A Lifelong Commitment to Detroit

There’s been much discussion about Detroit’s recent population trends, including slowing population declines and conversely, people moving back into the city–specifically, downtown, Midtown, East Village and other parts of the city. Many are millennials, empty nesters and others coming from across the country to be a part of Detroit’s revitalization efforts. In fact, in many of these areas, demand for housing is outstripping supply and driving up rental and purchase prices.

It’s been well documented in this blog, my radio show and elsewhere that Detroit has become a “hot spot” for entrepreneurship and small business development. Small businesses continue to open regularly. Investors are buying property and land across parts of the city for potential development opportunities.

And most of the headlines are downtown and Midtown.

However, what about the neighborhoods and what will it take for Detroit’s revitalization efforts to take hold where its citizens reside?

I wanted to get a perspective from resident who’s a Detroit native, business owner and currently living in the city. A person who’s made a conscious decision not to move to the suburbs, understand why they’ve decided to stay and thoughts on living and raising a family in the Motor City.

Meet David Rudolph, Senior Managing Partner, D. Ericson & Associates, a Detroit-based public relations firm which he founded in 1996. With the exception of college, Rudolph has spent his entire life in Detroit. While many decided to move elsewhere, Rudolph decided to stay, get married, raise a family and start and build a business in Detroit.

I asked him for his thoughts on the challenges of raising a family in Detroit while sharing his hopes for the city’s future.

Lee: You went away to college and chose to come back to Detroit. Why?

Rudolph: I love Detroit. It’s where I was born (Henry Ford Hospital), it’s where I was raised – in a great and stable neighborhood on the westside, and it’s where I went to school (Detroit Waldorf School) and it’s where my family and dearest friends live.

In addition, after college (Michigan State University) and graduate school (Florida State University) I made a conscience decision to come back to Detroit and be parts of the rebirth – when Dennis Archer was elected mayor. Back then, in 1994, I could see Detroit still had potential to be a great city again, but what was missing was the political, business, resident and suburban communities will to make it happen. When I came back to Detroit, I saw myself as a pioneer who was not willing to believe the adage then tossed around “will the last person leaving Detroit, please turn off the light.” In my mind and my contemporaries, we all thought as long as we were in Detroit, the lights would stay on and hope lived.

Lee: You’re committed to the city. You have a business based here and have decided to live in the city.

Rudolph: Now this may sound easy to say now, but to be honest living in a Detroit neighborhood comes with some pains and pleasures all rolled into one. The question becomes can you deal with unpleasant moments and remain committed to making the neighborhood better while you living in it?

I stay in Detroit because I am old enough to know what a thriving Detroit neighborhood looks like. I want to help Detroit return to those days when you could walk down the street and know all your neighbors. When kids could play outside until the streetlights came on, and you knew the community was always looking out for its youngest residents along with its oldest residents and everyone in between. I stay in Detroit because I have a business in the city and I feel duty bound as a native Detroiter to be a part of the solution, rather than taking up space and sucking up oxygen while being s source of our problems. I stay in Detroit because I got married in the city and started a family in the city – my commitment to Detroit is rooted in the idea I can make this place better because I am here.

Lee: What are some of the benefits of living in your neighborhood?

Rudolph: Detroit makes you tough. The sayings are true, “nothing stops Detroit,” “Detroit hustles harder.” This might sound strange, but when you live in Detroit nothing surprises you because it’s in our DNA to be strong, resilient, aware of our surroundings all the while being kind, compassionate, resourceful and innovative at the same time. In business, these are skills you cannot teach – they are learned through experience and the environment.

My family and I enjoy living in a Detroit neighborhood now, in particular, because we have almost no commute – my wife’s office is 10 minutes away from home. We recently pulled our daughter out of a private school in the suburbs – traveling 15 miles one way, to a great charter school downtown – now only 10 minutes away from home.

I recently moved my public relations firm, D. Ericson & Associates, to a new location downtown – again just 10 minutes away from home. New businesses are popping up like crazy, so now when we want to see a movie we go to Cinema Detroit, when we feel like eating pizza we go to Tony V’s or Jolly Pumpkin. When I need to get milk I can run to Honey Bee Market, see a concert visit the Garden Theater or Chene Park. If I want to kick back and people watch, I have the Riverwalk. The point I am making is from my neighborhood I can get anywhere and anything easier now. My life does not evolve with long commutes into the suburbs to find cool places and space to enjoy.

Lee: And challenges?

Rudolph: However, living in a Detroit neighborhood does come with some challenges. Safety is still an issue and that means our communities need to get more involved with looking out for each other, our families and our children. As a community living in neighborhoods we need to hang the “no-drama is welcomed” sign and hold each other more accountable at how we present our neighborhoods. When I was growing up, my father use to compete with other neighbors as to who had the best lawn, best flower beds, heck best outdoor home décor. We have too many residents who have disengaged and you can tell by how they take care of their property. If we don’t show respect to our own neighborhoods, how can you expect someone coming in to do the same? When was the last time you saw a story about illegal dumping in Indian Village? Never! That’s because you know the residents in that neighborhood care and you can see it.

Lee: You joked with me recently that living in Detroit can take ten years from you. What do you mean by that?

Rudolph: I may have been referring to how long it will take to rebuild our neighborhoods or I may have been expressing some humor in that living in a neighborhood can take ten years off your life as you are constantly worried about your safety, will you home be ok when you get home, the uneasiness of living in Detroit does wear on you – especially when you listen to the news and hear about tragic occurrence that happen close to home. I am sure that is what I was driving to.

I am always on alert when I am out late or coming home. When I see a story in the media, in particular if crime related in the suburbs you would hear, read or see someone saying they never thought something like that could happen in their community. When you live in a Detroit neighborhood, you expect the unexpected, so will never hear a Detroiter say “I never thought that could happen here” that is what takes years off your life and disappointing when you have to live a life more in caution mode then free spirit mode.

Lee: Based on your experiences, what suggestions do you have when it comes to neighborhood development?

Rudolph: Community is what you make of it. Neighborhood development starts with inspiring people to rise above and take pride in where they live. You don’t have to be rich to have pride and take ownership in the neighborhood. For the residents, take pride in cutting the lawn, picking up trash around your property, don’t be a nuisance in the neighborhood by playing loud music – especially, if not family friendly lyrics, basketball in the streets after dark, allowing guests to do whatever they like in your neighborhood, and staying quiet when you know or see something wrong happening in the neighborhood.

Lee: What else?

Rudolph: Apathy is the worst thing to happen in a neighborhood. From our city and business leaders, we need them to continue to be visible in our neighborhoods and find ways inspire residents to buy-in that a great city starts with great neighborhoods of individuals who care. We need to establish a neighborhood beautification program where residents can get resources to help make things look nicer.

Let’s get community organizing fellows into neighborhoods and see if we can build more block clubs, get neighbors talking and engaging with each other. The biggest problem in our neighborhoods is we stopped talking to our neighbors, we know how to build fences or plant shrubs to separate our property boundaries, but we have lost the art of just communicating to our neighbors in a way that keeps us connected and informed in a positive way.

Lee: Other thoughts?

Rudolph: Detroit is a wonderful city, rich in history and culture. What makes our city special above all others are the residents. These are people who are survivors of the worst economic period a city has ever had in America. We have proven we can survive, now we owe it to each other to prove we can thrive. We don’t have time to NOT be our brother’s keeper. So goes our neighborhoods, so goes our city. Detroit has the good will of the business and financial community, we have a great mayor in Mike Duggan who has returned leadership to the executive office and taking the lead at correcting may of the deep seeded problems no other mayor has had the chance to do.