Detroit Renaissance is in the midst of a study to form a development strategy for the Greater Downtown Woodward Corridor, an area they are calling the "Creative Corridor."
As a result of my part-time job being the sole voice of reason in this town, I was asked to participate in a "visioning session" to bring varying viewpoints to the table when shaping this Creative Corridor strategy. It was about 25-30 participants, had a realllllllly consultanty structure and forced casual-ness (like, Dockers and Coogi sweaters on tan white guys), and asked people to identify things such as "what is important to the creative class?"
You are probably as tired as I am of hearing about the Creative Class being the savior of cities, and (a) all this energy being spent redefining the category of creative jobs to include things such as accountant, secretary and janitor, and (b) people who clearly should have nothing to do with the world "cool" developing policies and plans to create "Cool Cities" here in Michigan. First of all, if you redefine creative jobs to include the people you already have then you really don't need to attract new people, right? And secondly, asking people who live in suburbia to define what makes a city great is kind of what got us into this mess in the first place.
Well, whatever, it was an interesting group. The thing is, it's really hard to condemn a bunch of people who actually have influence and read the New York Times with the intention of making Detroit a more successful place. On the other hand, it's really hard to listen to people who so don't get it talk about what Detroit should be.
The issues raised that day read like an editorial page from Dwell magazine: we need sustainability, we need public transportation, we need to have creative workplaces, we need family-friendly areas ...
For me the irritation really came to a head when I was talking with a couple people during a "breakout session" and the family issue came up again. Someone said "we need to look at why young families won't stay in the city." To which I replied, "No, forget families. What you need to look at is why gay people aren't coming into the city."
Predictably, blank stares ensued.
Quite frankly, Michigan's gay community is pretty lame in this regard. In any other major city the gay community is creating change, pushing things forward. In Chicago the gay bars in Boystown were among the first to ban smoking in an effort to bolster the city's proposed non-smoking ordinance. The gay healthcare community has not only taken care of its own, but they've developed community health infrastructure that takes care of all people. The mayor of that city stood up in front of 50,000 gays and lesbians at the opening ceremonies of the Gay Games last year and thanked the gay community for being on the forefront of every quality of life issue in the city.
Here, we have a great microcosm of a gay community in Ferndale. That is a place that gets it in pretty much every way, but it's disproportionately small compared to the gay population in SE Michigan, and it lacks the vibrancy a true urban gay neighborhood can have..
When I sit through a meeting like this, full of incredibly well-intentioned people where only a fraction have a clue, it makes me a little concerned. The up-side is that Detroit Renaissance is involved, and the City (specifically, I mean Kwame and George Jackson of DEGC) might listen to them instead of having a homophobic reaction to Richard Florida and his Creative Class argument (and don't be naive and think the powers that be in this city didn't have an aneurysm over the argument that a vibrant gay community is a hallmark of every successful city). The downside is, well, the evolution of Detroit should be organic. It's so brilliant down here, despite the negatives, I absolutely hate to see people look to places like Royal Oak for inspiration on what the city needs.
Two things that could make a big difference are (a) Detroit switches to a ward system for City Council from the current at-large system, where council representation is based on a geographic area, and (b) gay people decide to congregate in a certain area. It's not about being a ghetto, it's about consolidating power and visibility. It's why Ferndale works, and it would be a way for the change to happen from the ground up instead of needing "visioning sessions" to create a blueprint for creativity.