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A message to Michigan: Lighten up.

Some common themes are starting to arise as I talk to people for Assignment Detroit. One in particular has struck me as important enough to post on the blog.

Simply, it is the idea that Metro Detroiters are too hard on themselves. Those who were born outside of the area are amazed at how native residents belittle the good things about this fine state we call the Mitten.

These "outsiders" seem to love it here. There is Mascha Poppenk, the Dutch filmmaker who called Detroit “the city of the future.” Or my new girl crush, Catherine Juon, the Internet marketing wunderkind from Iowa who loves living in the D.

"When you look at the history of all the things that have happened here, it's an amazing city," said Juon, co-founder of Ann Arbor-based Pure Visibility.

Then there is Mario Mazzardo, the brilliant software engineer who comes to Detroit's suburb of Bloomfield Hills via Italy.

Yes, he left Italy to work in the Rust Belt. And, yes, I asked him what in the world he was thinking.

“It is beyond my expectations,” Mazzardo said.

Really? Detroit?

“I confirm that I am happy we made the move,” Mazzardo said.

Okay, whatever. (Oh, wait. I must be one of those Michigan natives with low self-esteem.) That's right! Michigan is awesome! Great Lakes! Good times!

Mazzardo is the vice president of product strategy and management for solidThinking. Originally founded in Vicenza, Mazzardo and brother Alex started the software company in 1991. Troy-based Altair Engineering snapped them up last year and asked the duo to move to Michigan.

Designers use solidThinking software to create photorealistic 3D virtual prototypes of products across industries from jewelry to yachts to motorcycles. So a jewelry designer could show a potential client how the light reflects off of a ring as its wearer moves about.

As amazing as Italy is, Mazzardo said the timing was right to make the Midwest move. solidThinking was ready to launch a new product line. And his children (an 11-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son) were ready to make the change.

“I like the people here. Everyone is so hospitable and warm. I know all of my neighbors and we were invited to dinner by everyone,” Mazzardo said.

How are the kids doing?

“The schools are excellent, public and private,” Mazzardo said. “It's exciting for them. They love the new friends.”

In fact, Mazzardo has some advice for Michigan: Lighten up.

“Be open to new businesses, new people, new opportunities,” he said. “In Italy, people are more closed up. The people in the North are closed off from the people in the South. I thought it would be the same here, but it's not. It's different.”

When pressed, he concedes there might be one drawback – or so he has heard. “We are waiting for Michigan weather,” Mazzardo said. “It's a new experience.”

So…we're okay? You like us? You really like us?

Yes, Mazzardo insisted. “Look at the lakes! It's a beautiful area, even for someone who comes from Italy,” he said.

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  • 1

    A couple corrections - it's Catherine Juon from Pure Visibility. She'd be disappointed if someone couldn't search for her! And I agree with you - she is very impressive, as is her co-founder at Pure Visibility, Linda Gerard.

  • 2

    Maybe Metro Detroiters would have a better self-image if, say, Time Magazine didn't run cover stories showing Detroit as "apocalyptic."

    The national media seems interested only in depicting Detroit in their conventional narrative (a fact reflected both in stories and photo essays).

  • 3

    and you can't ignore that for about 30 years or so now a lot of the country has be saying a great big "you suck" to Detroit via our identity as home of the domestic auto industry

  • 4

    Michigan has been going through an identity crisis since the 1980s, we need to figure out who we are and what the state is, if we are going to ever lighten up. Growing up in Metro Detroit in the 1990s I don't think I ever realized that people actually liked living in Michigan, I thought everyone wanted out! I didn't know there was anything good about the state until I left! Now I want back!

  • 5

    Bloomfield Hills is not Detroit, it is an affluent suburb of Detroit. Ann Arbor is not Detroit, it is 40 miles away. Detroit as "city of the future"? How so? I dare each of the individuals featured to live and work in the city of Detroit, not metropolitan Detroit. Then let's read their comments on the quality of life as urban dwellers. Find people who live and work in the city and report their commentary. You'd prefer levity when the populace chats up their city; Detroit inspires gallows humor.

    • 5.2


      Yes, Bloomfield HIlls is not the City of Detroit, but it is metropolitan Detroit and that's one of the "Eight Mile" issues the area needs to get a handle on. The wealth of Bloomfield Hills is directly related to the poverty of Detroit and the existence of the third "Detroit", which is the auto industry.

  • 6

    I would like to comment on those who feel the need to point out that places like Bloomfield Hills are not Detroit. As someone who grew up in the suburbs, I identify myself as a Detroiter, regardless of what my city my mail comes to. For so many years a line has been drawn between the city and suburbs, and those who live in the city refuse to work cooperatively with those in the suburbs for the betterment of Detroiter on a whole. The fact of the matter is that people like Mazzardo, who have come to live and work in metro Detroit, and love it, are GOOD for the city. I say we embrace all Detroiters, city and suburbs, and try to get the word out about the great things happening in OUR city.

    Second, I would also like to second the point that it is difficult for Detroiters to be positive about their situation when all they see, especially in the national media, is the "Tragedy of Detroit." Why doesn't Time write a cover piece about all the great things about Detroit and what is happening here, and maybe that can help us be a bit more positive about our situation?

    • 6.1

      I agree completely that Detroit IS the collective city and suburban area! While I live at 10 Mile & Woodward, I always say during my extensive travels, "I'm from Detroit." I'd sure like to see that future Time articles don't differentiate between the two as that serves to perpetuate the 8 Mile divide kind of thinking. I'm from Pittsburgh originally and I think that most folks are aware of how successful their Renaissance efforts have been in turning a dying steel town into a burgeoning city. That synergy only happens when ALL its stakeholders have a strong sense of ownership and pride.

      As for living a quality-life IN the city of Detroit, I dated a man for many years who lived in the "city;" and therefore, I spent lots of time there. I LOVED the authenticity of the city environment overall: the restaurants, Corktown, the art galleries, the jazz/blues bars, Belle Isle, the DIA, Opera House, antiquing and just walking and biking around the city. I remember rollerblading through Eastern Market with vegetables in our backpacks and exploring the Old Train Depot! The city attracts so many interesting entrepreneurs living and working in the city . . . artists, craftspeople, business people - all with opinions and visions for success. The experience of our "city" is a different one for each of us, I'm sure. Now, wouldn't THAT be a gr8 Detroit Blog story - inviting "the collective Detroit" to share their experiences of their city! I'd love to hear about those experiences . . .

  • 7

    On a positive note, the legendary jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave was just named The Kresge Foundation's 2009 Eminent Artist. The award comes with a $50,000 check. Belgrave is the trumpeter's trumpeter and mentor to an entire generation of jazz luminaries including Geri Allen, Regina Carter, and Kenny Garrett.

    The depth of talent in Motown - that's Music Town - continues to amaze...

  • 8

    The responses above prove why our city may never see a turnaround. The fact that "real" detroit wants to point out that people who are saying good things are from the suburbs is ridiculous. Whether it's race driven, pride driven or monetarily driven, "real" Detroit has declined help from anyone outside it's city limits. Times have been hard for "real" Detroit for many years, but now as the one staple that held them up for so long is floundering, help is needed, but does "real" Detroit really want it? That is the question that will need to be answered before this City can prosper.

    • 8.2

      "help is needed, but does "real" Detroit really want it?"

      You just insulted a whole lot of people. Did you mean to?

      Has it ever crossed your mind that just because someone is trying to help, they might not actually BE helping, or know HOW to help, or even be in a position to TELL?

      Or maybe more to the point: If you could help so much, why haven't you just done it? Does it matter if someone wants your help or not? Or do you not want to bear your fair share of responsibility for learning about how your contributions help affect the changing nature of the situation?

      What if lots of Asian/European mega-corps wanted to just give us a bunch of money and buy all our land that was available, all our companies that were bankrupt, and employ all our jobless? (shh, they're starting to...). Did America's economy collapse because "we didn't really want the help?" (Maybe.)

      Maybe the more empowering solution is people knowing what they need to help themselves. Maybe it's taking a look at the priorities for our youth, and starting with basic things like healthy food, and healthy access to education for those who need to be able to provide it for themselves the most?

      Maybe the help that is needed must be understood and asked for in a way that is constructed by those who need it most?

      Maybe "surreal" detroiters are scared to pieces because they are just now recognizing how separated they have been from that which has been sustaining them: the City of Detroit.

      Or, as I read another Detroiter's response on the internet:

      " could I get to Oakland County if I didn't know where Detroit was?"

  • 9

    No, I did not intend to insult anyone. Maybe if America stopped worrying about who we were insulting and started doing what was right because its the right thing to do, we could pull out of this.

    "If you could help so much, why haven't you just done it? Does it matter if someone wants your help or not?"

    Yes, it does matter if someone wants your help. To turn this city its going to take unification of all involved. I think it's obvious that over the past 20 years, there have been many attempts to help Detroit which have been turned away by it's government and local politicians. Out of all of those opportunities, none were good enough to actually help? Come on, get "real" Detroit.

    • 9.1

      Did America's economy collapse because "we didn't really want the help?" (Maybe.)

      No, America's economy didn't collapse because we didn't want help, it collapsed because of irresponsibility and ignorance.

  • 10

    "To turn this city its going to take unification of all involved."


    But this belies the same fact: Folks who don't live in the city aren't party to the same issues and representation as those who do. That's just plain and simple. Unifying a city is far easier than unifying a region. No one is talking about a "unified" Royal Oak or a "unified" Pontiac.

    This is not an identity property in peoples heads so much as it is a civic representation issue. Many folks and interests who don't live in Detroit want to be represented in/by Detroit without acknowledging their position outside of Detroit's municipal environment.

    Many folks and interests who do live in Detroit aren't adequately represented in Detroit's municipal environment, much less the minds of those who don't live in Detroit.

    I agree, it does matter if someone wants your help. But how many people are so prideful as to think that someone doesn't want any help because they don't want your help, or because they want you to help in a way other than the one in which you want to help?

    Anyone who really wants to help remedy the situation and lives outside of it, will listen to those living in Detroit, and not try to dictate to them.

    • 10.1

      Or put more simply:

      If you don't intimate knowledge of living (re: you live here) in the City of Detroit, how could you be qualified to know what kind of help is actually appropriate?

      (note that in this framework, the "well i knew enough to get out/not live there and am thusly smarter than those currently living there" argument becomes plain in its silliness)

    • 10.2

      Wow, as much as I respect an opinion, you have me completely bewildered. This is the type of attitude that will ruin Detroit. Just because someone doesn't live in the city it makes them unqualified or unable to help because they don't truly understand what is needed? Seriously???? That is a joke right...

      When I talk about unification, I am speaking of businesses and Ideas being able to come in. For years, this has been unable to happen.......The city government needs to open up to ideas (i.e. COBO) Nobody wants to come here because they feel unwelcomed and when metro-detroiters start saying good things about bringing business here they are criticized by "real" Detroit because they are not within City limits......This whole segregation of city affiliation needs to stop.......plain and simple.

    • 10.3

      Yes, it's important to listen to City of Detroit residents and businesses in order to identify and prioritize the issues to be addressed, but it's also important for those parties to realize that there's no blank check coming their way.

      The City of Detroit is responsible for the representation it elects. If that representation is corrupt and similar corruption runs through many parts of the city administration, then it's possible the problems are too large and entrenched for the city to root out and clean up on its own. Similarly, gross and chronic financial mismanagement cannot be tolerated either. If the city ends up in receivership any hope for substantial self-determination will be history.

  • 11

    [...] Time concludes that many of the problems facing Detroit and the rest of the region stem from low self-esteem. Hm! [...]

  • 12

    Didn't the initial article in Time cover a bit about Coleman Young and how he was really good at purposely polarizing City of Detroit proper vs The Suburbs? Looks like his campaign took root.

    Yes, I grew up in the suburbs -- all of 2 blocks west of the city border in Redford (East of Telegraph, south of Plymouth) -- but I also call myself a Detroiter.

    The whole of southeastern Michigan is strongly impacted by the economic situation. As long as people keep playing the "You're not a real Detroiter if you don't live downtown" game, you're still in divide and conquer land -- except, sadly, you are cutting your nose off to spite your own face. If the people of the whole region can't get past the legacy of the Young years and learn to pull together instead of taking potshots at each other, there isn't much hope of pulling up by the bootstraps.

  • 13

    You know, it all reminds me of where I live now -- the boonies of rural central NY State. I am on my little town's comprehensive planning committee and we often run into problems of people who won't work together to address the issues that face us all -- in part because there is an ingrained attitude that your opinions and actions are worthless if your parents and grandparents weren't all born here -- you are an outsider and your children are outsiders and always will be -- you just don't understand. You're written off as worthless.

    It's not that different from folks in the suburbs being told, you just don't know jack because you don't live here -- you can't help because you don't know. Lighten up, respect and openness to a hand offered -- on either side going either way -- can open new doors to solutions of all kinds. Cooperation is a good thing.

  • 14

    Metropolian Detroit will NOT thrive with out a stronger Detroit than we have been accustomed to for the past 60 years. We can't go aroung saying we live in Metropolitan ___________ and I, as a lifelong suburban Detroiter have a vested interest and VOICE in where Detroit is heading.

    Detroit was once ON PAR with New York City - there are newspaper articles in the late 1920s that draw a direct, favorable comparison. I would LIKE to live in the city, but I have personally been pushed away by the previous administrations. There needs to be a fiscally responsible incentive for people to return to the city. Even with the current collapse of housing prices, it would be a great financial burden for most suburbanites to return, due to property taxes, city income taxes, insurance rates and the general lack of services for the taxes paid.

    Mayor Bing cannot do it alone and I, for one, would like to offer solutions, not throw arrows. To those that think non-residents shouldn't have a say, they need to remember that the rest of the state provides money today to keep many Detroit services viable. Detroiters alone do not have the financial resouces to turn around the city but with financial support comes the responsibility to listen to the opinions of those outside the city limits.

  • 15

    [...] didn’t plan to start a blog, really.  I was just posting a comment on Time’s Detroit Blog when WordPress asked me, do I want to create one.  So, now that it’s here, what do I say? [...]

  • 16

    […] A message to Michigan: Lighten up. – Really? Detroit? “I confirm that I am happy we made the move,” Mazzardo said. Okay, whatever. (Oh, wait. I must be one of those Michigan natives with low self-esteem.) That’s right! Michigan is awesome! Great Lakes! Good times! Mazzardo is the vice … […]

  • 17

    […] A message to Michigan: Lighten up. – Really? Detroit? “I confirm that I am happy we made the move,” Mazzardo said. Okay, whatever. (Oh, wait. I must be one of those Michigan natives with low self-esteem.) That’s right! Michigan is awesome! Great Lakes! Good times! Mazzardo is the vice … […]

  • 18

    […] A message to Michigan: Lighten up. – Or my new girl crush, Catherine Juon, the Internet marketing wunderkind from Iowa who loves living in the D. "When you look at the history of all the things that have happened here, it’s an amazing city," said Juon, co-founder of Ann Arbor-based Pure … […]

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