Everyone is talking about Detroit these days. We seem to be the global symbol of the failure of 20th Century business, social, and political practices. They argue about what the failure of Detroit means to America. How did they sink so low? Are other cities next?
After wading through one article after another by people from other places ringing their hands over us poor souls in our dilapidated city, I thought I’d weigh in on some things I’ve seen. Through my work now, I’ve been exposed to sectors of Detroit’s communities that are usually missed and here are the reasons why we can bounce back:
1. We care now more than we did then.
Detroit was abandoned by two generations of mostly white people who fled the city in search of a “Leave It to Beaver” paradise in the suburbs. They took their money with them. Practices such as red lining kept more “undesirable” people (and we know what that means) in a half empty city. This happened in major cities all over the country, but in those other places they stopped it at some point and said, “This is as bad as it’s going to get and we won’t let it get worse.” Not here.
The generation now approaching middle age and younger simply cares more about what happens to Detroit in the future. We’ve been to other cities and see what’s missing here. We’re tired of the racial disputes and city vs. suburb wars that held us back for so long. We want a thriving urban area at our core.
2. We have better engineers
I know all about this one from working in the electronics and embedded systems industry for the past 11 years. Even people who live here don’t often realize that Japanese and European companies set up technical centers in this area simply because of the engineering talent and traditions we have. This is invisible because most people don’t realize how much technology is under the hood of even the cheapest modern car.
If new energy sources are the future then pulling this area’s talent into the equation is of upmost importance. Sure there are great research centers in Boston and San Jose, but they’ve failed to technologies that can succeed on the open market. Our engineers are well versed in taking advanced systems and making them work for the average citizen.
3. A half-empty city is ripe for redevelopment
Whether it’s urban farming, next generation communities, or a modern park system, we have an open market to apply better development models for 21st Century communities. First, though, we have to do something about the squatters and “investors” who will clog up the works. I don’t know what the answer to this is, but whoever comes up with it could be the architect of not only our redevelopment, but a model for smarter urban areas in the future.
4. Finally, we have the will to get it done
All the illusions that made up our old way of life are gone. The huge UAW wages and benefits are going away, our automakers can no longer pretend they still own the market and get away with it, and the malaise that many thought was safely contained under 8 Mile has made its way to Rochester Hills. There are many people in this country who are still clinging to the roaring nineties. Not us. Is there a new idea that could help us out? We’re willing to try it. Will it take more work than anything we’ve done before? We’ve already been working hard only to find ourselves at a dead end. Give us the light at the end of the tunnel and watch us go after it.
We now have some leadership in the city that gets all of this. We’re still saddled with squabbling in Lansing and there are holdovers at the local political level that will never learn or change. We’re just going to have to roll over them. They had their shot, now get out of the way and the rest of us will show you what we can do.