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Detroit's Mason-Dixon Line

As we got on the tour bus in Detroit, I heard a familiar accent.  There was an Englishman aboard and it wasn’t my husband.  

“Please keep an open mind,” I pleaded. I explained that I lived in the UK for 5 years and that their press wasn’t very nice to our Detroit. He replied that the press around the world wasn’t kind to the Motor City either.

Touché, Mr. Englishman, touché.

Last week, I embarked on a two-day whirlwind of tours, panels, cocktails, and even a lunch with the Detroit Economic Club and Mayor Bing. The Detroit Regional News Hub, in an initiative called Transformation Detroit, gathered local, national, and international journalists to give them the information to report a balanced picture of Detroit.

How did I get invited? I’m not sure but I’m not complaining. Yes, for most of the ride they were preaching to the choir with me. I love Detroit. I know that this city and its people have tons to offer. Now, the rest of the world needs to know.

Mayor Dave Bing speaking with Carol Goss & Timothy Leuliette before the presentation at the Detroit Economic Club.

At the Detroit Economic Club presentation, Mayor Bing said, “This is a great time to be in the city of Detroit because we can redefine who this city is to the rest of the world.”

Over the two days we were shown different ways that Detroit is redefining itself, from small businesses to urban farming to alternative energy. Mayor Bing told us that we’ll have an 8-10% increase in the health care industry and that Midtown will grow faster than the rest of Detroit.

We talked about urban revitalization and education. The overwhelming answer to our greatest asset was the people of Detroit; we are strong and resilient. The Mayor called us gritty and said that we will fight.

Let’s be sure to pick the right fight, Detroit. We need to fight for our city and region, not against it.

Addressing the out of town journalists, the Mayor said, “We don’t need people from outside of the city defining who we are.” And to be clear, he wasn’t speaking about the divide between the city and suburbs.

Shall we talk about that, though?

Suburbanites are “afraid” to go downtown. Unless a sporting event is going on, apparently, nothing bad happens while bats are being swung and skaters are taking each other to the boards. I won’t mention football; it’s best that way.

Parents warn their children about a city that they haven’t stepped foot in for ages.

It goes the other way too.

Urban dwellers, people who live in the city limits, look at you like you can’t possibly know or love Detroit because you live north of 8 mile. I’ve personally been snubbed because I live in the suburbs.

Eight Mile Road is Detroit’s own Mason-Dixon Line.

We’re our own worst enemy. What’s the saying, no one will love you until you love yourself? Yep, we have that problem here in Detroit.

This time the Englishman leaned over to me and asked if the tour was glossing over the bad. “Honestly,” I said, “they’re highlighting the good but we just drove by a burnt out house that you took a picture of; we can’t hide our problems here in Detroit.”

Mayor Bing had it right when he said, “The State goes as the city goes." Do you disagree? Are you so settled in your suburban or urban lives that you don’t see that we are part of our own problem?

The time is now, my friends. Our lives and livelihoods, our children and their education, our reputation as an innovative city (we were once called the Paris of the Midwest and were the hub of the industrial world), it’s all at stake.

     “Detroit allowed me to be the best I could be.”

      “This is the city I choose to live in.”

Those are the words of Phil Cooley, part owner of Slows Bar B Q and a General Contractor with O’Connor Development.

They could easily be my words.

So, can we get over our damn selves and come together? Right now?

All in all, I think the Englishman, and the journalists from Canada, Chicago, and elsewhere were impressed. They saw parts of Detroit that they had never knew existed. That goes for the local press, as well.

And I learned a few things too.

Most notably, we visited the Earthworks Urban Farm and Green Garage Detroit.

Darryl Howar, a trainee at Earthworks Urban Farm.

The Green Alley between Green Garage Detroit and Motor City Brew Works.
We listened to Asenath Andrews, the principal of the Catherine Ferguson Academy, an institute for middle and high school students who are pregnant or are parents, talk about the journey of her school and students.

Michael Score, a fantastic speaker and the president of Hantz Farms, told us about building a global center for urban agriculture here in Detroit.

Detroit is a city where anyone can come and be a part of something and change things, Cooley told us.

So, did the Englishman keep an open mind?

I think so. I left the Englishman and the other journalists from Toronto, Windsor, and Chicago feeling confident that they won’t pull a Dateline. We raised a pint and had dinner together; we discussed Detroit’s problems and the incredibly exciting things that are happening here.

And then it dawned on me. Maybe we’re trying too hard to get outsiders to like us. The Detroit love needs to start at home. In the city, in the suburbs, and in the state of Michigan.

After finishing the two-day Transformation Detroit media briefing my love for Detroit has grown but, as always, I feel the need to do more.

But really, Detroit? Is my love for you defined by a mile marker? Can we abolish this antiquated barrier? Please? It’s getting us nowhere.

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Reader Comments (9)

Great post! I couldn't agree with you more.

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

You have hit the nail on the head. We are all Detroit and the sooner we understand and act like it, the sooner we can get to be our best.


October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHoward H. Collens

Great article. I'm a recent transplant from the suburbs to the city. I have made a rule for myself that I am still a 'suburbanite' until I have lived here a year. Yes, getting rid of the differentiation would be great. I think a description and exposure of where the mistrust comes from is in order though as well. Only through illuminating where the enmity comes from can we address it properly.

Those of us that reside in the city need the people from the suburbs just as they need us. We know this, so why is it so difficult to accept people from the other side of that Mason-Dixon line? We attribute part of that to the "White Flight" in the past. I know it's such an old issue, it happened before I was even born, but we cannot ignore the bitter feelings that happened when people had given up on the city. It calls into question the authenticity of people who return. I am reminded of a story from New Orleans post-Katrina:

A number of well educated folks came into New Orleans in order to 'fix' their public school system. They had wanted to provide a better education for the youth of the inner city. People from all over with postgraduate degrees all were coming to volunteer their knowledge, work, and help to make the educational system a better and safer place to learn. Surprisingly, those living in New Orleans did not all welcome the help with open arms. It wasn't a question of unions, or pride, but one of authenticity. Sure, you are here to help, but will you stay? How are we to know that if it gets tough you won't just leave again? Or when you've made improvements and leave, does that mean you were really here for us?

I think the same type of idea goes through the minds of many Detroiters. People highlight these young people moving back into the city and say "But will you stay?" This isn't entirely about race, but part of it certainly is. How much are the people coming into the city really reaching out to the culture that is already here? What is their motivation? Are they here to be an entrepreneur, thus here to simply make money and fate of the city be damned? Are they here to put on an appearance of caring, but just really exploiting the situation that is here? Although I enjoyed Palladium Boots: Detroit, a friend brought up an important point that I hadn't even thought about while watching it, why were there so many white people explained to be the new generation of Detroit that were making a difference?

In my opinion, many who come here do so for good reasons. The few that do not though will always stick in the minds of the present city population, making that borderline more pronounced, and mistrust deeper. While we need the economic development that comes with more people in the city experimenting and trying out new ideas, we have to also pay more attention to the least among us. How does demolishing thousands of homes per year make sense in a city with so many homeless? You put out that great article about the homeless not being 'invisible.' Does putting a new business or art gallery or garden really get at the economic structural issues that need to be addressed?

Don't look at this comment as 'dogging' on people from outside the line, or as a negative view of what is going on here. I love new businesses, art galleries, and gardens! I don't want people coming here to live, build, or renew, to make the mistake of not understanding where skepticism of those that live here comes from. When we have understanding, there can be more effective communication.

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterToka313

Yes, we can abolish the antiquated barrier & it will likely be young people who will be leaders on this front. It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks (or erase past negative memories) however, it's possible. I'm a good case in point. Of all things, it was twitter that deepened my love of Detroit. I felt tapped into the under current of the positive things happening all around me & felt hope again. I have a saying for my friends who bitch about Detroit, "If you don't love Detroit then shut up or move!"

Let's all be a part of the solution, and the easiest way is to start with our attitudes.

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

There are problems that all the positive feelings in the world wont fix but having corruption exposed and placed center stage tells me that things can move forward. Decent public transportation is something I would LOVE to see and would certainly get me downtow more often (I confess I HATE driving downtown, there I said it..). This blog has shown me more than a few hidden gems in Detroit and our expierences fly in the face of any negetive opinions that we might have heard. Seeing people generating their own idea of urban renewal, doing it for the love and opportunity and not nesc for the tax credit is inspirtation beyond words. Hats off to this blog and the people showing the love.. It starts here!
btw. I'm 200' south of 8mi. :)

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan

Another strong, compelling call to action . . . well worth 'waiting' for ever so slightly. ;-}

I raise a pint, figuratively, to the notion of nurturing and spreading the Detroit love regionally as much -- or more -- than nationally and internationally.

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Stamm

Thanks for all your great comments. I could almost build them into a blog post. Hmm.

I know the suburbs vs. the city problem has been going on a long time and that it isn't an easy fix. But we have to start somewhere.

Detroit needs a lot of love, sweat, and money. Should it matter if it comes from the other side of 8 mile? I know, big question with a lot of ramifications.

October 19, 2010 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Thanks for opening this discussion - definitely a great point to untie for the betterment of all!
(Full disclosure: I'm a Detroit resident since June 2009, moving from Ann Arbor and hailing from New Orleans.)

Obviously this divide does us no good. But this line isn't going anywhere without a lot of work. And let's get real: without tax dollars and committed, progressive residents, Detroit will never change. What Detroit need most is for people to believe in her. Not just spend money here, but build community . Not just cyber community, but the community that comes from walking next door to have a chat with your neighbor. Detroit needs pioneers. Businesses moving here, suburbanites visiting here, it's all part of the progress. It's all positive and good. But the most meaningful and impactul action an individual can make for Detroit in to make their home here.

Lifting a glass to Toka313 for not only taking the plunge, but also for the very insightful remarks about substantially addressing the real underlying issues at the heart of the fear and instability that plague the city. Clearly, with insight like that, your trial period has passed. Thanks for joing us!!!

October 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Insightful post Becks, finally got around to reading it! You made some fantastic points and I really believe that through the continued efforts of people like you, we will, one day, abolish that barrier for good! I can't wait for that day to come.

October 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh

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