Q&A: Sean Mann on Saving Michigan
Who would want to save Michigan? Plenty of people, it turns out.
One of them is 29-year-old Sean Mann, founder of “Let's Save Michigan,” a web site, blog and much more. Right now, Sean is gathering signatures on a Pledge to do exactly that…Save the state and preserve a great way of life.
Now, the so-call need to save the state may seem a bit dramatic. But it's the idea of doing whatever you can to make this a decent place to live that really resonates with me. For example, the goal of the Pledge (where you agree to do more local shopping, going to cultural events and the like) is to take the lead “and be a part of moving our state toward a better tomorrow,” as Mann writes.
The question is “What do we want Michigan to look like in the future and what are we willing to do to get there?” Its lunacy to think that we can continue with the same approach to economic development and land-use that we've had for the past 50 years and come out with a different result than what we have today. I think it will be hard for Michigan to stay relevant in the coming century if we continue to allow our cities, infrastructure and anchor institutions decay.
Quick bio: He grew up in Livonia. He went to Kalamazoo College and “like nearly all my classmates I left that state within months of graduating,” he said.
Pursuing a career in diplomacy, he lived in the UK for a few years where he got a masters and worked at the British House of Commons. “Eventually, my idealism and love of Detroit brought me back,” he said. Before starting this campaign in the fall he worked for three years as a policy advisor at Michigan House of Representatives (commuting everyday from Detroit to Lansing).
These days, he lives in Detroit's historic Hubbard Farms (Mexicantown) where he spends just about all of his free time renovating the vacant 1900s funeral home that he bought a year ago. (Although in fairness, Mann says didn't realize it was a funeral home until a series of older neighbors told him that the last time they were in his living room was to see relatives of theirs in caskets.)
Q: Why did you start “Let's Save Michigan”?
A: We've lost a million jobs in the past decade and half of Michigan's college graduates are leaving the state within a year of graduating. It's time to rethink what we are doing in Michigan and what we want our state to be. While there is no silver-bullet to what ails our state, Let's Save Michigan came out of a need to develop a greater appreciation for cities, in particular the desirable, highly livable urban places that Michigan sorely lacks. Michigan has some world-class suburbs but when it comes to offering people vibrant cities, we fail. And while the majority of Americans have and continue to live in suburbs a growing number of the highly mobile workforce of the 21st century are congregating in urban areas, the type of areas we don't offer. Our goal is to engage the public in the importance of ‘quality of place' to Michigan's economic future and to get them involved in creating desirable cities through their personal actions and advocacy.
Q: Can Michigan be saved?
A: Michigan can certainly be saved, and I'm far from alone in that sentiment. If I didn't feel that way I would have moved to some soulless Sunbelt community a long time ago. The question is “What do we want Michigan to look like in the future and what are we willing to do to get there?” Its lunacy to think that we can continue with the same approach to economic development and land-use that we've had for the past 50 years and come out with a different result than what we have today. I think it will be hard for Michigan to stay relevant in the coming century if we continue to allow our cities, infrastructure and anchor institutions decay.
Q: Why would anyone want to save such a tired, old state?
A: Right now, right here in Michigan we are in the midst of such a crucial transition point that I really think individuals are being inspired to take action and are in a position to truly shape the future. I'm not alone in that sentiment. There is a fledgling but growing number of young committed people in Michigan's cities dedicated to creating move livable places. While very demanding and daunting, I think that it is really exciting to be a part of this community looking to improve Michigan. It gives me a sense of purpose and community engagement that I wouldn't have if I joined my college classmates in moving off to Brooklyn, Seattle or northside Chicago.
Also, I take immense pride in coming from Michigan and in particular Detroit because I strongly believe that we more than anyone else truly shaped the modern world with our innovations, institutions and the way of life we created. And while we live in a much different present, a more difficult present, the institutions and values that came from our more prosperous time are still here and I feel like they give us a leg-up as we reinvent ourselves in this very exciting and tumultuous period in our history. On top of that I think there is a certain authenticity and charm to Michigan and people that you experience when you visit our neighborhoods, bowling alleys, Coney Islands or festivals that I haven't found anywhere else in the world.
Q: Why did you start the 2010 Pledge campaign?
A: The Pledge is to highlight that individuals' everyday actions can play a role in shaping and creating the more livable communities that we all want to live, work and play in. Most of all its to let people know that, despite the immensity of the problems facing us, there are little things we can all do to improve Michigan's long-term fortunes.
Q: What do you want people to know about the state that they may not have known before?
A: I want people to realize that Michigan can't succeed if we have decaying core communities and that we can't just wait for things to get better. I'd love to impress on people that while they may be skeptical or downright disgusted with politics, they can play a role in making things better. Having worked in Lansing for years, I've seen firsthand that If you get just 25 or 50 people to contact a legislator about a specific issue, it can get the ball moving towards positive change.