Each time I go to the city to volunteer or check out the sights, I’m inspired by the people who insist that Detroit is a great city, despite all the negative press. People who believe that Detroit’s hard times are an opportunity for transformation rather than a death knell.
Detroit’s phoenix-from-the-ashes attitude reminds me of my former home in New Orleans, where people also love and believe in their city, and work hard for positive change.
My affection for the city has me contemplating a move from my lovely, comfortable home in a safe, quaint college town to the city limits of Detroit. I’ve been talking about it for a few months now, and spent the past weekend scoping out the Detroit neighborhood where I plan to make my new home.
Detroit is a little different from New Orleans in that there are even more stretches of urban blight, unlit streets, neglect and abandonment. I’ve been aware of that for some time, but something about my last visit that struck me as extra desolate. Could've been the pouring rain. Maybe it was the security guy at the restaurant, on watch to keep the cars from being vandalized. Maybe it was the weight of so many foreclosed and abandoned homes in the otherwise fine neighborhood where I am planning to move to. Maybe it was even more negative press about Detroit’s city council hitting the national news.
Whatever the reason, I found myself having doubts by Sunday evening, questioning my decision to go to a place where so many have left.
Then comes Monday morning, and a coworker forwards me a little Op-ed piece in the New York Times. It’s about how artists and innovators are moving into Detroit, taking advantage of the ridiculously cheap real estate, building cool communities, with solar power and mini farms. Creating a sense of community that some cities only dream of.
As the Op-ed piece said:
A strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century’s industrial decline.
More than wishing Detroit was different, these people are making it what they want it to be, creating their dreams on the blank canvas of abandonment. Where some have given up neighborhoods for dead, others are creating a rebirth.
Next, as if by conspiracy, another coworker forwards a news blurb from the Philippines Yahoo site about investors buying up real estate and rehabilitating properties in Detroit – investors from Asia and Europe who see not blight and neglect, but opportunity.
These two little news pieces pushed me off my fence of doubt, inspiring me to reaffirm my commitment to Detroit.
These fortunate stories, passed to me right when I was at a crossroad, remind me of a bit of wisdom from Grace Lee Boggs, the famous social activist who chooses to make her home in Detroit. Boggs says, “Spread the good news, not the bad.” And that makes all the difference.