Now is the time to prove the critics wrong about Detroit

“How’s Detroit doing?”

“Is it ever going to come back?”

“It’s a shame what’s happened to it?”

I travel frequently and these are the types of questions and/comments I hear frequently – particularly when people find out I’m from Detroit. The three quotes referenced were shared with me over the last 10 days.

It’s almost like they feel sorry for those who are from this area and/or still live and work here.


Then, I’m reading Sunday’s New York Times and there’s an article called “Motor City Missionary” with a subtitle, “Against tall odds, Quicken Loans’ founder is putting down money to refill Detroit’s hollowed-out core. He’d better believe.”  The focal point of the article centers around Dan Gilbert’s efforts to resurrect downtown Detroit.  To some, there’s a perception of two cities being created–a downtown with vibrancy and neighborhoods which continue to struggle.

I read the article with trepidation knowing we’ve seen and heard this before.  Kind of like the movie “Groundhog Day”.  The article summarizes issues affecting this city–by rehashing the “same old stuff”, including discussions around population declines, job losses, corruption and crime.

Then, I read deeper about Gilbert and his dreams for a city where he says, “People my age…who were raised in Detroit about how great this city was, from 1900 to the 60’s, but none of us had any memory of that…”

In other words, he wants to bring back some of the luster and vibrancy from year’s past.

As a native Detroiter who was raised in the city during the 60’s and 70’s and who still frequents the city often, I do have fond memories of Detroit. However, we have an opportunity to create new, positive memories – but only if we work together – by focusing on the future and not just remembering our childhoods or how Detroit used to be.

Back to Gilbert, I have written about his start as an entrepreneur and how he’s grown his business and has made an unwavering commitment to his hometown.  For this, I admire his gumption and commitment.

While many people think about Detroit’s glorious past, contentious downfall and its attempt again to rise from the depths of despair, Gilbert is a breath of fresh air and is putting his money where his mouth is–literally.  Nearly, a $1 billion worth.

It doesn’t matter if he’s from the city or suburbs, he realizes Detroit is the hub of this region and state and believes you need to have a thriving core to attract new investments and residents.  Can’t argue with that.

According to the Times, he has spent nearly $1 billion to acquire three million square feet of real estate downtown and has moved nearly 8000 people downtown. I’m sure, like other visionaries, he has other plans for making the city’s core vibrant for those wanting to live and work there.

And, we have to start somewhere.

Gilbert’s an entrepreneur who has amassed a personal fortune through various start-ups, which has culminated with the growth of online giant Quicken Loans and being an owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, et. al,

I support and admire what he’s doing for this city – but, Gilbert’s a person of one.  We need others to continue to step up to invest and rebuild this great American city.

Yes, Detroit needs to have a viable core but, my hope is to see thriving and safe neighborhoods filled with small businesses and people.  Probably a pipe dream, but sometimes you have to dream to improve the situation because, in some cases, dreams can become a reality.

When I grew up in the city, we would go to the neighborhood parks, visit stores up and down 7 mile road or, simply ride our bikes to get around to see friends in other neighborhoods.

There were few empty storefronts and plenty of neighborhood stores which employed people who lived close by.

Not today.

Many business have shuttered and have closed or simply moved on and things we enjoyed as kids are no longer there because of populations shifts and revenue constraints.  So, many of the parks are closing and after-school programs are no longer and safety is being trumped by fear.

Let’s not bemoan what’s happening downtown, but the city, in my opinion, needs to continue to push economic development, job creation and ensure a safe environment where people can live and work across the entire city.  While the city is smaller, it can become a lean and mean machine which can operate smartly–but, politicking needs to take a back seat and collaboration and leadership need be elevated as a mandate.

Additionally, it seems a day doesn’t go by where there’s not a story on neighborhood violence.  This has to stop and until it does, Detroit’s best days will remain behind and its future will be murky, particularly for young people who may not want to live downtown.

However, I’m a believer Detroit can reinvent itself as an innovative city full of young, diverse people, creative types and entrepreneurs who are investing in Detroit as Gilbert and other business titans are doing.

However, they can only do so much.  It really takes a commitment from all of us to have a vested interest in this city’s future. From city leaders, residents, suburbanites and all others who profess to love this iconic city.

When we do, we can then confidently answer the questions asked above about Detroit’s future with a confident, resounding yes.

Detroit is the most scrutinized major city in this country right now.  It seems everyone has an opinion about it so, now is the time to prove critics wrong.  There’s an old slogan from a local TV station which ran year’s ago, “Go For It.”  If not now, then when?  Detroit’s future rides on it.