The People Who Transform Detroit

As Model D turns 3 this week – wait you haven't signed up for the party yet? Hurry you procrastinators! – we turn our attention to doers.

Who are the people getting things done in Detroit? We wanted to look at changemakers, people who put their reputations out on the line, who've poured out their bank accounts, their time, their talents, and their hearts into making Detroit more ... Detroity.

What do I mean by Detroity? They bring us more. More of what we love about the city. More music. More art. More architecture. More culture. More friendly. More real. More like a place we want to be.

Detroit — we love its wide open spaces. We love its rich built environment. We love its funky little hidden spots that only your five coolest friends have heard of. We love its people who come up with things that no one else is doing. We love its sounds, its feel, its sports, its riverfront, its glitter, its industrial edge, its food and its soul.

Part of our Model D mission is to capture, for you, that Detroity feeling. That something that we have that sets us apart from Chicago, L.A., Boston or the Bronx. Naysayers will tick off the negative points, but that's too easy, too obvious, and too one-sided. What is it about the D that makes people stay, makes people fight for it, and makes people want to do some utterly amazing things right here?

From time to time in Model D we feature Model D-troiters, people we think are up to all good, people who have bottled that Detroity quality, and who have become part of the urban fabric. Jerry Belanger at the Park Bar downtown, who pulls a mean pint and loves this city. Rufus Bartell, out on Livernois, putting the fash back on the Ave. Pablo Davis, even in his 90s making life better in Southwest Detroit. Carl Oxley keeping the art (and monkeys) popping in Hamtramck. Enrico Roselli, who brings La Dolce Vita to a stretch of Woodward he dreams about reviving. Carl Allison, lighting up the city from Russell Industrial Center with his candle company.

These people make Detroit – Detroit. It's not just that they fight the good fight, that they tough it out in a city that isn't always easy to negotiate. It's not just that they make the city cooler, but also richer and more interesting, and they inspire others to do the same.

So this week, Model D put together a panel of folks we feel the same way about. People who've got talents that they could take anywhere, but they are here, doing their thing. On Friday they are going to tell us why, how and what next? And, possibly most importantly, how do we get others to join the party?

Our panelists include:

Anne Parsons, head of the DSO, which is graciously hosting us this month. Anne's a Cultural Center rebel, someone who has the vision to go beyond the expected and who takes risks. She left a prominent position with the New York City Ballet to come to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and her spark and tenacity are already evident in the events, like 8 Days in June, and leadership she's built at the DSO.

Marsha Miro, founding director of MOCAD, has built not just a new museum, but also a new community in Midtown. The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit has shaken up the art scene and become the epicenter of cool for the city (if you are missing an art student or two, they are probably at MOCAD, in the café, on a laptop). They've supported local talent with big shows, including the current one featuring the UFO Factory kids, and have also brought in major names and national attention to our arts scene.

Jason Huvaere, picked up the baton and ran with it. He heads Paxahau, the promoter and electronic music outlet that rescued the Movement festival. Paxahau has kept international attention on the city's electronic music scene, and kept kids dancing in Hart Plaza each year. You can find their artists locally at events like Cityfest and at clubs the world over.

Aaron Alston is an entrepreneur and developer. He wants to live in Detroit badly. So badly he's spent years — a few more than anticipated – working on his labor of love: the Vinton Building on Woodward, a 1917 Albert Kahn original. Alston is also a creative entrepreneur who plans to bring his business, Candor Marketing, with him when he moves downtown. He's got the Detroit bug, he says.

Claire Nelson was frustrated that she couldn't buy cool housewares near her Midtown loft, so she started her own business, Bureau of Urban Living. Frustrated that other entrepreneurs weren't following fast enough, she started Open City, a group that provides support to others who want to invest and open shop in Detroit. She recently shook things up at the Mackinac Policy Conference, telling the crowd that they better listen up when young people like herself speak out about what the city needs. If you seek a word of advice on starting a business or unique home décor items, she's got 'em both.

Who knew pulled pork and good beer could have such an effect on people? Slow's Bar BQ has had people talking since before it opened two years ago, and the buzz has not let up. Some would say Phil Cooley, one of its founders, has it all: the looks of a model, the heart of an entrepreneur, the taste of a Wallpaper magazine editor and a work ethic many would envy. Spend an evening on the patio at Slow's, and you'll see the synergy at work. He built and designed the modern space himself with ample amounts of sweat equity and now it draws a crowd of cool kids, neighborhood dwellers, curious suburbanites, pre-game partiers, and connoisseurs of fine pork.

These fine folks are getting things done in Detroit. They've got vision beyond their bottom lines (although all would tell you their bottom lines matter, too). They've put their hearts in the city, and they're making a difference. Every day.

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey is editor of Model D. Sign up for our free speaker series and birthday bash, and get a discount for the 8 Days in June event here.


Slow's Bar BQ

Restaurateur, Phil Cooley


Marsha Miro, founding director of MOCAD

Photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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