A Little More Conversation
Wednesday, my reporter's ears did a little eavesdropping on a coffee-house conversation…between two middle-aged, white men about Detroit.
They talked about the Dateline special, the “right-sizing” debate and Mayor Dave Bing. Their comments, largely unguarded, were fascinating to me because it shows how much people are finally paying attention to the issues here.
These Average Joes mixed facts and figures with personal experiences to relate how they felt about what's happening in the city. Yes, they bragged about how their parents were smart to sell their homes shortly after the riots. That is usually where any conversation about Detroit normally stopped.
But this time, the conversation continued.
They too were offended by Dateline's version of Detroit – especially that part about the raccoons. They were strongly in favor of Detroit shutting down abandoned blocks and consolidating city services. They supported Bing; in fact, they boasted that they wanted the mayor to demand people make those tough moves for the betterment of everyone around.
Now, I'm generally in agreement with these men. But I bring up their chat because it reiterates my belief that this region is gearing up for something. If two suburbanites care enough about Detroit to talk about it over their high-priced lattes, then something good is brewing.
In years past, perhaps my entire childhood, it felt like no one talked about Detroit. It wasn't a taboo subject. Indeed, my mother lived in the city for several years after high school and before marriage, so Detroit was often talked about affectionately in my house. Rather, it seemed like few people in my little home towns cared about anything within those 140 square miles – good or bad.
But with the economy tanking, our regional problems have become magnified. Isolationism is no longer an option. Detroit has become that much more of a hot button. Perhaps things had to get to this point to finally make us wake up to the situation that has been there for more than half a century.
Look at our beloved auto industry: General Motors went from riding high to hitting hit the skids via bankruptcy within what seemed like a matter of months. But that reorganization allowed it to shed some of its troubles and, hopefully, get a fresh start. Who knows where Detroit will be a year from now. But the conversation has started.