Mashable: (Detroit) It's Not A Blank Slate

Inside D:Hive's Office Hangs A Chalkboard Containing Dreams For The City Of Detroit.  MASHABLE 

Born and raised in Detroit, Jeanette Pierce has witnessed a lot of that hardship. But she loves her city. She raves about how invigorating it is to live in a place people are willing to fight for.

She and I meet over beers in the dimly lit Motor City Brewing Works in Detroit’s Midtown, considered one of the most developed neighborhoods in the city.

Jeanette is the founder of D:Hive, an organization that helps visitors and potential residents get acquainted with Detroit. Since our meeting D:Hive has evolved into the Detroit Experience Factory, which provides tours of the city, and Build, which helps local entrepreneurs turn their business ideas into profitable realities.

She laments, however: It’s the white kids who move here and start businesses like the bar we’re in who get a lot of the attention. Jeanette herself is white.

On cue, our twenty-something, tattooed server runs down the list of craft brews on tap. I settle on the “Ghettoblaster,” their signature English ale.

It’s businesses like this one that make Midtown appealing to potential outsiders, like myself. Cheap craft beer, a bustling atmosphere of young people who comfortably match my socioeconomic status.

Expressing my comfort gives Jeanette a rejuvenated burst of enthusiasm. She regales me with reasons to relocate to Detroit, chiefly the opportunity to be part of a turning point.

“Detroit is big enough to matter to the world. But small enough for you to matter to Detroit.” She recites the sound bite with such conviction that it sounds rehearsed. She laughs, “Wow, that’s pretty good. I just thought of that.”

Her smile fades. “Just don’t call it a blank slate.”

I blush, remembering I had used that exact phrase with Detroit local and Write a House board member Francis Grunow earlier that day.

“It’s so exciting to be here right now, isn’t it?” I had asked with enthusiasm. “It’s like a blank slate, just waiting for people to fill it!”

In hindsight, his reaction was contained: “Well…yes. But it isn’t really ‘blank.’ There are people who have lived here for generations and never left.”

Francis and I met at The Green Garage, a coworking community of entrepreneurs. The open office’s techy vibe — iPhone chargers tangled behind desks, whiteboards scrawled with notes — is evidence of yet another movement taking place here: startups.

Like artists, startups have taken advantage of Detroit’s cheap property options, initiating a wave of gentrification in the area. The faces are multiplying: white twenty-somethings, plaid button-ups, hipster glasses. Many feel taking business risks is a Detroit tradition. It’s a working man’s town.

“Living here is tough,” he tells me with a hint of exhaustion. He loves it here, but feels responsible for working to improve it, a purpose with no guaranteed return.

Through his involvement with Write a House, he sees an opportunity to try something new and hopefully do some good.

Write a House founders Toby Barlow and Sarah Cox tried to avoid the “blank slate” approach. They knocked on doors and introduced themselves to neighbors during the renovation process, hoping to become a part of the community, rather than disrupt it.

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