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Unfiltered: Why Detroit?

When talking to Metro Detroiters for the blog, I always ask them the same question: Why Detroit?

Recently, I was interviewing Ron Harwood, president of Illuminating Concepts in Farmington Hills (a lovely suburb outside of Detroit.) His amazing company is best described as an architectural and themed lighting design firm. But they do far more than just create great lighting. They do something called “Immersion Experiences,” environments that saturate visitors with elements like light, sound, water and more.

So if you've ever been to Branson Landing, the Hersey's store in Chicago, the Ferrari dealership and restaurant in Las Vegas or the Museum of Chinese Film in Beijing, then you have seen their outstanding work. Locally, they did the Fox Theater, Greenfield Village and most of the downtown streetscape as well as Comerica Park, our baseball stadium.

Enough from me. I'm going to let Ron Harwood tell you “Why Detroit?” in his own words.

Why Detroit?

The question I receive most often from both outsiders and those within the state of Michigan is some variation of, “Why would a company who works globally and which has no physical ties (such as a manufacturing plant) to the city of Detroit or Michigan wish to remain there?”

The answer, of course, is much more complex than the question. Often, these outsiders do not know the full story that is Detroit's heritage, present and future; and we as insiders do not do as good of a job telling it as we perhaps could.

The truth is, Detroit is much more than the gloomy photographs we see of abandoned houses and shuddered plants. Our greatest stories go untold, fueling the misperception that our city is a dying breed of an old-world manufacturing ethos, hopelessly unrecoverable. Reality is much more nuanced, and much more interesting.

My company, Illuminating Concepts, which is a global multimedia firm fortunate enough to have performed work for some of the world's most recognized brands, could be located anywhere. Some have suggested that New York or L.A. are more suitable homes for a company specializing in delivering theatrical experiences, as we do. From what we've seen elsewhere and here, however, there is no place like home. And you've seen what Hollywood can accomplish here, with local talent and resources, given the opportunity.

Contrary to what most believe, our city and region boast a phenomenal talent pool. Whether the talent be creative, illustrative, in production, editing, architecture, or other fields, I have never seen more passionate, more creative and more engaging talent in all of my travels domestically and overseas. Even as the automotive industry reshapes itself, displaced talent is finding new callings, and bringing a fresh perspective to seemingly disconnected fields (such as architectural lighting) and adding insights and expertise that you simply can't find in other parts of the country. Similarly, our universities are world-class, from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University to Wayne State University, Lawrence Technological University and the College for Creative Studies.

True, we could move anywhere. But we doubled-down two years ago to expand our offices and commit our company and its nearly 50 employees to southeastern Michigan. The reasons range from emotional and familial to strategic and, yes, economic. Our people love living here. The people are real, the state is beautiful and Detroit has famously unrivaled passion and grit. Staying here has allowed me to build a family business in the Detroit region — not in the sense that my family works for me, but that the people who work with me are truly my family. The people who have stayed here their whole lives know exactly what I mean by that. They, too, recognize that Detroit has so much to offer that many don't see at first blush — recreationally, culturally, aesthetically and in a vast diversity of interests and pursuits. And they understand that, if compensated fairly and generously (as we believe firmly we do), the cost of living, real estate and diversions are far more attractive than one could expect on either coast or in many other parts of the country.

The talent migration away from Michigan has been well reported, and much maligned. But what is less reported, and what I see everyday, are the people who come back. Or the many who move here as a first choice.

The reason? The city is itself a misunderstood entity, and within it live an incredible number of remarkable stories and case studies in ingenuity. We're not all automotive, though we are seeing a cross-pollination of automotive talent leveraging their expertise to apply it in new, exciting industries. We like to believe that Illuminating Concepts is one of those stories, but if you dig even remotely beyond the surface, you will unearth a great many innovative, hungry and truly inspiring tales of other companies in other businesses that you would never dream would be housed in Detroit.

Where do we go from here?

I am not one who believes that Detroit's best days are behind us. Things look bleak now, from behind a camera lens and from miles away. But on the ground, you see and feel something exciting happening.

For the first time in my many years here, I see reason for hope — hope that things are about to change. I see a sense of collaboration and cooperation unprecedented in my years here. We are almost in a post-disaster mindset, much like you'd see in parts of the country that have experienced true crisis or collapse in recent years. Companies that would just five years ago vigorously compete are now collaborating and joining forces. Individuals that once regarded one another as enemies are now reaching out to work together for a greater common good. You see a sense of, “We're all in this together, so let's work together to dig ourselves out and begin the reconstruction.” It's heartening to see, and even more exciting to be a part of.

Two examples. As GM wades through its much-publicized challenges and restructuring, and discretionary spending is scrutinized, it was forced to discontinue a high-profile sponsorship of a water feature at the Comerica Park baseball home to the Detroit Tigers. In response, the owner of the team, Mike Illitch, offered GM (in addition to Ford and Chrysler) the opportunity to keep its name on the electrifying fountain that eyeballs and cameras would capture as home runs left the park. Family came before business; and Detroit is a family. For my part, I have offered an open door to the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, whenever they are looking for ideas and inspiration on ways to help facilitate Detroit's rebirth and growth. I could certainly charge for my time, as I would others. But in this day and age, and for our common purpose, I wouldn't dream of it. All for one.

So, yes...the highly publicized migration from our state and city is rooted in reality. But the bigger reality is this: The weak have left, and it is the strong who have remained. I, for one, believe the smart money is on those who have stayed to fight another day.

(Thanks, Ron. Check out his company here.)

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  • 1

    If you believe in Detroit why don't you move your company into the city? For a company like yours (employs members of the creative class) I would think the urban, downtown environment is much better than an office park out in suburban sprawl.

    Consider it this way. Imagine a graduate of one of the fine universities you mention choosing between a job offer located in a downtown area of a city like Chicago vs. working out in the 'burbs of Detroit. A view of the city or of a surface parking lot, guess which one they are likely to choose?

    Now that people realize we are dependent on each other in this region maybe you will realize the benefits of a revalitzed downtown that serves as a business,social and economic center to the region.

  • 2

    typo: revitalized

  • 3

    In addition to agreeing with the previous post, I take offense to the statement "The weak have left, and it is the strong who have remained." I was born and raised in Detroit and attended undergrad in west Michigan. My father, and many of my other relatives still live in the city of Detroit. After working in Grand Rapids part time for a year after college just as Michigan's single-state recession was beginning to gain momentum, I got married and relocated to Northern Virginia with my husband. We both now work in Washington, DC.

    Why did I leave my hometown and ultimately, the state? Certainly not out of weakness. I left the city so I could attend college without worrying about getting mugged or being harrassed on my way to and from class. I the state left for a job that was worthy of my education, for an excellent salary and benefits, and for the mild winters, diversity and culture in DC that the city of Detroit simply can't compete with. I spent a year trying in vain to find a job in my field armed with a degree that I thought would be my ticket to living a comfortable life. I split my time between a part-time office job and bartending while I waited for my husband to finish college so we could get out of dodge. After 12 years in private school and four at one of Michigan's great state schools, that's some return on investment. It took me two weeks to find a job in DC. Is the cost of living high? Sure, but it's a small price to pay for job security, access to preeiminent cutural institutions, and knowing that not only will my children grow up attending the best public schools in the nation, but they won't have to suffer through growing up in one of the most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the country. Call me what you will, but to me, and scores of others who have fled the state, those things matter.

    • 3.1

      I'm happy that you were able to find suitable employment in DC, if I didn't have a job in MI, I would leave too. However, I feel like I should point out two things.

      1) DC metro is segregated too. Maybe not more than or even as much as Detroit, but it's not exactly integrated. There is a large, poor, disenfranchised black population in that city. It's a very hard place for the poor to get attention since so many of the people who work there every day are from other places in the country and/or head home to Virginia every night. Maybe you just don't notice the segregation because you can't see it, but it's there. Same with Chicago Metro, New York, etc, etc. Here's some data for your town:

      Maybe one thing in Detroit's favor, at least we know it's happening? I'm not sure.

      2) No other city in the country is going to be able to compete with the national collections and archives being kept in DC (and they shouldn't be able to, really, it's the capitol). But, if you felt like there wasn't culture or diversity in Detroit, you probably just didn't know where to look. I am overwhelmed by the amount of cool/interesting/historic/new/fantastic cultural things going on here.

      Sounds to me like you moved because of the weather (weak!) and/or a job (totally understandable). Period.

    • 3.2

      One can be mugged anywhere, in any city, at any time.....muggers have no borders. I also don't understand how one would "suffer" due to growing up in a "racially segregated" area. It's just geography, not a way of life. I could never leave this area but would not begrudge anyone who has to or wants to....but IMO those two reasons just don't fly.

    • 3.3

      You know, Motowntransplant, I would like to apologize a bit for my comments yesterday. My understanding of poverty in DC is based on a tour I took when I was in college, on one day, quite a few years ago...Looking back, I don't think I'd even been to Detroit yet (I went to MSU, moved here from Minnesota). It was one of those "eye-opening" kind of things that has really stuck with me, but I shouldn't have presented that as some kind of knowledge of the area...I'm sorry.

      I guess a broad generalization would be, "Every city has it's problems, it's ignorant masses with blinders on, but also it's hard working heroes that are trying to make things better." I actually spent some time yesterday trying to figure out what was the difference between segregation in Detroit Metro vs any other city is...and maybe it's what you said, the bitterness?

      I think my reactionary response came mostly from the "I moved to X city and it's way better than Detroit" vibe I was getting from your post. I seem to hear/read that a lot, so maybe I added the tone on my own. Whenever possible, people go where the things they want are (city services, schools, culture, whatever). Which make sense, but it also doesn't help much...I mean, I can't think of anyone that DOESN'T want good schools for their children. I feel like Detroit gets stuck in this circle - nobody wants to live here because we don't have x,y,z. But we'll never get x,y,z until more people live here, which would help us get better leadership, and maybe those leaders can help turn our economy turns around..except with no economy, people won't move here, in fact they move away, etc...Ok, maybe we should ALL just move away?

      Hopefully you understand my frustration. I'm sorry I offended you. However, I still won't retract that if you can't handle MI winters you're a wimp. *big friendly grin*

    • 3.4

      Cecile, I totally get it. As someone who grew up there and relocated, I struggle almost daily with one of two reactions when I tell people where I'm from: 1) complete and utter shock that a normal person could possibly have been brought up there or 2) that I'm only telling them I grew up in Detroit because I was actually raised in a suburb that has less national name recognition. I've been defending the city for 27 years, at every stage of my life. I had to defend the city when I went to middle school in Berkley and high school in Farmington Hills because I had friends whose parents wouldn't allow them to visit my house after dark. I defended the city when I went to college in West Michigan and have continued to do so since I left the state for good. I never intended to sound like the people that I've had to defend my hometown from and am genuinely sorry that it came across that way.

      I don't necessarily think that DC is better than Detroit, it's just better for us, and who knows how long that will be true. I think that my own tone in my posts yesterday came from my own frustrations with a city that I have very fond memories of growing up in, but now hardly recognize. I remember running up and down my street in Rosedale Park, playing with my friends and chasing lightning bugs until well after dark in the summer, block parties, field trips to the DIA, and discovering my love for musical theater at the Fox. I remember trips to the old Tiger Stadium with my family, participating in a photography project with Focus Hope, homecoming dinners at Xochimilco and going to shows at St. Andrews (pink hair and all) when I was in high school before eating chilli dogs long after midnight at Lafayette Coney Island. I still read the Detroit News and the Free Press online before I do anything else in the morning at work, and it gets harder and harder to do either without reading an article that gives me a pang of sadness.

      But you're right, it's a catch 22. Before the city, and the state at large can change for the better, they needs more people like you, and fewer like me. It's a question I've been struggling with since I left. Everyone says that we need an educated workforce to dirve jobs and growth, but not many people are willing or able to stick around to wait. My husband and I fit that bill, but decided a month before we got married to move because he couldn't get a teaching job, I was working part-time and my time on my parents' health insurance plan was about to run out. Something had to give. But without people, jobs, and a competent government, none of things that people are finding in other metropolitan areas are going to happen for Detroit.

  • 4

    Interesting "glass is half full" viewpoint, though I think motownspartan and motowntransplant both have valid points. Many of those who defend Detroit do not live in the city. There is a huge difference between Farmington Hills and Detroit.

    I too find a lot interesting in Detroit, and see some signs of hope. But having also lived in Portland, Oregon, Madison, Wisconsin, D.C., and now residing in Denver, Colorado, I constantly meet those who have left metro Detroit. They didn't leave because they were weak, they left because, as motowntransplant pointed out, Detroit is especially lacking in so many areas. There's no need to debate these points as statistics clearly point out Detroit's glaring problems.

    I too love my hometown, but always struggled to find decent paying work in the area. Since moving to D.C., and now Denver, I've never had a lack of much higher paying opportunities, great urban living, a variety of cultural and art institutions, and recreational opportunities that are so lacking in metro Detroit.

    The real problem for Detroit's, and Michigan's, future is not that the weak have left, but rather, that the young and educated are leaving in massive numbers. And that's not reassuring.

  • 5

    The entire region suffers because we lack the kind of vibrant/city center downtown that is present in other growing cities (like Chicago). Certainly, you do not have to be "IN" Detroit to be a booster nor does locating your company "IN" Detroit make it "good" or bad.

    As a fairly recent graduate, I can tell you that young professionals in their 20s and 30s generally don't get excited about the prospect of working in a suburban office park. Sure, at the end of the day people want a job and want to work for a good employer but the atmosphere created by having mile after mile of suburban office parks actually contributes to the brain drain in this region, not the other way around. It's better to have Illuminating Concepts in the region than not, but they could do much more good for the region by being located downtown (it's not like we're in Manhattan or somewhere where they might be able to argue that the move is cost prohibitive - clearly there is plenty of office space in downtown).

    At the end of the day, the sprawl that this company is located in is a factor that leads many recent graduates and others to choose to re-locate to cities like Chicago. On the micro-level, I can understand why this particular firm might have a good reason to be in the burbs. But on the whole, their location contributes to the deficiency of downtown as a true city center. We know from research that it is precisely this lack of a vibrant, urban, walkable city center that is contributing to the city's (and ultimately the region) decline.

    Illuminating Concepts moving to downtown Detroit wouldn't solve the problem by itself. But they just may find that if they make the move downtown, it will encourage other companies with creative talent to also make the move. This will help grow and sustain the critical mass necessary to make the downtown area desirable and thriving, thus making it easier for Illuminating Concepts to recruit new talent and retain current workers.

    • 5.1

      I agree with this statement, particularly because I saw this happening in Flint, a town northwest of Detroit suffering similar ills. The engineering firm I used to work for was in the middle of taking over a downtown Flint storefront for its new offices, moving from a suburban office park that lacked transit/pedestrian access and was architecturally bland (go figure). Especially for a firm that specialized in designing urban space, the move made sense from a pragmatic standpoint, but also as a catalyst for downtown economic revitalization.

      Bottom line: let's get the "creative class" workers back to the hub of the activity.

  • 6

    Cecile, I completely respect your opinion and have enjoyed your previous posts. I recognize that the Disctrict is segregated. I mentor a young black teenaged girl and am an active volunteer in the Junior League of Washington, so I am well aware of the segregation, crippling poverty and illiteracy that are prevalent in parts of DC. However, when it comes to the the bitterness and hatred that exist among races in the metro Detroit area that have continued to isolate the city from residents in surrounding areas since the riots in 1967, no, I have not experienced that here. As a black woman married to a white man, trust me. The difference is palpable.

    I also take great offense to your statement that "It's a very hard place for the poor to get attention since so many of the people who work there every day are from other places in the country and/or head home to Virginia every night." Living in poverty is difficult anywhere and the District has a lot of services in place to assist those in need, from a newspaper run by the homelss that enables them to learn critical job skils and encourages literacy to a free, mobile service that provides meals and emergency medical care to the homeless. It isn't a perfect system, but please, tell me how it's easier to be poor in Detroit than it is here.

    And to imply that people come into the District to work and then head for the hills at 5:00 pm with their blinders on, is offensive. What is this assumption based on? Some of the most passionate, active and sympathetic volunteers and activitists I know are people who live in the suburbs and have an unwavering commitment to making life better for their "neighbors" in DC. And anyway, most rational people have an inclination to invest time, money and energy into improving, and maintaining the area in which they work. A case in point: Campus Martius Park will likely continue to stay in pretty good shape as long as Compuware is around.

    Finally, I will acknowlegde that Detroit has some cool things to see and do - I did spend 18 years of my life there. If you find it overwhelming and enjoy it, I can respect that. Just know that at the end of the day, I left for a good job, a strong public school system, and peace of mind. The weather was just a bonus.

  • 7

    I should add that it is my experience that young people and creative class types don't move to a city because "it has nice suburbs" with good strip malls and restaurants (obviously surrounded by parking lots since most of these places are almost if not completely unwalkable). They move to cities like Chicago (young folks from Detroit in particular seem to flock to this city - which is why I use it as an example) because they crave the urban atmosphere that can't be provided in these suburban environments.

  • 8

    Another reason why Detroiters are so optimistic: All the pessimists leave. :-)

  • 9

    One shouldn't begrudge anyone's choices. Alls I can say is that I've lived in San Francisco, Brooklyn and Santa Fe and I've never been happier than I am now living in downtown Detroit. I can walk to ballgames, ride my bike all over town, hit the open air market on the weekends, and see great live shows any night of the year. It's affordable and the people are really friendly. It's got the best used bookstore I've ever seen (King's Books, incredible) one of the best pizza places I've ever eaten at (Supinos) and a great supermarket (Honeybee, try their guac!) It's really a completely fascinating, vibrant, intense and incredible place. Swing by sometime.

    • 9.1

      I second Honeybee's guac! And pick up a case of Coke made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup while you're there!

  • 10

    It's the same old song and dance just with a different article. As to the comment of the "the weak have left and only the strong remain" there is some validity. As much as I hear that jobs are nowhere to be found in Michigan, I have noticed jobs are available. That is not to say that other cities are not offering the same jobs just at higher rates. The issue that hides beneath is the fact that saying there are no jobs available is an easy way out of Detroit. This raises an interesting question.....if Detroit does not find a solution to it's issues and the auto industry dries up completely, don't you think that many of those jobs that were taken in various other US cities will no longer be needed? I read in another post something similar that maybe as far as Detroit is behind, maybe we are actually ahead.....At it's peak, Detroit was the backbone of the American Economy with the automobile but that is all that held this city together.....Those who stay and help in the redesign of Detroit whether it be IN the city our IN the burbs will ultimately prove their strength and eventually those who come back will show their weakness when begging for jobs as other cities reach the point Detroit is at now......Economists say "it's all about trends" and unfortunately Detroit started this trend. Let us not forget Detroit boasts one of the best creative schools in the nation in CCS and it's only a matter of time that Detroit's potential in the entertainment field is realized. Detroit is a canvas waiting to be explored and recreated, it's perfect for the creative minded and the ground work is already laid. Time will only tell if this city will swallow its pride and let another industry take the wheel and drive this city to its resurgence.

  • 11

    First off, thank you Mr. Harwood for keeping your business in Michigan and illustrating the reasons why this is a great state to live and do business.

    I work in downtwon Detroit and live in Farmington Hills. I completely understand why Mr. Harwood would keep his business there. First- chances are most of his employee's live in the burbs and it's an easier commute (ie- Michigan winters). Time-wise they can get home to their families quicker -particularly on those late nights. Secondly - have you been to downtown Farmington lately? It's great- they are putting a lot of effort and money into revitalizing their downtown area.

    I have known many 20 and 30 somethings who have moved to Chicago and other more vibrant downtown cities - but those that decided to settle down, get married and have children landed up the burbs. They now welcome working in "suburban sprawl" because they are closer to their homes and children. And those that chose to remain single are still loving the city. Overall it's a matter of choice and really, shouldn't we take the "Detroit" out of the equation and look at it in terms of what's good for our region?

  • 12

    I think the above comments all come from a great many different perspectives and have all brought up great points.

    It's fantastic that this business has remained in Michigan, because Michigan's economy as a whole needs businesses like Mr. Harwood's. We need to remember that Detroit will fare better because Mr. Harwood established his business in Farmington Hills, MI than in if he had established it in New York. I agree that Detroit needs new and exciting business to move into downtown, but I don't think moving a business from Farmington Hills to Detroit is the solution we need for Michigan right now.

    The bigger issue is that we need to get rid of this separationist mentality that exists between the suburbs and the city of Detroit. I've noticed in any article that is posted regarding a suburb, at least one person comments "that's a suburb, that's not Detroit" or something along the likes of that. This kind of thought is what started this whole mess, residents fleeing to the safety of the suburbs and thinking themselves separate from the blights of the city. Detroit needs cities like Farmington Hills, just like Farmington Hills needs Detroit.

    I myself was born and raised in Farmington Hills and have always loved my hometown and Detroit. True, I inherently have had a much different life experience than those born and raised within the city, but it doesn't change the fact that I feel connected to the city and it's history and want to see it thrive again. I am currently living in St. Louis for graduate school to receive my M.F.A. in painting and my paintings are themed around Detroit. I would hate to think that my input would be perceived as invaluable and my paintings would be regarded as less important just because I grew up in a suburb.

  • 13

    The metro-Detroit region is suffering from massive brain drain. This is a fact. This brain drain is occuring, in part, because Detroit is not viewed as a "cool" city by young people and recent college graduates.

    I firmly believe that Detroit's suburbs are among the nicest in all of the U.S. However, at the end of the day this is not what convinces young people to move to a city. Many young people who move to the suburbs of Chicago were attracted to the that region because of the vitality of the city core. Although they wanted the amenities of the burbs they also wanted to be in a "cool" city like Chicago. Detroit needs a strong city core that can attract new people, the further expansion of the suburbs does not help this goal. The young people klgr mentioned who moved to Chicago and then decided to settle in the suburbs are precisely the people that Detroit is missing out on. Chances are, those people are likely to remain in Chicago. We need to keep them here in Detroit (or attract them here in the first place) and we need a vital city center to do that.

    Of course, it's slightly easier to drive home from an office in the 'burbs to other parts of Oakland County but this is partially because our region has become so sprawled out in the first place. With each business that chooses to locate out in the 'burbs this pattern is further reinforced. Ultimately, this pattern creates the type of bland office park/suburban sprawl topography that leads to the degradation of the entire region because it's no longer viewed as an attractive place to locate. Look no further that Saab considering moving its HQ to Royal Oak or Hummer considering building out in Oakland County. Look at Ford in Dearborn and Chrysler in Auburn Hills. It would be unthinkable in NYC to have the majority of major corporate HQs outside of Manhattan because it's easier for people to commute. Lets look at what works other places. Clearly, if people from another city were studying Detroit they would conclude that our the sprawl of our region is a pattern that leads to decline, not progress.

    Of course the city and suburbs both need each other but the reality is that the city is like the heart of the region and the suburbs are appendages. Without a strong heart, everything else will ultimately suffer. (Right now we have stronger suburbs and a weak city and look at how that's working out for the region).

    • 13.1

      Commuting in Manhattan is a b*tch and a major time waster. It's easier in Detroit.

    • 13.2

      I think you're right about Detroit not attracting young people because of it's "non cool" (even though it is) status........but that could be a good thing. Who it does attract is exactly the kind of people we need. Detroit's image keeps out the riff-raff. We don't need takers, we need givers, and people who are attracted to shiny pretty places are the last kind of people we need.

  • 14

    Yes but people are trying to move to Manhattan and trying to move away from Detroit. Having a short commute isn't the only factor people consider when moving someplace.

    • 14.1

      What you miss is that Manhattan is not the entirety of New York City. New York City has lost people to less expensive regions. The NY Times wrote about the outflow, primarily to places like the Carolinas, a while back.

      What do you think happened to all those who got gentrified out of Harlem?

      New York City is like the inverse of Detroit. Much of the monied set clusters on fortress Manhattan (or escapes to the far northern end of NYC sprawl, which reaches all the way to CT) while the middle class and poor folk get turned out to the far reaches and become the "bus and tunnel" set. In Detroit the money moves outward along the lakefront Pointes or into the near inland lakes regions like West Bloomfield.

    • 14.2

      oops...that should be "bridge and tunnel"

  • 15

    Mr Harwood, thank you for your story. I for one am glad you have kept your business in the Southeast Michigan area.

    Commuting times, strong central city core, suburbs vs city, people in their 20's and 30's, Manhattan, DC, Chicago, Portland, Denver.... lots of topics there in response to one company's decision to stay here.

    I grew up in Detroit and now live in the suburbs. I lived outside Boston for 6 years during my adult life, and have traveled to most of the cities mentioned. I came back because of my aging parents, and now have a family here.

    One of the major things that keeps this city from being totally revitalized is the lack of mass transit. Chicago has trains that run along the middle of an expressway. NY, Boston & DC have trains and subways that transport people into and out of the main city. These mass transit systems were set up decades ago, and remain vital to the centers of the cities. The cities were never allowed to decay, because people who lived and worked there were able to get to and from work whether they lived in the city or the suburbs.

    I remember pictures of downtown Detroit before the 1950's. There were trolleys, not sure where they went, but they were there. We now have a raised train that goes in a circle around downtown, the "People Mover", and buses that are having their schedules cut because of the reduced numbers of people that use them.

    I read recently that there was some talk about building some sort of mass transit from the heart of downtown to the Wayne State area, a train or trolley system that would run down Woodward. This was supposed to happen with some money from the American Reinvestment funds. This would be just a glorified bus.

    I understand that building a mass transit system that actually moves "masses" via a "transit system" would cost billions now. But if downtown becomes what it can be, and there is a central core to it, and companies start to build there, and hire there, how bad will the traffic be then? It's not great on I-75, I-94 or I-96 during rush hour now.

    • 15.1

      IMHO the objective should be to get people to live closer to where they work, not to facilitate commuters from the hinterlands (which is what far flung mass transit is all about).

    • 15.2

      Exactly but mass transit in Detroit has to also acknowledge the reality of how people are concentrated in the metro area. We don't live in a perfect world.

    • 15.3

      So you want to perpetuate a disadvantageous population distribution by accommodating it with an unprofitable (as all major ones in the US are) mass transit system that will drain even more of the area's sparse funding?

      Seriously, think this through. I realize 'mass transit' is a popular chant but It makes no sense here and now.

  • 16

    "Why Detroit"? I'm one of the many college-educated young adults who left Michigan in the past decade, and (surprise!) I can see myself coming back. Unlike previous posters I moved to the West Coast, not DC, New York or Chicago. For me, leaving home gave me a clearer sense of what is most important to me: family and a sense of community (throw cost of living in there too).

    I can understand the sting that some transplants may have felt in reading Ron's statement "the weak have left..." but isn't that one of the things that makes Detroiters great? The chip on our collective shoulder is present even in the sharp response that this comment drew. The DC transplant (motownspartan) responded with an equally sharp post about why she left! She may have had a response loaded with reasons why she left, but don't call her weak! It is this sharp sense of "I DO give a damn" that I cannot find in California. It may not be unique to Detroit, but it is one of the many things that makes Detroiters unique.

    I appreciate Ron's passion for the Metro area, and I agree that there are plenty of untold stories like his in that need to be shared. I'm glad that Time is devoting attention to telling stories like this one.

  • 17

    [...] Very interesting to follow, and it’s coming up with some remarkable stories of local people, places and companies….like this one… [...]

  • 18

    I love the hypocrisies of society. I am one of those young people paying my way through a college education and have never thought a day about leaving this State. Detroit has plenty to offer to young people. The DIA and Science Center are just two of the places that are highly underrated in the city. I have many friends who have picked up and moved to the likes of Denver, Chicago and New York laying claim that "there are no jobs in Detroit." There are no jobs anywhere!!! They do it because its trendy, it is what everyone else is doing and guess what, majority of them come back with their tail between their legs because they miss home and realized that the grass isn't always greener. This is society's issue as a whole, not just Detroit, that we always want the easy way out. That is the funny thing in this whole situation though. Picking up and moving isn't actually as easy as it sounds and many young people, including myself, don't understand that. For one, the cost of living in other cities speaks for itself. Many of my friends have spent so much time working their fingers to the bone they don't even have time to enjoy the city they have been lured to. The fact of the matter is, graduates of today were told by high school counselors and parents alike, that engineering was a strong subject of study. Where do majority of Michigan Colleges and Universities stand the strongest in course of study? Engineering. Isn't it common sense that graduating 20% percent of your undergraduate classes into an industry that is at it's weakest point in history will have some effect on unemployment? Now I understand that an engineering degree doesn't equate to becoming an auto engineer, but lets face it, the auto industry is a large portion of where graduating engineers historically found employment. Case in point, IF graduates are actually leaving to find jobs rather than just doing what is cool, it is because we do not offer many other engineering possibilities outside of the auto world as other States do.

    This post is not to say that many have not found success by moving away, I have friends which have succeeded. However, they are the minority. What I would like to know is, where is the pride that founded this city? Why is it that we continue to make excuses of why we can't and that "real" Detroit is so misunderstood that we will never get the help we actually need? We can't keep graduates here because there isn't anything young and hip about Detroit? I find it funny that we receive an opportunity to show the world what Detroit is with TIME reporting on our city, yet we just reinforce America's classification of Detroit because we want to make excuses. No wonder no one wants to come here, we make it sound as if we don't even want to be here!

  • 19

    Modernized craft guilds as a way to revive Detroit

    Craft Guilds as a solution to pervasive off-shoring. The problem facing western societies is that the current existence of offshore labour on truly a massive scale is a relatively new phenomenom since the fall of the Berlin wall and China`s entry into the WTO. This has allowed those companies with good contacts overseas to crush their local rivals without the infrastructure and or the indifference to the implications of their decision to offshore. The vast army of eager to please cheaper labour which doubles as a club to keep those who haven`t lost their jobs back home in line is morally bankrupt. It`s in this environment of managerial bliss that the creative individual is increasingly marginalized and his efforts muted and in the case of Detroit an entire city. The Wal-Martization of the world means that corporations force inventors and artists to sign humiliating contracts resulting in them essentially handing over the rights to their creations for relatively little in return and without even a guarantee of long term employment and in turn offshoring the work to China etc..: the old social contract has definitely ceased to apply.
    There is a great deal at stake as those societies which engage wholeheartedly in creative endeavours stand to be in the best position possible to deal with the plague of off-shoring.Deindustrialization and a falling birthrate have resulted in a surplus of industrial and educational buildings to be available and are frequently owned by the state.
    My solution would be to provide these buildings to a new type of social construct called craft guilds that would have temporary non-profit status for a 5 or 10 year period in order to permit them to aquire the equipment, machinery, educational liasons and infrastructure necessary to get started and off the ground. The ideal craft guild would be an assemblage of architects, engineers, artists and production technicians who would enter upon mutual contracts respecting their individual rights and not excessive in their demands. Patents, copyrights and designs would be owned by their creators with a 10 % royalty fee for the first invention etc...reverting to the guild enabling the continuity of the guild`s existence. Guild types can cover the entire spectrum of creative activities but the special status of the guild would be dependant upon their being engaged in creating goods and services not readily available and not simply being job shops which in reality would have them compete with existing companies and be disruptive as a result. It should also be an objective of the guilds to disavow any government assistance whatsoever except for the building and renovation assistance of it and donations if possible and the tax benefits to society for donations of capital and machinery etc...that would be available from the ten year tax free status.I believe these guilds can be operated within the current capitalist system as another type of entity just like the corporation as a creation by government decree but of course with different objectives and methods of achieving their goals. Guilds can offer society the benefits of invention and creative production in order to combat the flood of cheap imports unethically produced by having limited production capabilities as part of the guilds`structure. Marketing can be carried out via the guilds` direct internet marketing over Craigs list, Kijiji and Ebay in order to bypass the Wal-Mart phenomenom. This would be a closed loop between creator and the end consumer thus guaranteeing the integrity of the design and manufacturing process. A seal of the guilds`approval along with details as to how the product or service was created/mfd. could be given giving the consumer that cares the peace of mind that he/she is part of the solution and not part of the problem.All members of the potential guilds should be able to have had a proven track record of creativity without any financial assistance completely independant of any institution so as to demonstrate the ability to think outside the box and survive with limited or even no resources as anything is possible with money but things get far more difficult without it. This is about creativity and not getting on a gravy train, it`s tough love and sink or swim. The original craft guilds didn`t have a steady stream of government handouts to rely on they managed to bring about some pretty crafty innovations such as the Chartres cathedral and the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, London Bridge, the Gutenberg press and the Sistene chapel etc....The impact of creativity should not be underestimated as it has taken a single mother scraping by in England to being a billionaire. How many other J.K. Rowlings have yet to have their creations see the light of day because of narrow corporate interpretation of what society would be interested in which in reality can be totally off the mark as it is more often than not plays to the lowest common denominator. I believe modernized craft guilds can be a medium by which society can be enriched and the rights of the creative better promoted and protected. This way the current prevalence of societies begging and bribing corporations to invent things and employ people in the western world when in reality they are merely re-inventing the wheel and buying off the shelf items instead of `researching` and then offshore the production to the PRC or wherever as soon as no-one is looking can be remedied to a certain extent. Robert Hennecke.Thanking in advance for your consideration.

    The above is my solution for Detroit and if employed correctly could create hundreds of thousands of self directed jobs that would not be vulnerable to off-shoring.

  • 20

    I used to work in Windsor, Ontario as a tool and die maker and later on as a tool designer and subsequently returned to Montreal as my girlfriend wanted to return. My impression of Windsor and Detroit on a technical level was very positive and I felt that in terms of manufacturing capabilities both of these cities can do basically anything it's just a matter of realizing that there needs to be a third model that can run in parallel with the corporation and the non-profit sector: see above. Detroit in reality offers an ideal potential for an experiment like I have explained to be tried with no real costs to society as the idea in essence is just transferring assets deemed of lowvalue to those who might mak use of them and even corporations can benefit as they could get tax write-off benefits. The guilds could even be low cost suppliers to corporations such as parts suppliers and even the auto industry itself. The real problem is the corporation is set up to maximize profits and if this means doing so with zero emplyees then so be it. So when governments beg and bribe corporations to hire people they shouldn't be surprised that they won't do as good as hoped. Guilds having a different mission similar but more profit oriented than the YMCA would be operating with different structural and societal expectations. I firmly believe this idea can work.

  • 21

    [...] who is left? Is it, as this article claims, the strongest that remain? Maybe those who stayed are stronger. Who knows, though it looks [...]

  • 22

    [...] Michigan needs jobs. But I get the feeling that many who remain believe that those who left were weak, or quitters, or don’t like hard work. Those “quitters” who left the state, left [...]

  • 23

    rental properties in baldivis

    Unfiltered: Why Detroit? - The Detroit Blog -

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