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Publisher's Notebook: Onward & upward




Well, fellow city lovers: It's been a really swell two years at Model D. We've done good work together. If you're one of the hundreds of people who dropped a note in my inbox with a story idea or partnership invitation or just something we oughta know about, THANK YOU. Telling Detroit's story is a team sport, and it's a great time to suit up for Team City.

I'm excited to continue working with Urban Innovation Exchange to get more Detroit stories out to the world, and to create more opportunities for that "X" factor - exchange. We have a lot to learn from one another across neighborhoods and cities. Please stay connected and follow UIX as we grow.

And, of course, Model D's stellar team will keep rocking the weekly reporting of what's new and next. Keep reading - I know I will.

Very proud of many Model D milestones over the last couple years - from hosting that crazy (chilly) Next Big Thing celebration at the David Whitney Building, to making a home in the Cass Corridor. We got some great interviews (Enrique Penalosa & Candy Chang, two favorites) and op-eds (Tommy O'Flynn & Nain Rouge, no relation) and we tackled some heavy issues (raceregionalism & gentrification). You kept us busy with business openings, and dizzy with arts & culture, and over-served with local food & spirits - thank you.

Personally, I've loved covering Detroit's retail revolution in the West VillageJefferson Chalmers and on Livernois, and I think our best work has been expanding neighborhood coverage with series like On the Ground and Detroit by District. If anyone tells you "Good things are happening downtown, but the neighborhoods…" stop them right there. Let them know there are amazing things happening everywhere. (Send 'em a link, that's what they're for.)

And writing about sex and the city? That was pretty fun, too.

Thirty-something Speaker Series conversations later, I'm not sure I can distill all that dialogue into an easy takeaway, but I can tell you this: every discussion is imperfect and incomplete. There's always more to say, more perspectives to include, more need to turn talk into action. And you know what? I think more people are doing just that - taking responsibility, finding their way to contribute, stepping up to lead (and having some fun doing it). Good things happen when we share space and ideas.

When I step back and look at the series all together, I believe it represents something deeply important: a community of passionate people who give a damn about Detroit's future. Whether tackling tough issues or exploring new possibilities, Detroit is at its best when we are open to listening, learning and evolving our thinking. Let's keep coming together in this spirit.

Let's also be honest about where we can improve, both in our own lives and work, and as a city and region as a whole. I'm always impressed when people have the courage to say "Yeah, we could do better." Civic pride is great, but not at the expense of acknowledging real opportunities for growth and change.

One of these opportunities is something Kevin Krease and Garret Koehler of ASSEMBLE referred to in their recent talk for TEDxDetroit. And if you'll indulge me, it's something I'd like to dive into a little bit here, being my last publisher's column 'n all.

Krease & Koehler said their true motivation behind bidding on the X Games wasn't so much landing the event, but "bridging the gulf between the top and the grassroots." This caught my attention because it's something both Brian Boyle and the late Colin Hubbell were passionate about. In fact, it's baked into the very DNA of Model D.

There's a gulf? Yessir. A few, actually. And bridging them merits our constant awareness and care.

If you're a suit in a tower, you need to come down to the street. If you're an artist or activist on the fringes, we need your voices at the center. This begins with more people in positions of power recognizing the value of diverse perspectives and alternative ideas - not because it's the "right" thing to do, but because it's the best way to create a better city.

One of the challenges, of course, is that we speak different languages - which is why I've come to believe with my whole being that the most valuable people in Detroit are the "interpreters." They're the ones who are bilingual in community and economic development, fluent in both "Dan Gilbert" and "Grace Lee Boggs," and comfortable moving between different worlds - not in protest or dissent, but in consensus-building and thread-weaving.

If I were king for a day, I'd give these emissaries special diplomatic immunity and make sure they never get a parking ticket again! They are special and we need more of them. (Are we listening to what they have to say?)

Also, if we really want to move the needle here, we need to have a real, honest talk about a little something called ROI, or return on investment. This is a two-way challenge to both the suits and the grassroots:

If you're an artist or activist (or a merchant or block captain), you've gotta get more comfortable with communicating the impact of your work. Too many of us (myself included) speak in anecdotes and feelings - "We did this thing, and people turned out, and it was amazing!" Awesome, so inspiring, god bless you - really. But if you're frustrated you're not getting more support from investors and funders, then you need to translate your passion into words they understand. Your work is important - show them why.

On the flipside: Investors and funders, we need you to understand that the ROI of civic innovation may look a little bit different than what you're accustomed to. As my colleague Tunde Wey keenly observed recently: "We're all just placing bets on what the future will look like. None of us really, truly knows what tomorrow will bring."

Indeed, this is the definition of VISION: "the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be." We need more leaders willing to take chances and invest in people and ideas, often without guarantee of immediate outcomes or returns. That's how we'll define a different future.

With that, I'd just like to say it's been a joy to work with Model D's incredibly smart and talented team of contributors. Pay attention to their words and images, they've got important things to say. I'd also like to extend a special thanks to the many tipsters and truth-tellers who have made our work better - Marsha Battle Philpot, James Feagin IV, Sandra Yu, Jess Daniel, Wayne Ramocan, Kirk Mayes, Kirsten Ussery, Erik Howard, Gina Reichert, Adriel Thornton, Meagan Elliott, Bradford Frost (the list goes on). Thank you for pushing us to go wider and deeper.

Finally, I hope everyone who reads Model D, either sporadically or religiously, recognizes the important role you play in shaping our city's narrative. Never underestimate the power of sharing your work or the work of others. People need to know what's going on here.

To that end, please keep in touch with Walter Wasacz for story tips, and Alissa Shelton for partnership opportunities, and I'll look forward to seeing you around town soon. Until then, as always, onward & upward!

Claire Nelson is director of Urban Innovation Exchange, an initiative to advance Detroit's growing civic innovation movement. Follow along on Facebook and Twitter @UIXDetroit.

Read more articles by Claire Nelson.

Claire Nelson is the founder of Urban Consulate, a network of parlors for urban exchange. Most days you can find her in Detroit or New Orleans.
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