What the Kids Want: Millennials Talk Detroit

It's not neuroscience: Young people today want what young people have always wanted: A place to go. To be heard. Opportunities. Cool stuff to do.

Can they find that in Detroit? Ask a young person, and many will say, well, something like this: "I just see a lack of jobs and interesting things to do," says Wayne State University (WSU) computer engineering freshman Arielle Bullard.

Policy makers, are you listening?

"It's important because the (economic) crisis creates a lot of opportunity for the city. It's really a transitional phase for the city. It creates a really good chance for young people to make the city what they want it to be," says 23-year-old Elle Gotham, programs coordinator for the WARM Training Center and December 2007 graduate of Michigan State University.

So what do this city and this entire region need to do to give young people a reason to stay?

Model D asked a group of young "millennials" what they are looking for in a city, what's missing from Detroit, and what they think should be done to change things here. The big three things they were after: job opportunities, quality of life and mass transit.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

It's not hard to see from where some young people are getting the "no opportunities here" notion. Detroit's unemployment rate is in double digits. Our big industry, autos, is floundering. But given the chance, most kids would want to stay here.

"It depends on what industry you plan to go into. I'm staying around because I don't want to go away from my family," says Bullard.

What's being done? Programs like Fusion, launched by the Detroit Regional Chamber, and Michigan Opportunities and Resources for Entrepreneurs (MORE) provide young professionals with opportunities they might not find elsewhere. The programs help create incentives for young people to stick around.

And getting college kids to stick around is important to building up the region's economy.

"A lot of leaders in the region and studies have identified that the regions that are successful and growing in our country have higher concentrations of college-educated students than Michigan has," says Jessica Pfeiffer of the MORE Program.

More of the cool

Kids also want a certain quality of life. They want cool places to eat, drink, shop, live and play. They want these places to cater to their style and tastes.

"I would compare Detroit to Chicago or New York and I would say that  (the other cities) have a lot more to offer," says Bowling Green University fashion merchandising freshman Patrice Henderson, who graduated from Renaissance High School in 2007.

Renaissance High School graduate Jasmine McNeir, who is attending University of Michigan in the fall, says the city should think of young people when it is working to attract new businesses.  "There needs to be places for them to go," she says. "I believe young people can be a part of this movement by not being forgotten in the grand scheme of things. By adding events and activities in the community where youth can socialize and network with one another, I think our city could become better."

Tere McKinney, a 2008 graduate of Wayne State University Law School, says she sees movement in that direction.  "The city has become a much more friendly environment to the business community. I just see a lot going on, and I think it's opening itself up," she says. "I do see things moving. I see renovation and exciting events — you know, Campus Martius, the new Detroit Institute of Arts — things that are happening around the city all the time."

Transit (i.e. a better ride home)

Transportation is a major quality of life issue in the city. The lone People Mover tram system only serves a 2-mile loop around downtown. We have DDOT and SMART buses, but there is no train or subway system outside of downtown. This requires most city residents to have cars.

Detroit's transit system doesn't meet most kids' standards.

Gotham says the city needs a system that's "consistent and reliable, quick and convenient."

Aside from the recent hikes in gas prices and wear and tear on cars, it's not a mystery that people need a way to take some reliance off of their cars. Although buses and bikes will get you around to certain local areas, it's more difficult to go from Royal Oak, to Midtown, to Dearborn, and back again.

And for millennials, better mass transit would mean better access to nightlife. Going to a bar or club in the Detroit area can become a hassle when the only truly reliable and affordable way to get to and from that bar is to drive.

"Transit would be great for nightlife. I'm a young person, so if I can go out to a bar and not have to worry about driving home, that's great," says Tommy Simon of Zachary and Associates, a December 2007 MSU grad and Woodbridge resident.

The bottom line

Policymakers, politicians and business leaders seem to be getting it. Or at least starting to get what kids want.

New housing developments and businesses are appearing all over — within the city limits.

The new casinos, the RiverWalk, the new DIA, and Campus Martius Park are only a few examples of the positive changes in Detroit's urban scene. As more businesses find their way into the crevices, nooks, and crannies of Detroit's developing areas, they will soon open up and allow even more space for healthy growth.

Plus, as more young people decide to stay in the city, more businesses and services will come to cater to them.

"Young people offer an economic stimulus, but I think it's more than that. They offer something new," Simon says.

Lauren Gant, a recent MSU grad and a summer intern for Model D, lives in Detroit. Reach her at [email protected]

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Wayne State University (WSU) computer engineering freshman Arielle Bullard.

Cass Cafe, a favorite hangout for WSU students

Tommy Simon, a December 2007 MSU grad and Woodbridge resident dodges a DDOT.

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

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