Detroit is often in the news today with regular and recent coverage in the NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, and the cover article for a July issue of Forbes Magazine. Significantly, the reporting seems to be shifting away from the narrative of the once great American City disintegrating into a burned out warzone-like state as citizens flee to greener, safer, more vibrant locales. By now, is there anyone with a modicum of interest who hasn’t seen the widely distributed photos comparing a “bombed out” Detroit today with Japan’s atom-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Or that doesn’t know the much-repeated fact that the city of Detroit, the size of San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined, has a present day population of only 713,000 (down from a peak of 2 million in the 1960s)?
These stories are getting old. Fortunately, there is new news coming out of Detroit pointing to rebirth and general optimism – and even comparisons to Tribeca and Berlin.
A key part of Detroit’s transformation rests on political leadership. Detroit was left reeling from blatant corruption, scandal, and searing betrayal in the dramatic and unceremonious downfall of narcissist and former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (whose sleazy saga continues with a federal indictment even as he exits prison). On top of the economic implosion and collapse of the auto industry, the lack of honesty and integrity in city government acted as a rot that exacerbated Detroit’s troubles. Current Mayor Dave Bing is generally recognized as a straight shooter with credibility built up over the years as a Detroit NBA star and a very successful entrepreneur and businessman. His strategy to turn around Detroit is predicated on shrinking it – razing thousands of abandoned buildings and building population density. The latter will concentrate city services, bring efficiency to counter Detroit’s staggering deficit, and create vibrancy.
Coming to the aid of Bing and the daunting challenges facing Detroit is an energized and serious group of stakeholders. Consider this:
- Wayne State University, Henry Ford Hospital, and Detroit Medical Center teamed up in February 2011 to offer financial incentives for homebuyers and renters in their Midtown neighborhood (adjacent to downtown). These stipends amount to $2500 to offset first year rent and $1000 for lease renewals. New home buyers will see as much as a $25,000 forgivable loan!
- Not to be outdone, five downtown corporations just unveiled a plan, “Live Downtown” offering similar significant cash incentives for employees of the participating companies to move into the greater downtown area. Additionally, existing homeowners will receive matching funds for exterior home renovations. DTE Energy, Compuware, Quicken Loans, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Strategic Staffing Solutions understand the interdependent stake in a thriving Detroit.
- Spearheaded by Quicken Loans Founder, Dan Gilbert, Detroit Venture Partners is a venture firm whose purpose is to “help rebuild the Detroit area through entrepreneurial fire.” Gilbert has even acquired one of Detroit’s historic downtown buildings to be a tech hub for start-up companies.
- Kiva, the microloan lending site has recently launched Kiva Detroit, the first “Kiva City,” a program where Kiva works with community organizations in the USA to provide local small businesses with microloans. With support from the Knight Foundation, loans will be matched dollar for dollar.
- Whole Foods seems ready to announce a new store opening in Midtown Detroit. While this may not seem like big news generally, in a city with few grocery stores often characterized as a food desert, a marquee name that represents quality and health consciousness is a very big deal, indeed.
With the steadfastness of these stakeholders as well as the influx of believers coming to make Detroit their home, it is entirely possible that Detroit may be a future Tribeca. Certainly, Detroit’s transition is undeniable and perhaps its’ metamorphosis can best be summed up in the new nickname given by current Detroiters – no longer the “Motor City,” Detroit is simply “The D.”
Susan Hopp is a big fan of and native of Detroit.
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