Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Metro Detroit starting to get it: Without a vital Detroit, we're just another failed region

Posted By on Wed, Oct 8, 2014 at 12:12 PM

We can be a grumpy bunch here at the Metro Times news blog, and when something blows our way that stinks, we're quick to say what we really think. But, reading the papers this morning, there's cause to be hopeful. Particularly given some of the coverage our fair city is getting in the suburban papers. 

Take this piece from Macomb Business Daily: An upbeat piece about Macomb-based entrepreneurs getting their start in Detroit. Far from the warehouses and white boxes of Macomb County, this piece praises the affordable urban real estate, "open floor space" and "original brick walls and flooring" Macombers might have sniffed at a decade ago. For Metro Times readers, this is old news, but for the parents of such entrepreneurs, the "Bobs and Bettys" who moved out toward and beyond Hall Road, this is news indeed. The sunny outlook of the article is summed up in a quote from Amanda Lewan, who evidently believes Detroit is home, no matter where she lives, when she says, "To be able to make an impact on both your industry and hometown creates pretty strong purpose.”

It's encouraging stuff. Same thing goes for a piece in the Livingston Daily Press & Argus covering a business luncheon featuring talks from the head of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the head of the Detroit Regional Chamber. 

The Michigan Chamber's president and CEO, a guy named Rich Studley (some moniker, huh?), had some hopeful things to say about Detroit, but the star of the show was evidently Detroit Regional Chamber head Sandy Baruah, a guy originally from Oregon, which gives him an interesting perspective.

According to the piece, he told the assembled business leaders at the Oak Pointe Country Club in Genoa Township on the outskirts of Brighton: “If you travel the world … if you travel the country, the brand of Detroit is far better known, far better recognized than the brand of Michigan. That’s not a promotional statement. That’s not a statement to make anyone feel better or worse about themselves or any organization. It’s just a fact.”

Of course, that's contrary to the game plan "Southeastern Michigan" has stuck to for years, which goes: Keep building on the fringe, the city can go to blazes. And that's why it's so refreshing to hear.

Sounds like it was quite a speech. Baruah all but told the his suburban audience that the region needs to stop pretending to be Southeastern Michigan and start behaving like metro Detroit. He said no silver-bullet project is going to fix Detroit, that it's going to take the collaboration of everybody in the region to win "the global battle." He also said that the popular game of blaming Detroit for its own troubles is unhelpful, and that while suburbanites may find it unfair to contribute to a center city they may not identify closely with, that "sometimes life isn't fair."

And why should our region support our central city? Baruah said it's because “the reputation and health of Detroit is directly relevant to every Michigander, no matter where you live."

Strong words. Strong words that were apparently backed up rather timidly by the masculinely named Rich Studley, who said Detroit has troubles, and it may take years to turn the city around, but that the best way to get involved was to get out and vote. (Which makes sense in Genoa Township, a place without emergency managers circling overhead like vultures.)

It sounds like it wasn't a bad presentation, urging an audience of suburban sultans to stop hating and blaming Detroit and understand that their future livelihood is tied to the city. That's great.

But what about stuff that runs deeper than attitudes? (It wouldn't be a Metro Times blog if we didn't start to complain a little, right?) What about money, power, and democracy?

For instance, in a lawsuit filed about 10 years ago, it was alleged that one of our most important regional institutions, the Southeastern Michigan Council of Governments, was undemocratic. For instance, "the City of Detroit is allocated three delegates on the [executive committee] for its population of more than 900,000 people. Livingston County, which has a population of less than 200,000 people, is allocated four delegates."

See how that works out? It took 300,000 Detroiters to get a voice on the committee, but it only took 50,000 residents of Livingston County to get a voice. Is that proportional or fair? What about rewarding people who live where sprawl took place and siccing emergency managers on the cities sprawl leaves behind? Will that change? Those are the deeper questions. Will metro Detroit pony up and create a level playing field so that all our residents have voices and benefits?

Since we're a bunch of cheerful cynics, we're going to guess that it will take more than speeches to make that happen. In fact, these talks are probably designed to hush up the anti-city rhetoric because the big cats smell lots of money bubbling to the top and don't want the deal queered.

That said, it's nice to hear that at least the rhetoric is changing. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

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