Framing the Big Picture

Letter from the Editor


A journalist I once knew liked to regularly voice her disdain for the city where she found her Ivy League-educated self feeling stranded like a slugger relegated to the minor league. “There’s only one classical radio station here,” she was heard lamenting on one occasion.

Weaning ourselves from our addiction to “big” is a detox regimen we all might embrace. Journalists, who are taught to value the economical use of words, should understand the advantages of compactness.

I thought of that while walking into the Shangri-La restaurant on Wayne State’s campus one recent night, well past the dinner hour. The door opened to reveal an inner world that we had never visited. The smattering of guests automatically glanced up to scan the newcomers for recognition, then returned to their conversations.

Along with describing the dim sum, for which we were too late, and the French-fried, green-tea ice cream, the cheery waitress told us that the restaurant shows episodes of the cult-classic TV series Twin Peaks on Monday nights. When we left, staffers thrust a printed synopsis of season one into our hands, just in case we wanted to read up in preparation for the next showing.

The campy gimmick had a quaint feel in our “big city.” In the fictional small town of Twin Peaks, there was enough drama to fill two television seasons. And here in a formerly top-tier city, it’s still quite possible for lifelong residents to happen upon new places and faces.

Detroit’s own current drama of exodus is a made-for-media plot line. Journalists and pundits love a good death rattle. Detroit’s vanishing populace is providing a global supply of press-corps catnip — another chance to reference the ’67 riots. New York, according to a new study done in part by University of Michigan researchers, is the second-most segregated U.S. city, right behind Milwaukee. No routine mention of New York’s own past racial strife in news reports, however.

Among the more optimistic of the raft of published opinions on Detroit’s dwindling numbers was speculation that this region will one day become a water-belt mecca. And several writers here and elsewhere suggested that Detroit “super size” by going regional. When combined, we do have enough people in our tri-county area to surpass other cities by a long shot.

Just draw a bigger circle. Simple as that. If the Japanese could repair the quake-cracked Great Kanto Highway in six days, we should be able to toss a lasso around our 4-million strong region.

But, in this, a year when we mark the sesquicentennial of the beginning of the Civil War, which claimed the lives of 14,500 Michigan soldiers in the effort to save our Union, we can’t seem to bridge our own great divide. And that sort of thinking is what’s truly small.

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