Monday, December 17, 2007

I don't have the answers, but I have better questions

Detroit Renaissance is in the midst of a study to form a development strategy for the Greater Downtown Woodward Corridor, an area they are calling the "Creative Corridor."

As a result of my part-time job being the sole voice of reason in this town, I was asked to participate in a "visioning session" to bring varying viewpoints to the table when shaping this Creative Corridor strategy. It was about 25-30 participants, had a realllllllly consultanty structure and forced casual-ness (like, Dockers and Coogi sweaters on tan white guys), and asked people to identify things such as "what is important to the creative class?"

You are probably as tired as I am of hearing about the Creative Class being the savior of cities, and (a) all this energy being spent redefining the category of creative jobs to include things such as accountant, secretary and janitor, and (b) people who clearly should have nothing to do with the world "cool" developing policies and plans to create "
Cool Cities" here in Michigan. First of all, if you redefine creative jobs to include the people you already have then you really don't need to attract new people, right? And secondly, asking people who live in suburbia to define what makes a city great is kind of what got us into this mess in the first place.

Well, whatever, it was an interesting group. The thing is, it's really hard to condemn a bunch of people who actually have influence and read the New York Times with the intention of making Detroit a more successful place. On the other hand, it's really hard to listen to people who so don't get it talk about what Detroit should be.

The issues raised that day read like an editorial page from Dwell magazine: we need sustainability, we need public transportation, we need to have creative workplaces, we need family-friendly areas ...

For me the irritation really came to a head when I was talking with a couple people during a "breakout session" and the family issue came up again. Someone said "we need to look at why young families won't stay in the city." To which I replied, "No, forget families. What you need to look at is why gay people aren't coming into the city."

Predictably, blank stares ensued.

Quite frankly, Michigan's gay community is pretty lame in this regard. In any other major city the gay community is creating change, pushing things forward. In Chicago the gay bars in Boystown were among the first to ban smoking in an effort to bolster the city's proposed non-smoking ordinance. The gay healthcare community has not only taken care of its own, but they've developed community health infrastructure that takes care of all people. The mayor of that city stood up in front of 50,000 gays and lesbians at the opening ceremonies of the Gay Games last year and thanked the gay community for being on the forefront of every quality of life issue in the city.

Here, we have a great microcosm of a gay community in Ferndale. That is a place that gets it in pretty much every way, but it's disproportionately small compared to the gay population in SE Michigan, and it lacks the vibrancy a true urban gay neighborhood can have..

When I sit through a meeting like this, full of incredibly well-intentioned people where only a fraction have a clue, it makes me a little concerned. The up-side is that Detroit Renaissance is involved, and the City (specifically, I mean Kwame and George Jackson of DEGC) might listen to them instead of having a homophobic reaction to Richard Florida and his Creative Class argument (and don't be naive and think the powers that be in this city didn't have an aneurysm over the argument that a vibrant gay community is a hallmark of every successful city). The downside is, well, the evolution of Detroit should be organic. It's so brilliant down here, despite the negatives, I absolutely hate to see people look to places like Royal Oak for inspiration on what the city needs.

Two things that could make a big difference are (a) Detroit switches to a ward system for City Council from the current at-large system, where council representation is based on a geographic area, and (b) gay people decide to congregate in a certain area. It's not about being a ghetto, it's about consolidating power and visibility. It's why Ferndale works, and it would be a way for the change to happen from the ground up instead of needing "visioning sessions" to create a blueprint for creativity.


J. said...

So what part of the city should we take over? We can use this interactive map to site the future Homotown. Personally, I vote for something near the central business district and the water.

Or should we go for broke and start at Alter Road?

The at-large council is a relic of a different era and needs to go NOW. I think that's the first thing that has to change before people start moving back.

David Stas said...

totally agree. the at-large city council lets the politicos hide too easily. lets get some people who really care about their neighborhoods. you are brilliant, you should run for office... or have you?

A fellow taskforce member who was not at Monday's meeting due to krazy clients. said...

What the region needs is less excuses, less bullshit, less mediocrity, and more people with balls. So many members of the ever so coveted "Creative Community" got an excuse for why they won't move to Detroit. It usually starts with: "Oh, I want to move, but..." [INSERT ONE OF THE FOLLOWING EXCUSES]:

"Oh, I'll move if there is a grocery store..." "...oh, I'll move if crime is lower..." "oh, a friend of a friend's friend allegedly had their hand shot for their laptop..." "...oh, I'll move if I can walk from my pseudo-loft and get a pair of shoes..." "...oh, I'll move, but the taxes are soo high..." "...who would pay $150K for a 1 bedroom loft in Midtown" "...who would eat at a restaurant where sushi costs over $10..." "...I would live there, but I cannot park my car on the street with my laptop on the seat at night without my laptop getting stolen..."

Mind you, a lot of these people are the same "you know what Detroit needs..." followed by an unrealistic and unattainable idea (such as a MagLav train or 200 story "mixed use" skyscraper with ground floor retail on the corner of Woodward and Monroe) folks.

Christ - get over it. Believe it or not, Detroit is a working and [gasp] liveable city - complete with grocery stores, shoe stores next to loft developments, reduced property tax zones, parking, ground floor retail, city buses, parks, high performing schools [double gasp], families, neighborhoods with reduced tax rates [triple gasp], etc., etc. Yeah - it ain't perfect. But with a whole lot of city residents with the balls to demand the services, ammenities and resources to make it the dense, vibrant, urban area they want to see would go a long way in addressing Detroit's shortcomings.

Woodward's Friend said...

The whole Cool Cities/Creative Class discussion has some evolutionary aspects that no politico would touch with a ten-foot pole but merit discussion.

Detroit/SE MI has had what 40, 50 years of brain drain. It's hard to create a vibrant, sustainable major city when three generations of the region's smartest and most creative people have, for the most part, left. The gene pool is getting barren.

I actually think the suburban Woodward corridor Birmingham/Royal Oak/Ferndale basically has the right idea - little ghettos of educated, cultured people. To an extent downtown is kind of doing that. Hell put up a wall if that's what it takes to keep out the Taylor, Howell, and Brightmoor elements.

I don't believe the "creative class" can win Detroit (the city or the region) but it can endure in well run little pockets. As a straight guy, I think the gay village idea has merit.

The average ham-and-egger in metro Detroit isn't going to give up their Slim Jims and monster truck rallies. Let them have their idiocracy. But let's also create a system that keeps them from us.

Yes I am a cyncical asshole but you also know I'm right.

Anonymous said...

The truth is Detroit's gay community is rather unsophisticated. Most of the gay men and women in Metro Detroit stay true to their blue collar upbringings and are very uncomfortable in communities that are not white. Ferndale works for them because it is white. Royal Oak works for that reason too. It is a shame that such racism exists within our community. Detroit's gay leaders must address this very real issue within our gay community. There is no reason why gay areas can not exist in both the city and the suburbs. Gay suburbanites need to understand that gay Detroiters are not trying to take anything away from them.

Anonymous said...

wow...I'm late to the discussion but i'd like to point out that if a gay community can become vibrant in a place like Atlanta...then Detroit can be even better. I mean, really...gays in Georgia?? Who would've thought?? Michigan is much more forward thinking than Georgia...lets start acting that way.

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