Letter from Detroit
For much of the last year, the Detroit crisis, or at least the auto industry aspect of it, has returned to the American consciousness in a way not seen in decades. So it's the perfect time to launch The Detroit Blog on TIME.com. It's part of Time Inc.'s year-long commitment to covering the region from a house the company bought near Detroit's downtown -- an extraordinary venture, considering this is a time when many news organizations are leaving the business of original reporting. The Detroit Blog hopes to be a platform for stories about people and ideas, as well as observations of daily life, in the region.
I'd parachuted into Detroit for one- or two-day reporting assignments for TIME. But that's hardly enough to capture the essence of a region. When I moved here last month from Chicago, Detroit felt, in many ways, like New Orleans, my hometown, in the months following Hurricane Katrina: For starters, much of Detroit is shockingly sparse, having seen its population more than halved from a 1950s peak of nearly 2 million. Many of its downtown skyscrapers are empty. There are vast tracts of land covered with weeds, sometimes filled with the remains of a store or church or house that may have not been inhabited since the 1967 riots. You search desperately for life's fundamentals: a café serving a decent cup of coffee, a store selling a fresh green apple. There are, of course, other similarities between Detroit and New Orleans: The French were among both cities' earliest colonizers. Both cities played vital roles in the nation's economic and cultural development. Both are examples of American failure, but also of platforms of potential. Detroiters I've met in recent weeks have been surprisingly optimistic about the region, despite the grim statistics not worth repeating here. Nearly everyone wants to show “the other side” of life here. The meaning of that depends on who's speaking. For some, “the other side” means proving to the nation, and the world, that a middle-class urban existence is possible here – never mind the security consciousness one might expect from similarly positioned residents of Johannesburg, or Rio. For others, “the other side” means showing that brand Detroit is thriving in its suburbs – never mind that the urban crisis is spreading quickly. So the region is a great laboratory for studying American society, politics and business.
Our goal here on The Detroit Blog isn't to rehash clichéd stories about the region's problems. Some of that's unavoidable. But we're more interested in exploring key questions, like: What will it take for Detroit, and the region, to rebound? And who's developing the ideas that are best positioned to make that turnaround succeed? Let us know what you think. And stay tuned.
Now, back to reporting.