Opinion: Detroit is the Opportunity of a Generation
These past few months my conversations with community leaders and thinkers throughout the region have leaned towards the importance of radical solutions. Economists focused on urban centers seem to concur that these new ideas are responsible for any city’s substantial economic uptick or change in the trajectory of productive population growth.
, we firmly believe the Detroit of today are primed to tackle systemic issues with new solutions. Of course, if you’re focused on the surface you see a volatile political environment and a city lacking services, which makes one apt to disagree with us -- but there is something else at work here. Author and activist Hakim Bey wrote a book a little more than twenty-five years ago called Temporary Autonomous Zones
. In synthesis, Hakim describes a TAZ as a window of time in which people can leverage autonomy to design their own outcomes. I think we are living in one of those times.
I am not from Detroit. Yet, in the 14 months since I have lived and loved in this place, my team and I have managed to gain access to and partnered with a myriad of civic-minded institutions to provide new ideas and measurable outcomes in the communities they wish to affect. In 14 months, we have grown from one single person to a team of eight with an extended network of fervent advocates and talented specialists, and it grows every day. This could not be done at another time in another place. Cities advertise they are open for business, but Detroit is open for changemakers. Cities advertise tax incentives, but Detroit is an opportunity to iterate alongside a community of doers and define the model for the post-industrial American city. In the words of philosopher and writer Frantz Fanon: "Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity." This is our mission, our autonomous zone, and we must fulfill it and we need all hands on deck.
Despite significant investment, many neighborhoods are in just as bad shape of they were decades ago. We must look past what many identify as the Detroit of yesterday: the political corruption, racist policies, subjugating activities and reliance on a singular industry. An industrial-age Detroit is obsolete and like an all-too-brief-love-affair-turned-toxic, many cling to the false nostalgia of what could have been while the rest find equality in facing reality. Our only viable option is to come together and find the common denominators that connect us; work together to execute new ideas, and it is only collaboration that will bring forward a new age in which all Detroiters may thrive. It is essential we recognize the success of a region is inexorably tied to the durability of its communities as a whole.
I am not naive. Not everyone has access and people in need, all people in general, should be supported to a point of access. That fact doesn’t negate the reality of those that have the capacity to create change and make impact have the right to do so, and they should do so here. Cities are a time and place. Detroit at the turn of the century. Paris in the 1930s. New York City in the 1970s. Detroit, again, in the 21st century. So, if you consider yourself a social entrepreneur, or just a person with skills that wants to see the impact of their work in the community in which they live, or if you live here now, or if you’re an expatriate, or just somebody, who like myself not too long ago, somewhere else in the world, felt the universe conspiring to create something bigger -- get your ass to Detroit. We will connect you. We are here
and we are not going anywhere.