The Detroit Comeback: Is it real?

“You lived in Detroit? Get out. No you didn’t. You mean you lived in one of the nice suburbs around Detroit? No? So, actually like, inside Detroit Detroit. Wow, well, tell me about it. I read this article the other day… I mean, I’ve been hearing a lot about Detroit lately…”

So have I.

Over the last couple of years or so, “The Detroit Comeback” has become a staple headline across news media outlets all around the globe. From small local newspapers to the BBC, the headline has been recycled eagerly over and over again. And quite frankly, that headline is really starting to upset me.

Now, before any of you proud Detroiters start throwing your coney dogs at me, let me first say this: I love Detroit! I just have a bone to pick with Detroit’s new trademark “The Detroit Comeback” headline.

detroit silhouette

First, this headline has created a shockingly polarized population. The headline talks about Detroit’s Comeback as if it were a thing, an object. An issue you can agree with or disagree with, rather than as an action or a process. A person’s reaction to the headline now indicates whether they are for Detroit, or against. It seems that you’re either “I heart Detroit” or you’re a “hater.” You either run around waving your Detroit D flag around in everyone’s faces, or you’re seen as skeptical, pessimistic. A non-believer.

This polarization is unhealthy. It says that those who live in the city are not welcome to acknowledge the problems and imperfections of the city, an acknowledgement that must take place before any solutions can take form. Those who are ballsy enough to notice issues are shamed into leaving the city. The proud Detroiters boo them out of the city, screaming, “and take your negativity with you!” This will not help the city grow.

Another problem with this headline is that it attracts perhaps the wrong crowd to the city, or at least an unbalanced one. If Detroit advertises itself as the new, hip city to be in, she’s going to attract people who are concerned about being hip. We need to attract more. We need to attract hard workers and smart, educated individuals. The current headline brings in people who want what Detroit has promised to give them, but we need people who want to give to Detroit.

Oh yes, there are terribly wonderful things happening in Detroit right now. Certain neighborhoods are indeed developing and growing. Midtown, Downtown, and Lafayette Park are becoming increasingly nicer and safer places to live. There are truly exciting new opportunities available throughout the city. Inventive new local businesses are opening up. The Riverfront is more beautiful, the Dequindre Cut, cleaner. These were some of the things I experienced when I first moved to Detroit. Why, then, two years later, did I, like so many others, find myself struggling with feelings of disappointment and disillusionment about our beloved city? Why did it feel like a let-down?

Again, I partially blame the headlines. I think that the buzz and the hype created by the headlines are not helping her cause. In fact, it may be hurting the effort. If, instead of “The Detroit Comeback,” the headlines read “Detroit is Coming Back,” emphasis on the -ing, the people who find themselves hurriedly migrating to Detroit might be better prepared for what their lives will look like for a long time to come, and what types of efforts and commitment are truly required if they are to indeed, become a part of this “comeback.”

The comeback is real, but it’s been packaged and marketed inaccurately. It’s a small city that keeps boasting, screaming at everyone, “DEEEEEEEEETROIT. WE ARE HERE. WE ARE COMING BACK. COME AND WATCH US BOOM!!!” With these flashy headlines and grandiose promises, our small, broken city has managed to convince a new slew of energetic families and eager young adults to make the move. But, the reality is that many of us feel tricked by the headlines. So many have become disillusioned by the hefty promises. Popular buzzwords like innovative, creative, entrepreneurial, design-thinking, forward-looking, super hip, trendy, and spirited get thrown at us from every direction, covering up the truth that the city still doesn’t offer recycling or public transportation. The “Detroit Hustles Harder” and “Haters Gon’ Hate” t-shirts almost seem tired now, riddled with mockery. And finally, we begin to realize that pure defiance won’t bring Detroit “back.”

But that isn’t a bad thing! It’s just a realistic thing.

The truth is, I believe Detroit is coming back. But what most people don’t understand before making the move to Detroit is that the city’s “comeback” is not necessarily the kind of movement that you can feel. While living in Detroit for the past two years, I did not feel on a daily basis the ground shaking beneath me with growth and improvement. I was not trembling with excitement of fresh change every moment in the city. Now, whenever I see another “The Detroit Comeback” headline, I feel that it has about as much effect on me as if I were to see a headline that read “The World is Spinning.” Yes, it’s true that the earth is rotating on its axis, every single moment of every single day. Thanks to science, we all know that. But even though the earth is spinning at nearly 1,040 miles/hour(!!!), we don’t feel it spinning beneath our feet. No one seems to be disappointed about that, though!

In the same way, I think that if Detroit stopped relying on hype to draw people to the city, people would stop relying on hype to keep them there. We don’t feel the earth moving, but we know that it is, because with every passing 24 hours, we see daylight and then we see night. People need to watch and experience Detroit’s comeback with that same type of patience and faith. I believe that Detroit is coming back, but it hasn’t been happening overnight. And it won’t necessarily happen in the next year, two years, or three years. This doesn’t have to be seen in a negative light, though. As long as people stop expecting everything to be fixed overnight, they may find the endurance and hope they need to truly witness and contribute to the long-term growth of what promises to be a beautiful city again.

Detroit is coming back, but don’t hold your breath. You’ll burn out, give up, pack up and leave, disheartened and disappointed by the problems, poverty, dirtiness, and brokenness that still exist in Detroit today. Instead, come, settle down, and stay awhile. Detroit makes no promises to you. She still has a long way to go. There will still be things about the city that frustrate and annoy you. You may be discouraged at times by how slowly change is coming about. But, take heart! With steady steps, Detroit is moving forward. And one day, as surely as the earth is spinning today, we will celebrate when the headlines finally read, “Detroit Came Back.”

To the D,
bcl.

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