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Posted on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 4:04 p.m.

A requiem for Detroit? No, it's a homegrown recovery - and you can help

By Dianne Marsh

I can't help but respond when I see a national news outlet fall back on portraying Detroit as a lost cause.

The most recent case: An opinion column published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal titled "A Requiem for Detroit."

Requiem? Really?

I’ll only momentarily address the lack of depth in William McGurn's column.

Yes, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing did ask for a recount on the Census numbers that recently showed Detroit’s population declined, but Bing didn’t leave it at that.

His message, consistent with the independence evident in the "Imported from Detroit" Chrysler ad campaign, has been that Detroit must adjust to its real size, not plan for the future based on the success of a recall. In fact, Bing has been arguing for Detroit to "right-size" for months before the Census numbers were released.

Furthermore, McGurn doesn’t tell us that, unlike the rest of Michigan and, indeed, the rest of the U.S., Detroit’s demographic is trending younger. With a median age of around 30, this is a place where young people want to be.

I'm frustrated by all of the negativity, and frankly, it's not what I see.

I see a city that, in terms of space, can completely contain San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan.

I see a city with a thriving Eastern Market and a growing local food movement.

I see a city with enough real estate to feed its residents by food it could grow within its own boundaries, if empty land is converted to growing that food.

I see a town with a thriving incubator for business with TechTown. I attended TedXDetroit, where I learned how individuals are contributing, and I attended sold-out technology events held in the gorgeous building that Compuware shares with Quicken Loans and a Hard Rock Cafe.

I gave a talk at a conference in Colorado a few months ago, where I talked about positive things happening in Detroit.

And I always get emotional when I think or talk about the MathCorps, an amazing program from Wayne State University that's making a difference for kids in Detroit, where the results, reported here, speak for themselves:

The average math ACT score for students who have participated in MathCorps for three summers or more is 21, the state average. The DPS average is less than 16. And since 1995, an estimated 90 percent of Math Corps students have graduated from high school and 80 percent have gone on to college. That 90 percent graduation rate compares to less than 50 percent among Detroit Public Schools students overall.

Yes. A few people from Wayne State got together and found a way to engage students and get them not only to graduate from high school, but to excel in math and to go off to college.

People in Detroit care. Detroiters aren't waiting for help from the federal government to rebuild. They're doing it themselves. Yes, Detroit experienced a man-made disaster, but it’s also creating a man-made recovery. Requiem? I don’t think so.

And we can all get involved.

There's a two-hour bus tour of the city April 22 to highlight the exciting things that are going on in the city. Or you can join the Motor City Blight Busters in one of their many programs. Learn about Public Art Workz, revitalizing the community through bold, innovative community public art projects.

Invest in a frame of "Lemonade Detroit," Eric Proulx's film about the comeback of the city. Take kids of all ages to the Detroit Science Center. Go visit the amazing Detroit Institute of Arts, the beautiful Belle Isle, discover the nightlife, the restaurants, and the Fisher and Fox theaters.

I think you’ll learn why young professionals are moving into the city as you experience the renaissance of this great city.

So, instead of dwelling on one narrow view, I prefer to listen to Detroiter Aretha Franklin, reminding us to "Accentuate the Positive." Because there's sure a lot of positive energy in Detroit these days.

The gorgeous riverfront tells me that this city will not die.


Courtesy of Wikipedia

 I'll see you at TedXDetroit 2011, where we will all certainly conclude that this is not the time for a "Mass for the dead" for Michigan's largest city.

Dianne Marsh is co-founder of SRT Solutions, an Ann Arbor custom software development firm that specializes in using newer technologies to build effective software.



Sat, Apr 2, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

In the event Ms. Marsh missed "it", there have been almost weekly articles about Detroit in the WSJ. Generally not pleasant. But, very much reflecting the reality. I can only wonder if when away for events Ms. Marsh tells people she is from Detroit or Ann Arbor. ?? . It seems to me the reply to "A Requiem" has more faults and twists the realities more than the OpEd. Bluntly, Ms. Marsh, would you move to Detroit and raise your children in the City? (Even with the economic incentives being given for moving into the City?) The Aretha Franklin quote of "Accentuate the positive." is lovely -but, on a day to day basis one must be a realist. Yes, there are some great programs given as examples. But, they are a mere sliver of the reality. I wonder how often Ms. Marsh travels to the Old Redford Theater instead of the Michigan Theater -and goes for a walk around the neighborhood after dark (or in the daylight)??? I doff my hat to the likes of Linkner, Gilbert, Illitch clan, and others with constructive projects. Yes, they are changing the complexion of Detroit ever so slightly. This is good. Beyond property taxes ... it is great to live in Detroit where there is an income tax and hidden taxes in the utility bills. As to the dream of urban farming, Ms. Marsh, would you really eat food grown in fields with long histories of toxic and heavy metals waste? Just think about the simple problems of safe areas for children to play amidst the toxic waste (human & environmental).


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

@Tom @ David, How can you bash the casinos if you've never been to any one of them? There are many more features to the casinos than gambling. David, you mention finding 'culture' in your comments. Well there are world class restaurants like Iridescence at the MotorCity and Wolfgang Puck's restaurant at the MGM. The Sound Board theater hosts big name music, comedy and other entertainment shows. The hotel rooms are magnificent; great get away for the weekend. Try any one of these things to do there & I bet you will be suprised that you don't need to gamble in a smoky rom to have a great time.

David Briegel

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 8:16 p.m.

Thanks for the tip. I do love Mexican Village, Greektown, theaters, stadiums, museums and all the other neat things about the city. I am really saddened by the heartbreaking conditions in so much of the city. When I worked there I wanted so badly to move there but my family roots are here. When I have been to Vegas I hardly gamble. I like the sightseeing and the shows.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

I think you are having an emotional reaction and you need to focuse on the facts. Detroit stinks. OK got that off my chest. How do we fix it? 1. Blow up the Detroit public schools and hamstring the teacher's unions. Bad schools are in the top 3 reasons why people move and the teacher's union fight against reform has only led to more flight. Families will not move to Detroit to martyr their children in poor schools. (money has never been the problem) 2. Shrink the school and reduce the size of city govt. The incredible tax burden on people who live or work in Detroit is a result of a large dysfunctional city govt. The city has the same number of workers it had when there were 2 million people living in the city. 3. Throw out the criminals running the city. Between King Kwame and the crazy conyers what did you expect? 4. Make Detroit an immigrant friendly city. Detroit stinks right now, I just want it to stink less.

David Briegel

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 12:38 p.m.

Yes, isn't it sad what has happened to the Motor City. I agree with Diane in most of her column. I also would remind all the naysayers that Detroit is where we all go when we want real culture and entertainment. Metro residents have to leave the wasteland of their bedroom communities to find anything of value and meaning. Tom, I agree with you. I have never been to a casino in Michigan! I'm a non-smoker, why would I subject myself to that? You can't lose if you don't go!

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 12:22 p.m.

Dianne Marsh, I applaud your youthful optimism and positive spin, but please understand that Detroit, despite many great improvements, is still being held hostage by slumlords like Mourons and Little Caesars' Ilitch family, a greedy and corrupt City Council, and a variety of drug kingpins. Until Detroit manages to shed all of the dead weight; trim the fat. No small investor will dare go near Detroit with any real money or business proposals to investing Detroit. Couple these items with the outlandish property taxes and total lack of city services and is it any wonder folks won't go near it? Detroit, was a great place and it is great for urban exploration; documenting the once great buildings and urban decay.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 11:35 a.m.

As long as the leadership in Detroit insists on "business as usual", the downward trajectory will continue. The Council hasn't approved "urban farming." The Mayor hasn't delivered on his plan for right-sizing the city. So, what has actually changed in Detroit? It will take more than a catchy commercial from an Italian car company to save Detroit.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 3:42 a.m.

Sin-cerely, Paul Krutko's office needs to be in Detroit, they need SPARK more than A2.

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 12:18 a.m.

Cities are so 20th century.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

Detroit elected incredibly corrupt leaders and this was the result. I appreciate Bing's enthusiasm, but it will be difficult to recover now that everyone who could leave has disappeared.


Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 10:33 p.m.

I was born and raised in Detroit in a part of town that's now called "Cork Town". It used to be safe to walk the streets and a great place to live, work and raise a family. When I was 15, I used to walk home from my job at the Madison Theater (by Grand Circle Park) at 2:00 am without batting an eye. IMHO - Detroit signed its own death warrant on July 23rd, 1967. I had just graduated from high school and was working at a Wrigley supermarket in what is now called "Mexican Town". By the time the sun came up that Sunday morning, everything had changed and Detroit would never be the same again. I don't care about all the causal theories and recovery ideologies - it is what it is - and it will never be the city it once was. Just my opinion - but I could be wrong.


Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 12:49 p.m.

Actually, I think you're right. I was born in '68. All of my life, Detroit has had a tremendous downward momentum. I've heard about the riots before, but I had to look up what happened on that date. (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> It would take something that bad to cause such problems, but that probably does explain it. It's hard to imagine what could turn things around now.

Wolf's Bane

Fri, Apr 1, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

Nothing more powerful then an eyewitness!


Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 9:52 p.m.

Just wait It took 40 years to get to this point Only 40 more to wait For the turn around to happen Coleman Young Said this is our city and we will do what needs to be done He did not want any help from the Burbs

Tom Joad

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

Vote for Detroit by not stepping foot in the den of inequity of the gambling hall. Sure they try to cloth it in gentle terms of &quot;gaming&quot; but gambling is no game.


Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 9 p.m.

Detroit, in theory, is a great location for high-tech companies. It is a major port city, smack dab between Toronto and Chicago, and has abundant office space, internet, and highway access. But, these facts alone won't stop a 25% decline in population every decade. I actually looked at locating our tech firm there to be closer to clients, who range from Toledo to Lapeer. Why didn't I? Insanely high property assessments and millages, significant city income taxes which also badly hurts S-corps(unless you are in a Renaissance zone), and most importantly, the school system. Unless those things are truly addressed, it is going to be very hard to attract more than a token number of tech workers back to the city, especially those with families. Ann Arbor is a much easier choice. I think Detroit's best chance to make it would be to designate the whole city a renaissance zone, and give away city-owned houses for free to hopeful entrepreneurs in exchange for creating new jobs.

Craig Lounsbury

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 8:54 p.m.

Nice picture of the skyline....taken from the safe side of the river....a foreign country.

shadow wilson

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 8:41 p.m.

Until Detroit does something about it's awful culture as illustrated here <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and also does something to reduce crime nothing meaningful will ever happen.Unless we count meaningful as a continuing mass exodus. Some may call me bigoted or racist I don't care.This vid is not untypical for many parts of Detroit. There are countless vid on you tube of unruly idiotic moronic crowds on Belle isle how exactly are they going to fit in this new tech town? Time to come out of dreamsville Detroit needs an almost Gordian knot solution.

Atticus F.

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 9:13 p.m.

If you are implying that people only fight in detroit, then you haven't watched much youtube. Also, if you think this random video represents Detroits &quot;awful culture&quot;, then you haven't visited any of the churches or community gardens that I have.

Top Cat

Thu, Mar 31, 2011 : 8:26 p.m.

Dianne, you did not dispute any of the statements or facts in Mr. McGurn's column. Mr. McGurn never said the situation for Detroit was hopeless. What he did say was that business as usual was a failure and that only real and significant reform could turn Detroit around. I'm afraid what I see in your column is the state of denial that is preventing needed change and contributing to the exodus from Detroit and Michigan.