Why Entrepreneurs and Artists Will Save Our Cities

I was back in the Detroit area recently for a family memorial and took home a Detroit Free Press on my flight back.  That’s how I learned about a new film called “Detroit Lives” from Palladium Boots about my hometown. It celebrates how young artists and entrepreneurs are taking over the inner city and not waiting for permission to plant gardens, renovate abandoned buildings and create their own vision of the Motor City.  The film had its New York premiere in September and will open soon in LA and Detroit.   Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of The Detroit News wrote a great column about the film  on “A New Vision for Detroit”  that is online at http://www.detnews.com/article/20100926/OPINION03/9260306/1467/OPINION01/A-new-vision-for-Detroit.

Finley writes that that the film challenged his assumptions about what form a new and improved Detroit ought to take.  “Our version of renewal comes in billion-dollar packages funded by big sugar daddies,” he says in the column. “So I rolled my eyes at first when a young artist told (host Johnny) Knoxville, ‘Detroit doesn’t need a savior. Detroit doesn’t need a big box store.’ That’s the difference in mindset between the corporate class and the creative class.”

Listening to the artists in the film (you can view part one online at http://www.palladiumboots.com/exploration/detroit)  reminded me of my own “urban pioneering” days in the East Village and Midwood, Brooklyn as a young freelance writer and aspiring off-off Broadway actress. I was in love with the history of the city and the spirit of adventure in creating new institutions, including a food coop,  along with my fellow artists and entrepreneurs.

It is wonderful to see that same excitement in Detroit’s younger generation as they dispute the idea that Detroit is ugly and dead – just as my generation of artists disputed the death of the East Village and joyfully snapped up decaying old Victorians in Brooklyn.  In my own family, I always admired how my niece, who died much too young, refused to abandon her neighborhood Methodist congregation Mt. Hope in northeast Detroit, even after all her friends and family moved out to the suburbs.  At the memorial for her this past weekend, the family learned how much love she shared with current members of the congregation as they told how wonderfully she managed the thrift shop and how much they enjoyed her flute solos during services.

I’m so glad I read my hometown paper on the flight back to New York. I caught up on a new spirit of hope at a time when most of our cities now face huge budget gaps and need that jolt of creativity, instead of anger and backlash. Amazingly, our young artists/entrepreneurs seem determined to reinvent the world through their own fresh eyes and I’m betting they are right! 

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