Part Of The Solution
Upon returning to Detroit after living in Chicago for several years I was determined to make a difference in the City. I was partnered up with a few associates/friends and we had the pieces is place to start a small property redevelopment company. Our focus, the City of Detroit. Our shared commitment to the City embedded within us a resolute determination to make a difference…then the bottom fell out. Several months after my return the economy tanked, the real estate market took a nose-dive and all of our potential investors went running for the hills as if the flood waters were close behind. The core members of the group continued to push for making several projects happen, but without the cash committment nothing materialized. We slowly let the business plan slip away. Many years worth of market research, property hunting, learning Detroit, learning the business of real estate development, learning, searching, looking, reading, analyzing, writing, proposing, pitching, pitching, more pitching…for nothing. We became discouraged and stopped trying. The death-blow finally occurred when my partner, the nuts and bolts contractor of the group, passed away of a heart attack. The effort was officially over.
I spent the next year or so hearing about all the locations we pitched being bought and watching as they began to be redeveloped. I was thrilled to see the work being done but angry that I was doing nothing to participate in the efforts. I observed others doing great things (redevelopment related or otherwise) in the City and I felt I had missed my chance and fell short of my self-imposed goal of coming back to Detroit to make a difference. I was a failure, just sitting on the edge watching others do what I wanted to, participate in what I know will be the greatest urban resurgence in the history of industrialized world (I know it is a bit dramatic, but it’s true). However, as time passed I began to see things differently.
Without a doubt those who participate in doing grand things in the City are much deserving of praise, as their efforts are both necessary and encouraging. However, it does not take opening a business, starting a non-profit, or rehabbing an abandoned property, to make a difference in Detroit. In fact, some of the greatest contributions to the growth of Detroit are much less celebrated but equally important. Going to the City to eat and shop and relax and play and work and spend money and plant trees and volunteer to fix-up a park…all of those things make a difference. While it is true that no one is going to recognize the $50.00 I spend on dinner at my favorite little spot, it is not about personal recognition, it is about the community getting better. The fifty dollars spent by the hundreds of people who go out-of-the-way to make efforts to spend their money and time in the City sustain small businesses which in turn provides incentives for other small businesses to take the risk and set up shop in the City. Simply walking the streets of Midtown, Downtown, or New Center adds to the vibrancy and foot traffic that those neighborhoods so desperately need. Deciding to forgo a pay increase by moving to Dallas and making the committment to remain in the Metro area is part of the solution.
While living in Chicago, it always astounded me how many Detroit expatriates lived in the City. It was impossible to go anywhere without seeing an Old English D or hear someone talking about their pride in being from Detroit. What would happen if half of those people made a commitment to return to the City (including anywhere in the metro area)? How many jobs would they create, businesses would they sustain, housing units would they fill. When a City is in need of as much help as Detroit needs, the smallest efforts go the farthest.
So, this weekend, grab a cup of coffee in Midtown, walk the neighborhood and enjoy the sounds and sights of our urban environment. Catch a game at Comerica or a show at the Fillmore, but after, don’t simply jump back in the car and head back to Birmingham or St. Clair Shores or Canton or where ever you may reside. Walk over to Lafayette Coney Island and grab a coney, sit down at the Park Bar and grab a drink. Walk the Riverwalk or bike the Dequindre Cut. Go shopping at the Bureau of Urban Living, buy some artisan bread at Avalon Bakery (also try their cookies…awsome!) or check out some used books at John K. King. Grab a slice at Supino’s Pizza in Eastern Market or a steak at Roast. Pick-up some brew at Motor City Brewing Works or view the art at Detroit Artist Market. Walk and shop and eat and drink…these things make all the difference. The result, there will be more people on the street, eventually, more places to eat, drink and shop, and ultimately it will spur the creation of the type of urban space that so many run off to Chicago and New York and wherever to experience. It will develop the kind of urban space we can be proud of and enjoy and use to attract more people and more businesses and more jobs…and the cycle will continue. It will feed itself like a snowball growing as it rolls down a steep snow-covered hill.
Make a difference, enjoy Detroit.