Let’s Take the Road from Ruin


 Detroit is the new reality TV. Want a hit of shock and awe for a national report? Send a camera crew here. Need some OMG footage? Poverty porn? Jet into DTW.

Résumé light on hard-news cred? Do a Detroit drive-by; down-and-out stories here are no-brainers.
And although our status as devastation diva is teetering on cliché, media, literary, and arts types continue to come play war correspondent in the oxidized capital of the Rust Belt.

“Ruin With a View” headlined a recent piece in The New York Times special spring 2010 design issue. It was accompanied by the requisite photo of a crumbling Victorian. The Times story reviewed two books: The Ruins of Detroit, by Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, and Detroit Disassembled, by Andrew Moore.

Have we reached the saturation point? Apparently not. A writer I know is embarking on a book examining the path to Detroit’s downfall. Yes, we know: Ignore the past, and it threatens to happen again. But another book? Really? Who doesn’t know the tragic results of redlining, blockbusting, and middle-class flight, or the perils of being a one-industry town? Don’t forget chapters on dropout rates and lack of mass transit. Then tell us something we don’t know.

Of course, it’s not the job of the media to sugar-coat.
But reporters should be curious and creative. Documenting the flip side of Detroit’s struggles would be just as legitimate as chronicling decay, which, sorry to say, is old news.

Also, old news is our usual chip-on-the shoulder response, evident most recently after the airing of Dateline NBC’s Detroit report. Was it one sided? Pretty much. (Detroiters fantasize about broadcast images depicting our fashion savvy, 20-somethings on the roof of Motor City Brewing Works, executive squash players at the DAC, rehabbed mansions, TechTown growth, sailboats on the river, and on and on.)
It’s human nature to over-scrutinize snapshots of ourselves. We’re hypersensitive, because when strangers see our warts, they don’t know about our lovable assets.

But here’s the deal. We had a blind date with Dateline and we didn’t click. You can’t make someone like you. A defensive posture is never attractive. Neither is playing the victim.
You also can’t rely on others to tell your story. And you should never let others define you. It’s up to us to create an appealing story line. And that starts with not being dysfunctional homers, as in: Detroit may be a mess, but it’s our mess.

The NBC portrayal showed a harsh reality. Reversing Detroit’s fortunes is not the job of network television. It’s up to us to patronize our city and suburban businesses. They create vibrant streets, pay taxes, and generate jobs.

It’s up to us to dress well for a date with outsiders. Then maybe our suitor will arrive carrying roses.

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