Over the course of your life you will grow and your fingerprints will grow along with you, except for your thumbprint. Michigan is much like your fingerprints and Detroit is the thumbprint. As the state has grown (sometimes negative growth), Detroit has remained the same, “trapped” if you will, in its post-automobile slump. Alright, so I know Detroit isn’t in the thumb of Michigan, but it was nice analogy. Beyond the images of Detroit’s destruction lie the seeds of real growth. The economic situation of Detroit isn’t all lost and the state doesn’t need to sign on to stimulating reforms to make it happen.
Few people seem to grasp that the economic situation of Detroit reflects that of the state of Michigan. Where, unfortunately, politics plays a larger role. For many years there has been an unspoken clash between the former economic power that was Detroit and the political power that is Lansing. With Detroit’s decline, no region of Michigan has been able to match and replace the city’s production power and “driving” economic engine. To the rest of the world Michigan is Detroit and until politicians in Lansing recognize that fact – then the state may be doomed. However, the issue goes far beyond image, as I wrote before. One important point made in Professor Ritchie’s post, Is Michigan a Third World Economy?, is the need for “strong political leadership” which is missing in both Detroit and the state of Michigan as a whole.
The one thing that I have found to be a constant in Detroit is the sense of community. From people who live in the city at large, the various enclaves and districts of the city, and the groups and organizations that work to make Detroit a better place. Unlike any other major city, this sense of community needs to be fostered and developed. The city needs to stop trying to bring in people from the suburbs and from outside the city. There needs to be a greater focus on the people who are already here. Living the struggles of Detroit and working to make the solutions.
Thankfully there are examples from initiatives in other struggling cities across the US to give direction as to how Detroit can begin to thrive again. The Governor and many experts have talked about innovative industries. Detroit and dense city centers like it can capitalize on the new “green” industry. But will “green” be enough to “save” Detroit? Hardly, and the third installment about Detroit will highlight solutions happening and the people who are pushing to make their communities better.