Late December is the time for media reflection, so let me officially say in this space that Detroit has had a hell of a year. A breakthrough year, just as I hoped it would when I wrote the 2011 wrap-up piece last December. In 2012, Detroit’s nascent tech scene finally gained recognition and legitimacy in the eyes of the rest of the world, particularly Silicon Valley; 2012 is also the year that the international narrative about what our city has become and where it’s going finally started to change a bit. (Though, with an entire city full of restaurants, we’re still tired of reading about Slow’s in every article, no matter how much it’s done to revitalize Corktown.)
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, there was plenty of bad news to go around in Detroit this year, too. The specter of bankruptcy continues to hover over the City of Detroit, and if it comes to pass, it will be the largest American municipality by far to fall prey to it. I saw a statistic recently that found one-third of all Detroit properties are behind on their taxes. Add to that number the one-third of Detroit properties that are owned by the government, churches, or banks—never mind all the people who aren’t paying parking and blight tickets—and you can see why the city has a revenue problem.
Crime and gun violence also continue to be completely out of control and law enforcement underfunded, to the point that Detroit police offers were passing out flyers warning people to enter Detroit at their own risk outside Comerica Park just weeks before we hosted the World Series. The streetlights still aren’t on and the busses still don’t run on time, but both of those things may soon be remedied thanks to regional authorities created during the lame duck legislative session a few weeks ago.
I suggest that anyone struggling to understand the current state of Detroit read a piece by a local filmmaker, writer, and activist named dream hampton that was published on Dec. 20 in the Detroit News. Her essay, built around her complicated feelings regarding what’s become of her childhood home on the east side, is the recent history of Detroit in miniature. It’s brilliant and heartbreaking. It’s also hopeful, in the form of dream herself.
Hip-hop fans know dream as the former editor of Rap Pages and the author of seminal profiles of Tupac, Biggie, and a host of other rap-related topics. In 2011, she co-authored “Decoded” with her bestie Jay-Z. All this to say: With her talent and access, she could live anywhere, but she chooses to make her home, and raise her daughter, in Detroit.
This year, she helped turned her birthday celebration into a weekend-long event where journalists from prominent national outlets were flown to Detroit for the weekend and shown that “Another Detroit is Happening.” Plenty of people—myself included—complained about the way out-of-town journalists were telling our stories. dream actually did something to show the storytellers how narrow their perspective was.
The fact is, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people like dream in Detroit. People like Jerry Paffendorf, who moved here from San Francisco and has spent the past two years crusading on behalf of Detroit’s vacant properties and the people who want to buy them on his website, Why Don’t We Own This. People like Andy Didorosi, founder of the Detroit Bus Company, a metro Detroit native who had a nice gig writing for the car blog Jalopnik until his frustration with Detroit’s transportation woes led him to create an alternative bus line fueled by social media.
Now that a new Detroit has firmly taken root, the next challenge is to shine the light of opportunity on the “old Detroit.” Some won’t be interested, but many more will be, as evidenced by TechTown’s recent foray into the rebounding Brightmoor neighborhood. The Internet has democratized information and technology in a way never seen before. Combine that with Detroit’s natural hustle and resilience, and we could—I believe we will—have a very dynamic, post-industrial city on our hands in a few years.
So it’s with great optimism that I head into 2013, and everyone rooting for Detroit should feel free to join me. Take a look at our slideshow for further proof, as we run down the major signposts signaling that Detroit has officially turned a corner. Is there something we missed? Let us know.
Cheers to a new year!
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