While businesses in Detroit are making news by creating incentives for their employees to live in the city, Crain’s Detroit Business Publisher Mary Kramer has been a proponent of living in Detroit for decades. With the seventh annual Crain’s Detroit House Party scheduled for Thursday, September 20, bringing 1,100 potential Detroit residents into the city for cocktail parties in private homes and an afterglow at the Roostertail, we sat down with her to discuss the pros and cons of living in the D.
Kramer said that fundamentally, Detroit is a collection of neighborhoods. “I moved to Detroit in 1989, and it was the largest city that I’d ever lived or worked in,” she said. “What struck me in my orientation about Detroit is that it was the largest city that I’d ever lived in, and yet it felt like - at least in my neighborhood, the West Village-Indian Village neighborhood - it was like a big small town, it was a village. And there were neighborhoods like that all over the city, where people came for the architecture, the historic house, and they stayed for the people. The community fabric was so strong that I met more people more quickly than in any of the other smaller communities in which I had lived before.”
Detroit does have challenges, Kramer admits. Foreclosures in affluent neighborhoods lead to vacant homes that attract scrappers, squatters and even arsonists. Crime remains a real issue, and while there are a number of excellent elementary and middle schools in the city, there are few quality high schools. However, engaged residents in healthy neighborhoods go a long way toward fighting off the darker challenges of city living.
“What I think is not clear to people who don’t live in the city or who aren’t familiar with these neighborhoods…is that there are strong neighborhood associations, there is a strong interest in the architecture and what’s available in the city,” she said. “Once you become more familiar with these neighborhoods, you find that there’s this strong ethic, this strong network of people that make you feel very welcome and that’s really one of Detroit’s key assets.”
Another asset that Detroit has is its stable of entrepreneurial leaders such as Quicken Loans Inc.’s Dan Gilbert, whom Kramer said sees vibrant residential areas in Detroit as a tool for attracting talent to his businesses and the many buildings he has acquired in the city. Many young professionals want a view out of their office windows more exciting than a suburban office park parking lot or big-box store, and are attracted to an after-work ballgame or live music venue within walking distance of their place of business.
Kramer also touted the simple benefit of not having to commute into or out of the city, and avoiding the trouble spots well-known to every local commuter. “My vision of Hell is getting stuck in traffic at 5:30 on one of these freeways,” she said.
However, while events such as Crain’s Detroit House Party, the incentives from Quicken and other corporate leaders, reinvention efforts at Detroit Public Schools and other initiatives are key to bringing residents back into the city, Kramer said that the most fundamental work on the long-term health of Detroit is being done out of City Hall.
“A lot depends on the success of the Detroit Works project, and that is a very misunderstood but very critical work that’s being done under Mayor Dave Bing, with some consultants and city departments. They’re trying to look at, ‘OK, this is our footprint, almost 140 square miles, and our population is 700,000 people.’ To think that this city is suddenly overnight going to be a million or more than a million people again, that’s not realistic,” she said. “But what you do have are a lot of assets within that 140 square miles, and now you think through how you use those assets, the land and the infrastructure that’s there, how do you build on density in the parts of the city that are very dense with people or with companies. I think that is the critical thing that will determine how well Detroit will be faring in 10 years.”
For more information on the Crain’s Detroit House Party, visit http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20111231/CRAINSEVENTS/312319995.
Way to represent the D, Mary! Once a "villager" always a villager.