The long conversation

I just got back from what was another of those great events in Detroit—a conversation about its future. Sponsored by ModelD and held at the College for Creative Studies, the event was an extension of the programs and interests of The Next American City, part of its Urbanexus series.

Moderated by David Egner, President and CEO of the HudsonWebber Foundation, it was a presentation by four relative newcomers to the city about why they came here, and a conversation about what they might say, do and promote to try to bring others here.

The context was set by Egner in some slides of maps the metropolitan areas of Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit. The slides illustrated concentrations of educated people under 35, with and without kids. The map of Chicago showed the Overall Chicago area with lots of blue (those with kids), and a big concentration of red in the Loop (those without kids). The area in red, if I remember Egner’s numbers correctly, represented a dense and concentrated population of about 180,000 educated, single, under 35 residents. The map of Minneapolis/St.Paul was similar in distribution and concentration, but with the core “red” population at about 85,000 people.

The Detroit map had some of the same characteristics of distribution. More of the red population in the city and most of the blue outside of the core and outside of the city. The “concentration” of red—the educated, under 35, single population essential for the life, liveliness, livability and quality of life of the city—was a population of only 15,000 people. And in Detroit, they are spread over almost 140 square miles (that’s inside the city boundaries).

The newcomers were wonderful. One, arriving from a small town to seek a more vibrant life in a bigger city. One from a job with Oprah in Chicago seeking a more family-friendly and better-paced city. One from New York, now the curator of a new museum of contemporary art here. One from New York, now the creative director of the largest ad agency in the city. All successful happy, and Detroit boosters. (Kirsten Ussery of Detroit Renaissance, Luis Croquer of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Megan McEwen of CS Interiors and Toby Barlow of the JWT Team Detroit)

What delighted me was the energy, optimism and promise that this group presented and represented. What saddened me was the realization that shortly after arriving here 30 years ago myself, we spoke of the same things—how to convince those from the suburbs to actually come back and visit the city, how to convince other young people that there was a creative life here, how to convey the benefits of affordable opportunity, how to easily find a way to make your mark in this city, how to eliminate race as the basis for election, how to redesign the at-large system of political representation, how to, as one panelist suggested, stop the loathing.

It’s been a long conversation.

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