In 2005, downtown Detroit was in a fever pitch as it prepared to host Super Bowl XL. While it was obvious to locals that the Lions wouldn't be playing come February, people were excited for the biggest night in American sports to be held in Detroit.
On the heels of the city's tricentennial celebration and the redesign of Campus Martius Park, the Super Bowl was exactly the kind of event local political and business leaders touted as Detroit's big chance to counter the narrative of the city's long decline – a chance to show the world (and locals) that the city was back in a big way. Grand words like "revitalization," "renaissance," and "renewal" were used liberally (as they had been at different times in preceding decades) as Detroit readied for its moment on the world stage.
But on February 6, 2006, the party was over (Does anyone even remember who won the game?) and the narrative around Detroit hadn't changed overnight with this one-off spectacle.
But something subtler was
underway to change the conversation about Detroit. It just needed an outlet.
When business partners Brian Boyle and Paul Schutt launched Model D 10 years ago this June, they were seizing an opportunity to tell the stories of transformation in Detroit ignored by mainstream outlets. A hyperlocal, online publication, Model D would focus on what Boyle describes as the "word-of-mouth" news that was being discussed among those actively engaged in the positive transformation of the city.
"Back then, the media narrative was that Detroit was left for dead," says Boyle. "It was all about loss, crime, and corruption. But there was this amazing story, something special happening here, that just wasn't being reported on."
Back in 2005, acting in a way that contradicted conventional wisdom (or what Francis X. Arvan described in an early Model D feature
as "choking pessimism"), a growing community of Detroiters was actively affirming the city's future in small ways. These were people who proclaimed Detroit worthy of investment – of money, yes, but more importantly of time, energy, and passion. These were people – newcomers to the city and stalwarts alike – who were opening small businesses, making art, fixing up houses, and simply continuing to do what some already had been doing for decades – maintaining their neighborhoods, living their lives, and persevering in the face of a common refrain that Detroit was doomed.
But unless you were already a part of this community, you would have had little idea any of this was happening.
"We were just fascinated by what was here," says Schutt. "We were seeing that incremental investment and not seeing anyone cover it."
Since the publication of its first story
on June 1, 2005, Model D has proselytized the gospel of Detroit's potential. "The city's future on the global map of cities is entirely unknown," wrote then-managing editor Lisa Collins in that first Model D piece. "Detroit's story is not ending. It's just beginning."
Those words are no less true now than they were 10 years ago.
Model D is pleased to celebrate its 10 years of contributions to the Detroit story (which, of course, is only just beginning). Over the last decade, the publication has chronicled small chapters in that story others dismissed as insignificant. Stories like a neighborhood restaurant building a patio
and creating a greater sense of place on its block, which would eventually transform
from a mostly vacant stretch of late 19th
century commercial buildings into one of the city's premier food and drink destinations. Or the opening of a small organic grocer
that would become a neighborhood staple and a pioneer on Detroit's local food scene
. Or the story of a developer refusing to give up
on a slow but ambitious renovation project
, despite its ulcer-inducing challenges. Or the story of a retailer hoping to breathe life into a long-neglected retail district
and actually succeeding
And Model D has been there for the big stuff, too, from the development of major non-motorized transportation infrastructure
to the rehabilitation of iconic architectural marvels
Yet while Detroit has come a long way in 10 years, it still has a long way to go. (The story is only beginning, remember?) For all the positives, Detroit's challenges are numerous and massive – from foreclosures to bankruptcies to population loss. Yet Model D has worked, and will continue to work, to identify the opportunities in those challenges
And let's not forget the elephant in the room: figuring out how to address the issues of race and class so that the city's unfolding story is inclusive of a diverse cast of characters.
Thankfully, just like Model D's first piece 10 years ago stated, Detroit's story is just beginning. As Model D celebrates a milestone in its life, we are pleased to introduce a new chapter to that story, "10 Years of Change," a year-long series of features and events that will both look back on the transformations that have occurred in Detroit over the last decade and look forward to those to come.
We're looking forward to doing it with you, Detroit!
"10 Years of Change" is made possible thanks to the support of the Hudson-Webber Foundation, which for over 75 years has supported efforts to improve the quality of life in Detroit, the city it calls home.
Matthew Lewis is Model D's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjlew.
All photos by Marvin Shaouni.