Monday, October 20, 2008

CCS: the Homo Breakout

One of the things I was concerned about with the Creative Cities Summit is that the role of gays and lesbians in community development would be swept aside in the interest of keeping things palatable for a broad audience. It's not that the GLBT community doesn't get a share of the credit in creating "cool cities" in the literature, but come on, this is Detroit, and thus far the role of GLBTs in the discussion locally has been minimal.

I was actually not even planning on attending the conference until the week before when they announced some additional programming, and among that programming was a breakout session on "Community Vitality: The Role of Artists, Gays, Lesbians & Immigrants." The panel member scheduled to represent the GLBT community was Kate Runyon, the Interim Executive Director of the Triangle Foundation.

I wrote a brief summary of the breakout experience for this week's Model D, so you should check it out here. Plus then I don't have to bog things down here with the content of the panel.

The first great thing about the panel was that I ran into an old friend from Ann Arbor whom I hadn't seen in over three years, so there was some dishy catch-up chatting to do. Isn't that the funnest part of these things?

A quick survey of the room revealed a smattering of our gay urban intelligensia, clearly all in attendance to see just how the whole topic was handled. Surprisingly *not* in attendance was speaker Kate Runyon. Say what?? I know the Triangle Foundation Annual Dinner was the night before, so maybe it was just a scheduling mix-up, or mollifying big donors is more exhausing than she anticipated ... whatever the story, it was a bit shocking.

Fortunately, the panel moderator was able to enlist William Colburn, founder of Preservation Wayne and renowned local homosexualist, out of the audience. William was part of the drive to get the National Trust of Historic Preservation to acknowledge the contributions of the gay and lesbian community in preservation. In one of those quirky twists of fate, he is probably a better-qualified speaker on the role of the GLBT community than Kate, whose areas of expertise are more policy-oriented.

In the Model D piece I didn't really have space to detail the points made by each speaker. If you want to know what the others had to say then e-mail me. William did a fantastic impromptu job, however, and made some great points that the non-gay creative community probably needed to hear. In particular, I was so pleased that he pointed out that creativity needs freedom, and social policy that allows gay & lesbian freedom is essential to gaining the contributions of this community. He suggested that a place like Michigan might be too late to the table, since there are so many other places that are more welcoming.

Take that, creative policy makers.

He said a lot of other great stuff that is probably not news to any of you gays with an eye on urban development, but I hope was a bit of a wake-up call to the policymakers who think the key is to just invite the gay community to move in and their cool city problems will be solved.

Which, it turns out, the audience here was full of. Apparently white late-middle-aged women get put on diversity patrol. There were two women there from different parts of the country who asked how they could attract the arts, immigrant and GLBT communities to their cities. Cuz, you know, they called them but no one would call back (I'm serious!).

The answer of course pleased me, and it was that this kind of community development is never top down. Which is something that Detroit, unfortunately, may never wrap its head around (I'm talking to you, Harmonie Park/Paradise Valley). Organic is the way to go, as I think Southwest Detroit and its strong Mexican community demonstrates. Just help it along by not hating.

The only other point I think bears repeating is that the most successful cities don't necessarily follow the "melting pot" analogy, where everyone blends together, but instead follows a "mosaic" or "tapestry" paradigm, where each culture or group maintains its identity but coexists in harmony. Tolerance, what a concept!

Long before this conference I'd emailed a contact at Triangle, and talked to a friend who works with the planners of the conference, about the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the agenda at the conference. I don't think for one second that my queries resulted in the inclusion of this panel at the conference, but I just get worried that, at least locally, the gay community is completely not in the picture. And that's not entirely the fault of policymakers and planners - the gay community itself doesn't seem to be that interested in joining the discussion. And that's really what concerns me the most. I mean, hi, Triangle, I love you. LOVE YOU. But, like, call and cancel next time, ok?

The kicker is that gay people I know in the city are doing great stuff. From restoring historic homes to opening businesses to planning community-building nights out on the town to throwing better parties than anyone else - they're in the trenches. Now that people are starting to give credit, I want to see our people getting the acknowledgement they deserve.

What a beautifully restored gay-owned home in Islandview Village!

Mezzanine is owned by a big mary, and I hear it's quite lovely.

Talk about community development! Guerrilla Queer Bar is our favorite gay bar!

I'm not allowed to tell you anything about this party because I am barely invited myself.



Backintheday said...

Bill Colburn. There's a blast from the past. What a quality guy. He was instrumental in saving some real jewels on the Wayne State campus back when"preservation" and "Detroit" were rarely mentioned in the same sentance.

n said...

As an aside to your post, if it were not for William Colburn's singular efforts back in the 1980's, Ferry Street would have continued to decline in the manner of most of the surrounding streets. He had the foresight to focus Preservation Wayne's attention on the future of Ferry Street. IMO, The Inns on Ferry Street would never have happened if it were not for William's efforts.

Anonymous said...

It is so unfortunate that History is written by the dominate society.
Midtown's newly crowned Mayor (Check out Crains article) gets credit for saving the E. Ferry Bed and Breakfast and receives praises for being responsible for the planned rejuvination in the Midtown Area. The true story is that, prior to being crowned Mayor of Midtown, she was in charge of The University Cultural Center Association. That organization opposed the efforts of William Colburn chaired, Preservation Wayne to historically designate E. Ferry and also opposed the preservation of the McKenzie House. Residents who were elected to represent the home owners in the Art Center, Cultural Center, Medical Center, and Mid City Citizens' District Councils recall the positive efforts of Preservation Wayneites to preserve sites representative of the multi-cultural contributions to the story of Detroit. These same District Councils also recall UCCA's supporting negative land use proposals within their Urban Renewal Redevelopment Areas. I find it ironic that the UCCA that opposed Presevation Wayne on many land use planning issues shared office space in the McKenzie House. Their occupancy occured after UCCA enjoining Wayne State University in efforts to demolish the historic site. I understand now that UCCA has moved to a new location. Their moving from the McKenzie house may cover their trail of past land use policies that raise community suspicions of potential bias in their current planning administration in Midtown Detroit.
And Mr. Bulanda, of Hour Magazine, also needs to ask Preservation Wayne who really saved McKenzie House and E. Ferry. Mr. Bulanda's, May 2010 article, "Raising the Roof" was in error. UCCA was the proponent of razing the roof not saving the roof of McKenzie House. Oh well, there's history and then there is the story. The words distortion and domination start and end with the same letters and occupy the same space. Of the twenty letters used to create the two words you cannot spell "the truth."

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