Author Toby Barlow Tells Detroit: 'Stop the Loathing'
Detroit branding. Yep, we’ve encountered a lot of it over the years.
Thanks to Emily Gail, we said nice things about ourselves in the '80s.
In the '90s, we liked that it was always a great time here. Now, we’re
starting to warm up to our D brand and its cars, culture, gaming, music and sports
. But listen up. We’ve caught wind of another pretty potent tagline floating around town. So before you go spraying bus stops with a new slogan, listen to what idea one experienced brand man has in mind.
an ad guy who landed here in October 2006. He left the Big Apple for
the blue oval and is now executive creative director over the Ford
business at JWT Team Detroit
(Which, if you’re new to the whole advertising thing, makes him kind of
a big deal.) Naturally, you’d think someone rocking this kind of title
on his business card would run quickly for the gentrified coziness of
the suburbs. But Barlow didn’t even give Oakland, Macomb, or Washtenaw
a nod. He’s a New Yorker, after all. And naturally, a New Yorker loves
Barlow now swears by the eggs at the Clique.
He raves about the meat counter at Honey Bee
in Mexicantown. He’s even based some home improvements for his
Lafayette Park pad around a SubZero he pulled from a scrapyard on Grand
River. In short, he’s become a typical Detroiter who doesn’t rely on
the suburbs for his everyday tasks. And after a few cocktails with a
guy like Barlow, you soon realize that he thinks like a Detroiter, too.
STL and the ATL
the loathing is my new tagline for Detroit," says Barlow, in a mix of
seriousness and snark. He's of course talking about it being a good
time for that feeling of contempt in, out, and around the city to just
sit down and shut it. It’s not an ad campaign, but more of a mantra. "My mission is to find a city that becomes the new cliché for failure,"
he says over a sip. And as quickly as he sets his glass down, a
replacement player comes to mind. "I’d actually like to take on
Atlanta," he jokes. "In its success, it’s more of a failure than
Industrial failure for Barlow is as much about
uncontrollable sprawl as it is about pilfering natural resources. No
wonder the poster child for both those crimes springs to mind so
quickly (as do the names of many other U.S. cities). In a recent post on his Huffington Post blog
Barlow wrote about a WTF-moment he had upon hearing the news that home
was now the most dangerous city in the United States. But luckily, he’s
got some different ideas on safety.
"Danger has no water, no
natural resources, and insufferable heat," says Barlow. "And Michigan
may become the most hospitable place in the U.S. if you look at
topography and weather patterns." Even though our Great Lakes are
shrinking, he writes in his post, our fresh water supply is still A-OK.
Add in the fact that we sit well above sea level (and north of Canada—a
geographical truth that’s still a head-scratcher for most) makes
Detroit a pretty optimal place to ride out the future to Barlow.
but wait. What’s that got to do with ix-naying the loathing? Well, our
economic picture may be bleak and we may now be the most miserable
place in country, too, (thanks Forbes
!), but if we pull a little
switcheroo on what misery is going to look like in the future, who
knows how things might change around here.Kung-fu fighting and canines
else for Barlow makes a case for the loathing to stop? The people, of
course. Instead of making this place a temporary stopover, Barlow’s made a bunch of friends. From shop owners,
bartenders, curators and designers, you have to commend him for so
quickly getting into such deep like with his adopted home. "It's a big,
fun, ambitious community that thinks like one," he says.
end, Barlow’s got something up his sleeve just to prove how much. "I've
got a big screenplay for Detroit," he says. "It's about rebuilding
community and taking responsibility." He goes on to explain that it’s
also a script about a little kid that turns into Bruce Lee when he
hears a Hammond organ; and the story revolves around how the kid moves
the organ around town. Which is good thing to hinge a plot on given
that Barlow is no stranger to turning “cityscapes” into storytelling.
Case in point, his first novel, Sharp Teeth.
Besides love and lycanthropes, it also has a lot to do with Los Angeles.
who don’t embrace the loathing, I think they sense what a great city
Detroit was," he says. And Barlow feels that Detroit is five decisions
away from being a great city again. They range from building up the
Riverfront, doing something with the train station, enticing more
big-named business to the area, and developing an area that encourages
small, quirky business.
And the fifth? Well, that’s an easy one.
"Stop the loathing," he says.
Check out Barlow’s novel, Sharp Teeth, at www.sharpteeththebook.com
Toby Barlow Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger