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Detroit: The Revitalizing City

October 14, 2011

In contemporary America, Detroit has become the symbol of urban decay.  An example of how irrational union legislation, race warfare, urban sprawl, and uncompounded industries can destroy a once great metropolis.   The media galvanizes the ideas of joblessness, crime, and depression on a daily basis, creating an image of a city that beckons to be criticized.  Although there is validity to some of the criticisms, much of it is misconstrued and stems from lack of a true understanding of this incredible American city.

Detroit is a city of innovations.  In 1901, it invented the assembly line and helped lay the foundation for industrial America.  The city was- and still is- an embodiment of the American Dream.  Defiant to its thirty years of decadence,  the city is ready to invent and build again. Fundamentally, it has become a blank canvas with an abundance of empty buildings that is space for new ideas.

There is a youthful, artistic movement that is slowly emerging in Detroit.  Just outside of the central business district, a small inner-city street has acquired an identity unlike any other.  The trees here have shopping carts on top of them.  The lawns are covered by unused boats carrying giant stuffed animals, buried Hummer vehicles, signs of social protests, and robotic sculptures.  Homes are designed with bright polka dot colors, covered in posters, or splashed by various paints.  Titled the “Heidelberg Project”, this artistic venture was started in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton and his grandfather Sam Mackey as a form of political protest against the deteriorating conditions of Guyton’s neighborhood following the race riots in the late 1960s.  Since its creation, the project has transformed a once dangerous inner-city neighborhood into a high traffic tourist destination, where visitors walk around without fear while admiring interesting outdoor interpretative art.

Detroit is now also experiencing a culinary revolution for new hipster-style restaurants.  Avalon International Breads in Midtown, with its synthesis of neo-industrial design and gourmet coffee and baked goods, serve as an example of this new burgeoning industry.  The interior resembles a traditional urban factory, the workers all dress like Rosie the Riveter, and the aroma of fresh breads radiate throughout.  The coffee here is quality and their products are shipped all over the state.  Just a few miles down the street from Avalon, Food Network star Michael Symon’s “Roast” restaurant brings a high-class style of cuisines to the Motor City.  And located across the street from the once mighty “Michigan Central Station”, Philip Cooley’s Slows BBQ brings a farm-to-table sustainable approach to food.  In addition to the restaurants, Detroit could also potentially be the first city in America to grow all of its food within its city limits.  For the past several years, Philip Cooley and John Hantz have been funding and lobbying for sustainable agricultural practices here, where 2/3rds of the land is unoccupied and ripe for green development.  The state government also recently passed a bill that increases the value of bridge cards if used on fresh market produce, which will further stimulate agricultural growth, reduce the city’s notorious “Food Desert” crisis, and bolster local suppliers.

Thanks in large part to entrepreneurs like Daniel Gilbert and Mike Ilitch, downtown Detroit has become a thriving, complex, rich, and multicultural area.  It is neither degraded or crime ridden.  Anchored by the three major sport venues in the area, the streets of Detroit with all of its bars, casinos, stores, outdoor music, and theaters has come to almost resemble Ann Arbor.  In addition to its vibrant central business district, the newly constructed Detroit Riverwalk has become a scenic and entertaining area, where children ride on carousels, college students converse outdoors over coffee, and people young and old jog along the Detroit River.

The media and outsiders have an inability to see Detroit’s true identity beyond its scarred exterior.  Reporters prefer to document the gloom rather than the renaissance.  Stories of the city’s crumbling infrastructures are often mentioned, while the constructions of brand new, state-of-the art institutions, such as the Cass Tech High School, are often ignored.  They love to discuss the death of manufacturing rather than the emergence of new tertiary industries.  Thanks to the city’s solid fiber-optic infrastructure and redevelopment initiatives, many biotech and informational technology firms have started operations in Detroit.  Since 2003, Compuware, HP, OnStar, and Quicken Loans have all relocated their headquarters here.  According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Graduate Real Estate Program, in 2006, Detroit gained more than $15 billion dollars in new investment from private and public sectors.  Along with the corporations, many affluent Arab-American entrepreneurs from neighboring Dearborn have also started to migrate towards Detroit, and they are bringing with them a large pool of much needed tax revenue.  According to a 2007 Wayne State University study, the Arab-American community in the metro area produces as much as $7.7 billion dollars annually in salaries and earnings, which is twice the amount of Detroit’s annual budget (Ghosh 2010).  Slowly, that large monetary base is making its way into the heart of the CBD.

There is no denying of Detroit’s past failures.  It is a city that has gone to hell and back; a city that has lost almost a million residents in fewer than three decades.  However, it is evident that Detroit has learned from its mistakes.  Social cohesion has strengthened, gentrification is revitalizing decayed areas, business models are adapting and become more poly-industry focused. There is nothing wrong with failure as long as you learn from it.  As Henry Ford once said: “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” –Ping Zhou

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kaily D. permalink
    October 17, 2011 5:38 am

    Detroit is an industrial phoenix. A lot of companies have been courting young entrepreneurs to the city with starting positions at the very head of the pack. It’s hard to resist a proposal like that! One of my friends sent me this link: http://www.michiganadvantage.org/LiveWorkDetroit-for-Students/
    (Not spam.) What better way to resurrect a city than to plant young people who will ultimately raise families and settle roots?

  2. October 17, 2011 10:25 pm

    It is true. The demographic of Detroit has gotten progressively younger. Detroit really is becoming the hip new city to visit. I used to dread going down there, but now, I enjoy it. There is so much hidden beauty to this city and so many wonderful restaurants to eat at. I think it’s time people start realizing that.

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