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.