The renaissance of a city that refuses to die. Here’s how Detroit can get its groove back. And what other major cities can learn.
Detroit is much like other great cities across the globe – Paris, New York, Rome – it has a rich history of influencing millions by way of its products and its resilient people. Detroit set the trajectory for a world where cars were built in waves, paving the way for the formation of industrial cities across the nation built out of blood, sweat and steel.
While industry has evolved, leaving Detroit far from the forefront, news outlets have pounced on nearly every opportunity to highlight the fall of Detroit. Article after article provide little to no light in sight for the city, presenting an extreme narrative and making it difficult for people outside Detroit to see or think anything different.
If necessity is the mother of invention, then Detroit is primed for another chance to shock the world. Here’s why:
1. Entrepreneurial renaissance
There is a renaissance happening in Detroit. There are already entrepreneurs working here, and a magnificent entrepreneurial ecosystem has been built, laying the groundwork for others to join.
As an example, the well-known startup accelerator, Techstars, recently announcedan inaugural Detroit Class — Techstar Mobility, which is an initiative aimed at fostering the growth of companies and technologies addressing the “movement” of people, goods and services. This brings new meaning to the nickname “Motor City,” and comes as a huge win for Detroit as it looks to attract entrepreneurs.
Shinola, a luxury watch, bike and leather goods manufacturer is another demonstration of the strength of the city’s entrepreneurial spirit. Started in Detroit, Shinola has received national recognition, and now has locations across the United States, as well as in London. Many people must ask Shinola, “Why Detroit?” They have a section on their website dedicated to the question. Their answer, “We know there’s not just history in Detroit, there is a future.”
2. The 21st century’s millennial mecca
According to a Goldman Sachs report, millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) will be the largest generation in history, totaling a whopping 92 million people in the year 2015, compared to the baby boomer cohort of 71 million. More bodies means more money, and more money means an impact on our economy.
An underlying virtue of this generation is its commitment to cause-related work. Millennials want to live where it’s trendy and they aren’t afraid to leave town (both figuratively and literally) when they seek to impact change. This provides another golden opportunity for the nation’s underdog, Detroit, to make its move. Many millennials are already flocking to Detroit because it’s cheaper to live in than cities such as New York City or San Francisco. With low rent as a plus, the city also houses many nonprofit organizations and fellowship programs. These opportunities are primed for young professionals looking to make an impact, and also provide the city a passage for attracting top talent.
3. Social innovation
There’s been an impressive rise in the number of social entrepreneurs using their passion to create businesses, putting people before profits. In a city plagued with enigmatic societal problems, Detroit is a perfect breeding ground for innovative solutions to worldwide problems.
Though it’s a nonprofit, United Way for Southeastern Michigan is spearheading a major effort on social innovation. I am fortunate enough to work at this organization, which has been using human-centered design, along with the design-thinking approaches to solve problems. Armed with a deep curiosity of people, United Way couples community insights from real people alongside extensive research in hopes of finding innovative solutions. Don’t be surprised if United Way becomes one of the biggest social change agents, especially with Detroit as their proving ground.
Detroit is prime for a comeback. It’s time to take hold of the opportunities the city has and begin to capitalize on them.
Ezekiel Harris, Flint, Michigan native and University of Michigan graduate, is pursuing a career as a social entrepreneur.