Detroit, Survivor of Hard Knocks
By Sheila Moss, NSNC WebEditor
“People who visit Detroit see only the bad things — tell them about the good things too,” said our conference host. This editorial is not about the NSNC Conference, which was wonderful and inspiring, but it is about the city that many do not want to visit. This is about a city that refuses to die.
To be sure, there are still bad things to see, mostly the sheer numbers of abandoned and boarded up buildings that take your breath away. But there is also new construction and new buildings are popping up out of the ashes all over the place. Companies have started moving back into the urban areas, hoping to reinvent the city as a technology center.
We toured a forward-looking company, Quicken Loans, where employees work in a fun environment with brightly painted decor and ergonomic furniture. They write on the walls, have a fully stocked break room, and creativity is encouraged. The company is heavily invested in downtown and is purchasing additional building for expansion, probably at bargain basement real-estate prices.
We visited a restored Barron’s mansion, The Whitney, that had fallen into ruin, but has been restored into a fabulous restaurant maintaining the beauty and character of the original house. Our hotel, The Westin Book-Cadillac, suffered a similar fate, but was restored into a lush, modern accommodation.
We walked from the hotel to Comerica Park to watch a ballgame. The downtown stadium was packed and the enthusiasm for the Tigers was as contagious in Detroit as it is anywhere else where sports fans gather to support their team. If we had not chosen to walk, we could have ridden on the convenient public transportation system, a light rail system referred to as the “People Mover.“
We visited a crumbling neighbor on Detroit’s east side where residents have pulled together to turn trash into works of art. Called the Heidelberg Art Project, it is only one example of a people that refuse to give up and have looked for new ways to retain their integrity and keep their neighborhood alive.
We visited Motown Museum, where an enthusiastic tour guide reminded us of the great music from Detroit’s past. It was more than a place to work and record, it was a community that taught singers poise, manners, and how to behave like a star. “The Motown Sound” is known world-wide and is synonymous with Detroit.
We visited the Detroit Institute of Arts and saw the Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera. The art world did not like the mural which depicts people working in industry on assembly lines. But the people recognized that it was art about them, about the ordinary working man. The work became world-famous and endured because Rivera had captured the spirit of the common people in paint.
The business community was generous. They could have given up on Detroit, but they didn’t. They stayed to help it recover. Our conference sponsor list read like the Detroit business directory: The Detroit Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Chrysler Corp., Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Ford Motor Company, Strategic Staffing Services, Huntington Bank, Compuware, Quicken Loans, PNC Bank, Atwater Brewery, the Detroit Tigers, Wayne State University, The Detroit News, and Detroit Free Press. The executives of the various companies understood the crisis the news industry is going through because of their own economic crisis.
But the thing that was most impressive about the city was the spirit of the people. All those who have given up are gone, leaving a die-hard, determined population. They see the problems of a city going through hard times as merely a temporary setback until they recover. Their enthusiasm shows without a doubt that Detroit is home and they are not leaving. They want it to be a thriving metropolis again and refuse to accept anything less.
Detroit has been down on its luck, but it is coming back. Give it your support, not your criticism. Give it your applause, not your jeers. Detroit is a survivor. Check it out for yourself.