“We’ve got more strengths than we do weaknesses, the challenge is we’ve got to come together.” Rodrick Miller, President and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation
We uncovered one key piece of information about Detroit Wednesday during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s 2016 Policy Conference: This city is loud and proud.
Why is this worth noting? Well, partly because there is a falsehood about Detroiters – true Detroiters – that’s been going around. The myth is that Detroiters are quiet. That they don’t talk about their city. That they want to be left alone. Oh, no. No, sir. City residents, new and old, are vocal more than ever these days about what is happening in the city. And the 2016 Detroit Policy Conference created several wonderful moments Wednesday by letting them talk about their city, the neighborhoods, the opportunities and the challenges of an urban rebound and everything else that matters to this municipality’s revitalization.
People who might not normally attend, such as neighborhood activists, were in the audience. Longtime Detroiters took the stage. People who never thought they’d be “all in” on Detroit held keynote positions. There were women and men of all ages, colors and backgrounds equally sharing the spotlight. From author David Maraniss to community leader Lauren Hood to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, everyone had something revolutionary to say.
But the moment that stood out of the most to my ears was when Hood gave her “Power Perspective” on her life and times in Detroit. Growing up in Detroit allows her to see what the typical hipster or newbie might not notice. She remembers what was there before, and that empty building has a story. That so-called ruin was something. That neighborhood that has seen better times can tell you some things about Detroit. And even the best, brightest and most thriving home, neighborhood or company has a story it can tell, Hood noted. It’s not that Detroit is a “blank slate,” Hood said. There is a culture, a vibe, a story. You might just have to work a little harder to hear it. To find it. To seek it out. But it is worth it. Detroit is work the digging.
Another major moment came when Mayor Mike Duggan spoke with the Detroit Free Press moderate Stephen Henderson. Duggan hit on every high note: pensions, crime, schools, public safety, development. He walked us through the city’s new mortgage program and how assessments were preventing people from moving into the city. He explained how the new Detroit Home Mortgage hopes to repopulate the neighborhoods with real bank loans, longtime residents and newcomers. He spoke of how important it is to have density so that these great blocks of people can have retail, grocery stores and other necessities of life. That will happen with programs such as Motor City Match and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation pitching in as well.
And if you build a great neighborhood, you’ll build a great city. It’s personal to Hood, to Duggan, to Maraniss, to every speaker who came forward Wednesday. They weren’t afraid to speak their minds, to tell their story, to demand better of Detroit and for Detroit. It was a vibrant group of people who were controversial and confrontational. Yet they also were rational, intelligent and thoughtful about what Detroit faces in the months and years to come.
Mayor Duggan truly hit the nail on the proverbial head when he noted that nothing about Detroit is simple or easy. That every time he moves the bar forward, something else has to move forward with it. He admitted that he once believed that if you fixed a few things – like lighting the streets or adding more ambulances – that all good things would follow, such as population growth or housing revitalization. And they have, sure. But there’s no one way for Detroit to come back. It has to be a multi-pronged approach that involves hundreds if not thousands of people, working together toward a common cause. People have to be passionate. They have to be “all in.” They have to want to work hard every minute of every day of every month.
As Duggan noted: “It’s one week at a time. It’s one month at a time.” It’s a feeling that many community builders could feel throughout the day.
“Improved collaboration and communication is what is and will continue to fuel Detroit’s resurgence efforts. And it was certainly evidenced at this year’s Detroit Policy Conference (DPC), which amplified the voice of neighborhood residents and the spirit of inclusion that is now characterizing the ‘new’ Detroit,” says Jackie Berg, founder and publisher of TheHUB Magazine.
So kudos to the Chamber, to the speakers, to the participants, to the big dreamers and the big thinkers. Kudos to the people who challenged us and chastised us. Kudos to the Tweeters, the Facebookers, the people who took to social media to participate Wednesday. Kudos to all who want to see a better, stronger Detroit because of events like this. One day, one week, one month at a time. Detroit will build into what we know it can be.
The HUB’s multi-platform Detroit Policy Conference coverage team also includes The HUB’s columnist Karen Dumas, host of The PULSE on Superstation 910AM, Mark Lee, host of Small Talk with Mark S. Lee on WXYT 1270 AM and Detroit Smart Pages Publisher Beverly Smith.