Thursday, September 9th, 2010
Detroit is one of America’s most powerful brands. I realize this is not what most people think. Many would say it is one of America’s most tarnished brands. That might be true, but that doesn’t diminish its power. There are lots of cities that are struggling right now, but how many of them have a stream of international reporters, film makers, artists, etc. coming to see it in person for themselves? How many of them have attracted random bloggers from all over the country to analyze the place and propose remedies? Why is this place thought to hold lessons for America while so many others do not?
Yes, Detroit is a brand with power. Yet too often its own residents feel the need to downplay it, euphemistically referring to the region as “Southeast Michigan” or to the city as “the D”, as if the brand has to be changed in order to attract people or investment. That might be true to some extent, but this is not what is going to attract the pioneers and early stage investors who are going to reverse the cycle of decline. Changing the brand will be the consequence, not the creator, of civic renewal. To attract those first people and businesses, you need to lure them in a different way – you need to inspire. So I say embrace Detroit, stand up and be proud of the city and what it is and what it could be. It is the only way to generate the inspirational motivation that can bring renewal.
Think about it. Did Jesus try to attract followers with gourmet meals, gallery openings, and rebranding Himself to be more approachable as “the J”? No, He did not. But with nothing but the promise of a Kingdom of Heaven that we’ll never see here on this earth, He kicked off a religious movement that echoes to this day. Indeed, few religious leaders had much tangible to offer in the here and now, but many of them managed to amass huge numbers of followers nevertheless.
You can convince people to get behind the rock and push if you give them a reason to. You can get people to enlist in your army in anticipation of a tough battle if you inspire them with your purpose.
Detroit can be an inspiration like this in a way “the D” never will. Perhaps as much as bean counters, economic developers, hipsters, etc., what Detroit really needs is a good dose of a tent revival preacher, calling the people forth to repentance and onward to greater glory tomorrow. That doesn’t come by being almost apologetic and embarrassed about who you are. Rather it comes from standing up tall, and being a true believer in your city and your cause.
Detroit is a great city in many ways. And “Detroit” is a great name for a city. Wear it with pride.