Blog: Jeff Meyers

For the 100th issue, Metromode managing editor Jeff Meyers has stepped out from behind the virtual curtain, where he's monitored Metro Detroit's new economy, to share some of his ideas for making SE Michigan better still. Agree or disagree, he hopes you'll weigh in with a few suggestions of your own. Or at least wish him a happy 100th.

Jeff Meyers - Post 1: Cut it out. You're from Detroit.

Growing up in New York (as I did) meant that if you were asked, "Where are you from?" your answer would always include New York City as the reference point.
You were from the city.
Or just outside the city.
Or pretty far outside the city.

We all called it 'the city" because to New Yorkers, there really isn't any other city.

Upstate New York meant Syracuse or Albany (the capital!) or anything a couple hundred miles north of NYC. And, of course, there was Buffalo. If you had a major NFL team you were permitted your own idenity. Only a radical few would say they grew up on Long Island, but to anyone outside the Northeastern seaboard, further explanation was inevitably required, so why bother? The follow up was always, "just outside New York City."
Referencing your individual community was meaningless. No one in Oklahoma or Iowa or Germany cared if you were from Ronkonkoma, Port Jefferson or Syosset. New York City --which by extension meant any of its five boroughs but typically evoked images of Manhattan-- was the universal reference point.
Like Paris or London or Rome, it was the identity we were all invested in. It's reputation was our reputation, even if we lived a hundred miles outside its borders. When the city fell on hard times we apologized for it, or talked about it like a wayward member of the family. When the city prospered, we couldn't find enough ways to piggyback on its reputation. Love the city or hate it, we all recognized that it was our state's most important asset and the heart of our identity.
I've lived in several other big cities around the U.S. and the story is the same. "I'm from outside Chicago... or L.A.... or Portland... or Seattle." To answer Winnetka or Northridge or Beaverton or Bremerton would be absurd. Invoking the nearest big city means something. It provides a context and identity, however vague, for who you are. It also requires that you recognize that as the city goes so too goes the surrounding region.
Michiganders think they're different.

Well, the truth is, everyone thinks they're different but Michiganders, particularly southeast Michiganders, behave differently when it comes to telling you where they're from. At meetings and music events and conferences around the country I'd meet people from Michigan who'd tell me they were from Bloomfield Hills or Farmington or Warren or Dearborn or Livonia.

Those names meant nothing to me.

Birmingham made me think they were from Alabama. Troy immediately brought to mind New York. Pressing harder for clarification I'd be offered a geography lesson that down played their connection to Detroit. It was the unfortunate landmark, the city only to be mentioned in passing. Sometimes I'd get the Mitten, which was cute, but really didn't tell me what I wanted to know.
"So, you're from a suburb of Detroit?" I'd ask.
"Oh no, we're pretty far outside Detroit. Like 45 minutes. It's way different. And I don't work for the car industry. We have the Cranbrook Museum. Have you ever heard of the Cranbrook?"
I hadn't. And I'd think to myself, 'what is wrong with this person?'
And then five years ago I moved here. And I get it. I get what people in Ferndale and Royal Oak and Novi and Canton and even Ann Arbor are doing. You don't want to be associated with Detroit's numerous problems. And I still say to myself, 'what is wrong with you people?'
Because not wanting to take the blame for Detroit's problems is the same as not taking responsibility. And the fact is, we are all, in one way or another, responsible.

Even in the 1970s when New York City was bankrupt and mocked for its depravity, corruption and crime we never pretended it was any less than the center of our world. No one criticized the city more than its fellow New Yorkers (especially the suburbanites) but if the insulting remark came from an outsider, we'd kick your ass. New York was our out-of-work, alcoholic, too-loud Uncle. We were embarassed by his behavior and pissed off that he couldn't get his shit together but he was family and you didn't disrespect a member of our family.
I grew up 45 miles outside the city in a fishing village on Long Island and this is exactly how my friends and I felt. And we were afraid of the city. We'd only ever been there for field trips to museums, Broadway plays and ball games. But we knew it was ours. We were New Yorkers.
Detroit is your reference point. Period. Good or bad. And believe it or not, you don't get to decide. The rest of the world has already made the decision for you. No amount of denying it is going to change the fact. You can brand your local community six ways to Sunday and Detroit will still be the city everyone outside Michigan (and even in Western Michigan) associates you with.
Yes, Ann Arbor has U-M and its football rep to trumpet, but that's like saying Berkley or Silicon Valley can divorce themselves from the Bay Area's identity. They go hand in hand. (And, if you ask me, the only reason "The Bay Area" is used instead of San Francisco is because Oakland has an NFL team.)
So, this is my challenge to the readers of Metromode, and my hope for the future of Metro Detroit: That everyone within a hundred miles of Motown --with its storied history, fanstastic architecture, world class cultural institutions and, yes, embarassing problems-- tells the world that they are from Detroit.
Or just outside Detroit.
Or within spitting distance of Detroit.

You are Detroiters. (Grosse Pointers just sounds silly).
Because that small gesture implies ownership and ownership implies responsibility and with responsibility comes an investment in Detroit's future.

And God knows it needs a whole lot more of that.