Say nice things about Detroit

Cross-posted by Brandon at Michigan Messenger.

I borrowed the title of this article from a t-shirt that a friend of mine once wore. For far too many Michiganders, Detroit’s problems are wholly their fault and any help directed towards the city would be a waste. Often times, when people talk about disparagingly about Detroit, the conversation often focuses on Kwame Kilpatrick, the crime rate, and the quality of the school system. While you can find statistics to support anything you want, the energy invested in negativity should instead be spent on how to help Detroit because the fate of Metro Detroit suburbs is intimately tied to the fate of Detroit.

There is a widespread myth that living in Detroit suburbs provides a socio-economic safe haven, this is only true to a certain extent. The model for building up Southeast Michigan should not be Detroit first, everyone else later. Rather it should be everyone coming up together. To help illustrate this point from an asset based narrative:

  • If Metro Detroit invested in mass transit, the decreased demand for gas would bring down gas prices and help us turn the tide on harmful emissions.
  • If Detroit had a quality school system, local businesses could directly benefit from a more educated workforce and communities could get a break from housing prisoners at a price tag that is more expensive than going to college.
  • No matter how grandiose your city or county visitor’s bureau tries to sell itself as a hotspot for tourists and would-be residents, these efforts will always be impacted by Detroit’s image. Think about it, if you are from or live in Southeast Michigan and have had the privilege of traveling across the country, people will almost always ask how for far or close your city is from Detroit. So instead of disassociating yourself from Detroit, take time to correct negative perceptions with what people are doing to make the city better. Like people, statistics can change.

As Detroit tries to expand the success of downtown development into neighborhoods, the primary target must be young people willing to invest in Detroit for the long haul. The fact is that no city can support a sustainable tax base (to provide adequate services and a high quality of life) without families that live, work, and can send their kids to school within the city they live. At the last DPS Board meeting, I recall a disgruntled parent saying, “You say come home to DPS, but what are we coming home to?”

Regarding school reform, Kwame Kilpatrick has said:

The Detroit Public School system once was the envy of parents in Michigan and mayors and governors across the country. In the late 1920s and early 1930s – at a time when Detroit was driving America’s industrial boom – our classrooms were bursting with nearly a quarter million students. Yet the City and the schools, in partnership with an active business community, met the challenge. So effective was the partnership that in 1927, the New Republic Magazine proclaimed “Detroit’s school system is one of the finest in the world.”

In the 1950s, the 50-year exodus began – and it’s had a staggering effect on the schools. As families left, property values dropped, and the tax base that provided a bulk of school funding began to evaporate. Add to that crippling recessions, labor unrest among teachers, and decisions made along the way to forgo investment in school infrastructure – and you begin to understand how we lost our way.

Any person who sells homes will tell you that for families with children, the quality of the local school system is of primary concern in choosing where to settle. So if you are one of those people who believe that DPS is doing a poor job of educating its students, volunteer your time and resources to make sure that kids are getting what they need via tutoring and other support services. Clearly the educational system is one of the few institutions that embody the spirit of, “If you build it, (high quality schools) they will come.” However, coming does not necessarily require that everyone who lives in the suburbs relocates to Detroit, but it enough of us do the right thing, our actions become the nice things that we can say about Detroit.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

4 responses to “Say nice things about Detroit”

  1. Anonymous says :

    I’m from Michigan but live in a different part of the country. Given Detroit is the largest metropolitan city in Michigan I’m often asked about the city.. I’m not from Detroit, and besides the one or two times I’ve hung out there, I don’t really have much personal experience upon which to base my evaluation of the city. Although your post may be directed towards people from Detroit, I think those of us who aren’t from the area but are assumed to have the same knowledge base, could also show our support by spreading a good word. I would love to talk about Detroit in a possitive light… but I’m never quite sure what to say. I will do a little research myself, but I also think sharing your knowledge about the positive things going on in Detroit now would be very beneficial for me and others faced with the same difficulty.

  2. Duane says :

    As most know, I love the crib like no other. Having now experienced life in a difference place, I realize that the de facto segregation in Metro Detroit is definitely a large part of the problem. The fact that everyone, for the most parts, lives within the confines of their purported cultural comforts, stunts interaction. How do we increase this? Where do I begin? But one major issue is that, people will often (myself included) try to dumb down the numerous problems my homefront faces to a simplistic problem. That’s the equivalent of putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. But what we need is surgery. Unfortunately, our local leadership is courrupt on unspeakable levels. Brandon Q. White for mayor!

  3. Brandon Q says :

    What’s up fam,

    Here are some talking points you can use.

    You can tell them that there is an established and growing movement for community members to grow their own produce to counter the lack of ANY major grocers in the city.

    Tell them that downtown development is growing by leaps and bounds. Tell them about River Days.

    Tell them that if they saw the myriad of lofts going up would make them want to move to Detroit…now.

    Tell them that we are on a path to getting mass transit in the city, attracting economic development and improving quality of life.

    Tell them that over 300 young folks and elders gathered 2 weeks ago to form an agenda to tackle youth incarceration at the Detroit Gathering.

    Tell them about Alternatives for Girls.

    Anon, email me at for more information.

  4. Brandon Q. White says :


    I think the de facto segregation you speak of is a major deterrent in helping the region reach its full potential. I think one way we break this down by establishing mass transit. Another way we do this is to have a healthy dialogue regarding self-interest and how helping each other can advance these interests.

    I probably won’t run for Mayor Duane but what I will say is that right now in Detroit, people are beginning to realize that you don’t have to run for office to help Detroit be great. Duane, we must find ways for those that don’t live within Detroit to plug in. I will have something for you in a couple weeks so stay tuned, 😉

    Thanks fam,

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