I try to be circumspect about living here, and recognize the negatives while keeping in mind the many positives. I like how living in Detroit exposes me to so many different people, and prevents me from living in a bubble, able to ignore problems just because I don't see them. I feel like it keeps me aware of the importance of social justice, and also challenges me to keep an open mind to other people's perspectives. I feel like these are advantages over many other cities, including San Francisco and certainly Chicago.
HAVING SAID THAT, I am so fucking irritated with this backwater right now I could spit, and there are just so many things throwing me off my game. It's the horrible irony that the California Supreme Court affirmed gay marriage the same week the Michigan Supreme Court affirms the anti-gay marriage amendment's sweeping smackdown of rights for gays & lesbians. It's the multiple debacles at the Coleman A Young Municipal Center. It's the fact that overall we've got a population so full of lotus eaters that they turn down every proposal that could conceivably move this region forward in favor of policy that promotes a drive to the mall.
If you are straight you are probably not aware of the extent of the marriage discussion in the gay community right now. What the people of Michigan have done is relegate themselves to "backwater" status, right up there with Mississippi. There is absolutely no conceivable reason for a gay person to move to Michigan right now without an impetus such as a job, school or family. And even then, don't expect them to stay long.
And as a bonus, it doesn't end there! Not only did we send a big "fuck you" to the gay community, but the educated and creative types the powers-that-be keep trying to attract aren't exactly turned on by the idea of a state that is so openly hostile to gay people. As an example of this discussion, here is a post from a gay online forum based in New York that I occasionally read. There was a thread asking which is the best non-Ivy League school, UVa or U of Michigan (and included a discussion of UC-Berkeley):
Sorry - Michigan is over. The state's new law prohibiting any form of gay-partner rights has already stopped them from being able to recruit new teachers.I know it's just a post on an online forum, but that's the tenor of the discussion.
Academic friends of mine say that within a decade, Michigan will fall into the second tier unless the state relaxes its grip.
Of course this weekend is the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, and Crain's Detroit Business has a group of attendees blogging for them while attending. The conference, which really does bring all the movers and shakers (and hangers-on) in Michigan together, has a couple big themes this year. And the one I keep hearing about over and over and over is "how do we keep young people from leaving Michigan after college?"
Now is it just me, or is that one of the dumbest goals in the history of time? Why in the world would you want to keep someone from leaving Michigan at age 22 to explore other cities, regions and even countries? Do we really need to encourage the provincialism that exists here? And at an age when people are actually able to pick up and move around, no less! If you love them, let them go!
It seems to me we need to do a better job of attracting these people back at age 30, when they have lived different, more urban or cosmopolitan lives. And when they have more disposable income, higher expecations and more refined tastes. At 30 they are at a point where they might want to take advantage of the great housing buys, the lower cost of living, the proximity to their families when raising kids. There is also real opportunity here for people with an entrepreneurial drive, with low barriers to entry and a real chance not just to succeed but to stand out.
And what does a fleet of 23-year olds bring to the table? I mean, they will rent apartments and work entry-level jobs and spend money at the bar and eat at cheap restaurants. And then get tired of living here by 27 and move on to where they think there is more excitement, burned out on Michigan and less likely to return than they were had we graciously let them leave after school. I'm not sure exactly how that changes what we've got now.
It's just my opinion, but I really think the people leading these discussions about change are really missing the boat (as I mentioned in this post late last year). It probably doesn't help that they aren't on the street - they tend to be policy makers or planners or work for foundations. And they mostly live in the suburbs, even if they work in the city, and skew toward middle age. They should be entrepreneurs who know the business vibe and talk to people every day, young people who can articulate what they want for themselves, and developers who can defend why they can't (or won't) do anything remotely architecturally interesting that might create some draw. And how about the creative types who are already here in droves? The ones no one seems to talk to (let alone support) as they search for this elusive "creative class" they can't really even define? Policy-makers can lead the discussion, but they shouldn't be providing the content.
From a gay perspective, what I have been most shocked to find, in the Detroit area at least, is how the gay community isn't even part of the conversation. We're not just absent from the table, we're absent from the actual content. Not a single straight person I know (outside of Ann Arbor) said anything about the Michigan Supreme Court decision. Not one. I don't even think they know about it.
Of course the gay community hasn't exactly been vocal about it either - they seem content to let straight white men do the heavy lifting (and bless their hearts, they are doing it). Where are the street demonstrations? Hell, this Sunday is Motor City Pride in Ferndale, let's see how many people turn out for even that.
Right now I need a sign that something here can be remotely progressive, that the people aren't hopelessly apathetic, and that leadership actually might be capable of a fraction of what seems so effortless to other cities (including Chicago).
I mean, seriously. Anything. I'm easy.