I have a love/hate relationship with Detroit. I grew up 9 miles from the city, lived there (on Cass Avenue for those who know) for one year when I was 19, and went to Wayne State University near downtown Detroit for 4 years. I haven’t lived in Michigan for 9 years for a reason though.
Before we get to that, here are things I love about Detroit:
- It’s scary, more so in the days I lived there and prior, and there’s always a sense of pride when somebody finds out where you’re from. “You lived in Detroit?! WTF” (Current statistic: The average Police response time in Detroit is 39.81 minutes. In other words, sorry, you’re dead.) But this a dumb reason. I hate Detroit for this more than I love it. It’s always listed as the #1 or #2 most dangerous city in the US. Know anybody who has been a victim of a criminal act in Detroit? I know a few. Everybody there does.
- For a music fan it doesn’t get much better than Detroit. Besides the rich music history – Motown specifically – every band, large and small, tours Detroit. Often. I loved that in high school, and took it for granted if I’m being honest.
And some things other people love about Detroit:
- For a sports fan (I am not) they have nice new stadiums for American football and baseball. And the hockey team is an institution. (NBA basketball is about 30 miles outside of the city.)
- If you gamble there’s a few casinos that will gladly take your money.
- There are a few places like Eastern Market and Slo’s BBQ that are popular with people from the suburbs to visit for a few hours on the weekend.
Detroit is the kind of city that a lot of people defend. A city that a lot of people take pride in. A city a lot of people think isn’t bad.
I know a lot of people like this. Not a single one of them lives within the city limits of Detroit. That will tell you everything.
People don’t want to live there because it’s not a good place to live.
- When I lived there I did my grocery shopping 15 miles away (outside of the city) because the grocery stores there were lacking or simply non-existent.
- Most neighborhoods don’t have well-maintained parks for children to play in.
Those two reasons are enough to drive nearly ONE MILLION people away in the past 60 years. Add in lack of good jobs in the city and there really isn’t much it has going for it. (And if you go work in city limits the extra income tax sure isn’t fun. I paid it for the year I lived/worked there.)
But enough with all of that!
Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing ($19 Billion in debt, oops) had me thinking, “What can be done now to turn Detroit around?”
It’s not going to happen with the government so much as with the people. Of course, if the corruption in Detroit city government doesn’t end then there is no point and no hope. For the sake of this thought exercise, I’ll assume governmental issues are in the past.
So, the people. Specifically, entrepreneurs. It has been happening on a small level with former outsiders opening businesses in the Cork Town neighborhood. (There’s even a hostel!)
I think it needs to happen on a larger scale. I would like to say, “the city government needs to make it more accessible to entrepreneurs,” but that’s likely not happening any time soon.
So it got me thinking that it needs to happen on a large scale, one neighborhood at a time, via entrepreneurs who are already very wealthy. Housing is cheap in the city. Would it be possible to buy a city block and take the Kansas City model or something along those lines?
Buy city blocks and offer the homes for rent for nearly free (cost of property taxes?) if the new owners fix them up within X amount of time? Or maybe to qualify for one of these homes you have to help renovate a home first? Kind of a for-profit Habitat For Humanity. Then open a grocery store (with fresh fruits/veggies) for the new residents. And make the rent very little after X amount of time is up. $300/month?
I don’t know. I’m spewing thoughts.
I don’t have the answers. Just these ideas and a bunch more.
I’m not confident Detroit will ever turn around. But if it is to turn around it will be because of some long-term thinking entrepreneurs.
Somebody is going to make a few hundred million dollars in the next 10 years in Detroit or maybe the city will fall further into despair. From the outside looking in I hope it’s the former.