Contention, Reinvention


If metro Detroit political leaders were characters in a TV medical drama, they might be estranged parents so embroiled in a stubborn custody dispute that their sick child nearly dies while they bicker.

Consider Cobo as the baby being neglected [at press time] by petty “adults.” As a Detroit News headline scolded recently: “Elect a crazy council, get crazy results.”

Since some leaders can’t manage an intelligent remedy to our hot-button issues, maybe our 150 hours of average annual tube watching can lend inspiration. Detroit City Council can play the parents of a dying patient on Fox-TV’s House and submit to the healing prescription of an unlikable outsider — the cantankerous genius Dr. Gregory House.

It’s time to enroll our viral politics in a clinical drug trial — regardless of whether the pill is tough to swallow. Our preference for home remedies certainly hasn’t helped our case. National magazines are having a field day publishing predictions of Detroit’s demise. Meanwhile, local officials are singing while Rome burns. The Atlantic and Rolling Stone are among the latest to feature dire prognoses for Motown.

Such stories are as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. In the March issue of Rolling Stone, a Detroit native returned to listen for a death rattle. “Requiem for Detroit: Postcard from a Dying City,” the magazine’s cover lines read. Photographs accompanying the piece amounted to urban clichés (images that any photographer could find in any city). A more original approach might have been to look for signs of life in the ailing auto capital. But why bother when local leaders are busy throwing baby aspirin at a tumor?

“Perhaps no major city in the U.S. today looks more beleaguered than Detroit,” Richard Florida wrote in The Atlantic’s March issue.

Florida says if a city is going to recover from a severe economic crisis, it needs major changes and upgrades in infrastructure.

“Many second-tier Midwestern cities have tried to reinvent themselves in different ways, with varying degrees of success,” the story notes. “Pittsburgh, for instance, has sought to re-imagine itself as a high-tech center, and has met with more success than just about anywhere else.”

Crisis, he says, demands reinvention. This is no time for turf battles and “Sambo Awards.”

In this, the month of rain showers, metro Detroit leaders need a bigger umbrella. And while they’re huddled together, keeping dry in a storm, they should get real about regional transit, capitalizing on Michigan’s natural beauty, and promoting our vintage buildings. They also can devise incentives to retain the exiting college grads whose fresh ideas we so desperately need.

We’ve got engineers, musicians, a thriving craft scene, architects, hipsters, talented chefs, skilled tradesmen, organic growers, and fine artists. And we have our famous affection for sports, which is at a zenith this month and a highlight of this issue. It’s time to lighten up and remember that we’re all cheering for the same team.