’s rather chaotic practices and political battles kept the city and its dwindling population in a holding pattern.

With the recent, utterly unfounded and unfortunate return of our “
most dangerous city” status, I postulate that the idea of a renaissance was one of the factors that prevented Detroit from expanding its geographical boundaries. Chicago and other major cities have annexed outlying suburban areas and due to this have maintained economic and racial diversity. This fact alone negates the report, yet this report and others like it that were published through the 70’s and 80’s, assisted in the creation of a wall between urban and suburban in our region.

Quick fire revolutionary tactics and faith in an overnight renaissance have contributed to a great division in the region. Obviously, by using the moniker
Detroit Evolution Laboratory for our business efforts, Angela and I are dedicated to approaching the challenges that face our region from another angle. We’re both fond of the idea of social evolution. Sparked by actualized individuals within communities throughout the city and region, evolutionary concepts have the stamina required to assist the development of sustainable slow burn change.

Evolutionary concepts link up with our previous discussion of immediacy, participation, and decommodification. In our experience positive and long lasting change begins with the individual. Yes, in a challenged region like Detroit, a solid infrastructure, economic development, and healthy commercial activity and communication between the city and suburbs are vital, but even the most refined infrastructure is meaningless without empowered and actualized citizens. In times of economic hardship we can’t loose sight of the individual. In fact, for positive social evolution to take root, these times mandate emphasis on health, diet, fitness, education and, in our opinion, self-expression.

Today I’ll leave you with this blurb from
Detroit’s website and ask where the individual is in the Next Detroit and whether we want to live in a city that looks like the Super Bowl every year?

The NEXT Detroit refers to the Detroit after the transformation of City government. It is the Detroit of the future. It is the Detroit that we can already begin to see at the end of the tunnel. The NEXT Detroit is the transition from the foundation that was laid through the transformation of City government. The NEXT Detroit is a City that has been repopulated due to the new industry, new investment, new entertainment, and new opportunities. The NEXT Detroit looks like the Super Bowl each and every year.