Detroit Savior Report: Today's saviors include food and Michael Bolton

Jul 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm

We keep telling people that, while Detroit needs all the help it can get, it doesn't need "saving." But headline writers seem to refuse to listen. 

Just today, we discovered two pieces discussing things that could or want to "save" our city. And they're both totally hilarious to us.

First is a piece on blogspot written by a Canadian blogger drawn to Detroit by its food scene. It's actually a pretty nice piece by a casual visitor who's just trying to experience Detroit food on the fly, with no particular agenda. It features a few places we know well, like Yemans Street, Wright & Co., and Selden Standard, and a few places we hadn't heard about. The writer, Carole Nelson Brown, seems like a nice person, and we hope she returns.

The only problem with the piece is that headline, even though it's phrased in the most tentative, polite, Canadian way possible. Will food "save" Detroit? Well, perhaps if it were some otherworldly, magical food that provided thousands of jobs, ameliorated entrenched racism, spontaneously generated a complete rapid transit system, and changed the streetscape of the city back to what it was in 1946 in one paranormal, shimmering instant. Yeah. That kind of food might save Detroit. Other than that, probably not.

But today's best savior is, no doubt, Michael Bolton. A Washington Post piece profiles the singer (and spends a generous amount of time defending Bolton's recording career) and his efforts to make a documentary about Detroit's "comeback." (The piece quotes Aaron Foley, and we know it's got to be a thrill for Foley to be in a piece about "saving" Detroit.) Oh, it's not hard to go downtown and make a documentary about that "comeback" narrative. But how does a film "save" a city? We almost feel that the headline writers at the Washington Post are trying to razz us. We've already told everybody to stop using the S-wordAgain and again!

Of course, we have to give Bolton his due. He's from New Haven, which has plenty of troubles of its own. But how an upbeat documentary featuring fireside chats with Detroit's business leaders is going to help the very people who've suffered under their watch is a mystery. How will charming interviews with William Clay Ford Jr. and Dan Gilbert improve the quality of life for some dude standing on the corner of Dexter and Tuxedo? We suppose we'll have to wait and see ...

Anyway, we get it: The word "save" is a quick and lazy way to talk about preserving, protecting, and defending a beleaguered city. And, of course, documentaries and food movements don't "save" a city. But what really smarts about this whole "saving" business is something deeper: Who chooses what will be saved, and how does that "saving" happen? Those questions are deeply troubling, and don't deserve to be passed over with upbeat buzzwords.