Blog: Matt Clayson


Detroit is different.  No doubt about that.  As a city and a region, our differences are a divisive issue.  To the optimists, our differences are our comparative advantage that sets us apart from competing regions.  To the realists, our differences – if not examined, confronted and presented realistically – are our weaknesses.  To the pessimists, our differences are an excuse to leave.

We all know that Detroit and the region is lacking in many areas.  These points are pounded home in newscasts, in casual conversation, on online message boards and at the water cooler.  And, rightfully so. We are obsessed with the differences between us and other cities and regions – the disparities in education standards, crime statistics, job growth, climate, downtown retail and public transit.   

The optimist tries to compensate these differences with what are perceived as comparative advantages: our grit, our authenticity, our attitude, our history, our architectural stock, etc.  The realist attempts to analyze these differences and the statistics supporting them in an effort to find solutions.  The pessimist uses these differences as further proof supporting their desire to leave.  

Really, there is not much more to say about these issues.  They are discussed constantly: solutions come and solutions go, resulting in a stale and tired dialogue.  And what has this tired debate between the optimists, realists and pessimists achieved? Nothing tangible.

So, maybe it is time that we shift our dialogue to the intangibles – the differences that cannot be measured by exact statistics, by rigorous scientific standards.  What about the intangible concepts: what about place, attitude and opportunity?  Would maybe a shift in dialogue to these theoretical concepts engage a new generation of Detroiters in a more vigorous debate that challenges the fundamental ways that we view ourselves as citizens of a city and a region?