Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Model D Media on Detroit, Ground Zero of the post-industrial future

Detroit Where the Weak are Killed and EatenApril2011Badge

Today, Model D Media reminded me why it is one of my favorite news sources in Detroit, and why I should read it more often. True, they have all kinds of great food stories from the past week on their front page right now, which I'll post about in the very near future, such as tomorrow. But that's not why. Instead, the managing editor posted a great statement about the potential of Detroit.

Editor's notebook: The death and life of a great American city
Walter Wasacz | Tuesday, April 05, 2011

While census workers did their job we did ours: produced ideas, converting them into real action. Detroit's creative juices have been flowing over the past decade. Managing editor Walter Wasacz says hang on, this is just the beginning of a long, wild ride into the unknown.
"A long, wild ride into the unknown"--and that's exactly what we're all embarking on, whether we live in Detroit, Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the world, including the readers from Canada, Australia, India, China, the Russian Republic, or Yemen who have stopped by this past week. Yes, folks, I see you. The difference is that Detroit knows this, even if the rest of you don't, and we're likely to arrive at the future first. As I'm fond of typing out, "Welcome to Detroit, Ground Zero of the post-industrial future."

What I posted above was just the teaser. Here are the highlights of what Wasacz wrote in the editorial itself.

When the census numbers for Detroit were released late last month -- not good numbers, as we all know; horrible numbers, in fact -- no one in my heavily Detroit-centric world panicked. Quite the opposite happened. Every conversation I had about it spun the statistical information on its head, taking the news not as a foreshadowing of the city's decline and fall (as did national media en masse, including the cynically misinformed Wall Street Journal and even the usually on-target New York Times, whose reporter appeared to seek out only the most dour, hysterical and self-loathing among us for reaction quotes) but as validation of what many of us have been doing for the past decade in a place where vast open space -- physical, psychological, psychogeographical -- was growing before our eyes.

Doing what, exactly? Cobbling together ideas, converting them into action, quickly; filling in the gaps, making dots, connecting dots, pouring foundations, taking risks; discarding old models that don't work, finding new models, engaging urban life on various fronts, catalyzing neighborhood and community life; having fun on top it all.
Walter is a motie man after my own heart when it comes to the future of Detroit--another Crazy Eddie.

On this level of furious engagement, the Detroit of the first decade of the new century became for the first time in my memory that most coveted of urbanist dreams: a 24 hour city...Different, twisted, character-rich, unique. Without aspiration to be anything but Detroit itself.
Now, that's not my dream of Detroit, but it is an exciting one. It certainly will draw in the people from other big cities who want to settle what has become an urban frontier. The revival of the City of Detroit proper isn't going to come from suburbanites moving back into the city, not at first. It's going to come from trendsetters from outside discovering the place--and they're already starting.

Walter isn't done yet. Here's my favorite paragraph of the editorial.

But we are simply traveling at incredible speed -- the fastest and most interesting spurts of ground-up growth in my lifetime have occurred in the past 10 years -- in exploring multiple new narratives that have little to do with the ersatz Motor City. Seeds for the economic diversity we've craved but never had are being planted. Creative entrepreneurship is being rewarded. Discussion of mass transit has passed from the imaginary to the real. Detroit as the non-motorized city, a pedestrian utopia for cyclist and walkers? Well, yes, it's on the cusp.
A couple of years ago, I ran into a fellow in Buffalo Wild Wings in Brighton, that outpost of people who fled Detroit and hate what it has become, but who have perversely managed to turn Livingston County, the fastest growing large county in the state for four decades running, into the farthest west part of the Detroit Metropolitan Statistical Area. Sorry, former neighbors, you left Detroit and ended up bringing it with you. Anyway, he found out that I was from California and wondered why I live here. That's really a long story, but to make it short, I tell him that Michigan in general and metro Detroit in particular has more environmental promise than problems, while California in general and Los Angeles in particular has more environmental problems than promise. Walter seems to agree.

It feels good, it is good, but think of it as just the launchpad in getting to the elusive tipping point. The best news to scrape from Detroit's premature obituary is that there is plenty of work to go around, for all who want to jump in and grab a piece of the unknown. No over-saturation of anything (or anyone) anywhere in sight, your desire matched by the results of over 300 years of doers, growers and innovators. Where better to make your claim on history than here?
As I tell my students, great things are going to happen here, and they're going to happen here first. Whatever Detroit devises as the solutions for North America's problems will be exported to the rest of the continent. It's an exciting time to live here, and I wouldn't miss it for the world.

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