A burst of youthful energy – from native Detroiters and new immigrants – debunks the opinion that nothing can be done to jumpstart the Motor City.
Stories of Detroit's emerging comeback often highlight the city’s attraction to young hipsters. According to plentiful media reports, well-educated twenty-somethings are streaming into the Motor City to test out new ideas, explore art and music projects, or launch D-I-Y revitalization initiatives.
You can spot a number of once-dormant corners of the city now pulsing with activity thanks to young entrepreneurs. Corktown now sports pubs and restaurants that would fit in Brooklyn or Portland. Midtown shows all the makings of a creative class hub, complete with hipsters hanging out at the Good Girls Go to Paris creperie, the Avalon International Breads bakery, and the N’Nmadi Center gallery, devoted to the rich tradition of African-American abstract art. Recent college grads can be seen all over town from the bountiful Eastern Market to bustling Campus Martius square to festive Mexicantown to the scenic Riverwalk to the yummy Good People Popcorn shop downtown, featuring flavors like cinnamon and chocolate drizzle.
This burst of youthful energy – even in the face of the city’s continuing economic and social woes – debunks widespread opinion that nothing can be done to jumpstart the Motor City. While a new, more positive narrative about Detroit is welcome, there are problems in focusing entirely on idealistic young adventurers swooping in to save the city – it reinforces the stereotype of native Detroiters as hapless, helpless, and hopeless.
The truth is, locals have been working hard for years to uplift the common good in Detroit, which drew the interest of outsiders. And newcomers aren’t the only ones stirring up excitement around town. Good People Popcorn, for instance, was started by two sisters and a cousin, all of whom grew up here. Sarida Scott Montgomery, one of the founders who is also a lawyer and executive director of the Community Development Advocates of Detroit, says people are often surprised she grew up in the city. "Not in the suburbs," she says, "but in Detroit itself."
Regina Ann Campbell, director of the Milwaukee Junction Small Business Center incubator in Detroit's North End, grew up on the Northwest side before earning a Masters in urban planning degree at the University of Michigan. "I welcome all the new people," she says. "But it’s important for them to understand they are building on some things that have been going on for years. I want to help them appreciate the city though the eyes of the people who have lived here."
Ms. Scott Montgomery and Ms. Campbell are both part of a new initiative that matches the talents of bright, young professionals with local organizations working at the frontlines of reviving Detroit. The Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program (DRFP) selected 29 fellows with backgrounds in urban planning, economic development, finance, real estate, and related fields.
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