Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Saving Detroit


(The Goal: People moving into Detroit from other cities, drawn by the magic of the Detroit name.)

Until the beginning of this year I was Publicity Director for the Underground Literary Alliance, the #1 underground writers group in America. Last year, England's The Guardian, in an overview of literature, "Surfing the New Literary Wave," by Sam Jordison, named the upstart ULA as one of three major literary movements on this side of the Atlantic. Though centered in Philadelphia, the ULA was founded by expat Detroiters.

I returned to Detroit late last year to visit family and take care of personal business. I decided to stick around. My first week back I stayed at the Leland Hotel. The Leland is a metaphor for Detroit: a great seedy beautiful magnificent empty place waiting to be filled.

Compare Detroit's downtown to Philly's. Detroit has the infrastructure to be as vibrant as Philadelphia: the street layout; the buildings (like the Leland); the condos, bars, and restaurants. What it needs is people!

How to accomplish that?

The tops-down approach of stadiums, People Mover, and other big-money projects is fine, but can do only so much. This should be supplemented with activity from the ground-up, which would be quicker and cheaper. The process of gentrification taking place now on a large scale in New York City and Philadelphia begins with writers and artists. (See Williamsburg in Brooklyn; Fishtown in Philly.) If Detroit became NATIONALLY known as the home of a kick-ass underground arts movement, attention and people would follow.

New York City-- including traditional writers havens like the East Village-- has become too expensive for bohemians. Through its success, New York is destroying its roots.

Where are writers and artists going? Where will they go?

Many are moving to Philadelphia. The ULA has a foundation in its hippest neighborhood. Last year I was a guest on the city's #1 public radio show. BUT, the problem with the east coast is competing with extremely well-funded New Yorkers. There are more possibilities here.

(Next-- STAGE TWO: The Boldest Move.)

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