Michigan’s Frontier Cities
We forget that before the cars, before the factories, Michigan’s cities were for centuries little more than outposts clinging to the fringe of vast woodlands where adventurism and opportunity brought people from across the globe to forge world class cities that would eventually offer a level of prosperity that rivaled anything seen in the annals of history.
Now thoughts of Michigan’s core cities focus on their closed factories, shuttered buildings and all that they lack, whether that is good schools, easy access to retail, groceries and chain restaurants or basic safety.
As a resident of Detroit I would argue that some of these current perceptions of our cities are misguided or overly exaggerated, others are inescapable. But I rarely try any more to try to change people’s perceptions of Detroit or Michigan’s other urban areas by trying to compare them to the amenities that you would find in our suburban communities. The Detroits and Flints are going to lose the battle of the Red Robins and Krogers to Troy and Grand Blanc every time . . . and that’s fine. While there is certainly room for improvement, our urban areas have other things to offer, especially to a different segment of the population that loves our cities the way they are and what they offer.
This shift in attitude needs to occur in all facets of how we think of Michigan’s cities but in particular, in how we market our cities.
Our cities are more than just “fun” or “cool”, they represent a purpose and a higher calling to be on the front lines of rebuilding great cities and ultimately our state.
At the recent Michigan Municipal League convention in Dearborn, Peter Kageyama, the founder of the Creative Cities Summits, spoke to how we need to market our distressed areas to appeal to a frontier adventurism and sense of purpose that seems to be growing within the younger generation. Peter specifically referenced a new Levi’s campaign that focuses on the city of Braddock, PA that has been decimated by the collapse of its core industry and is rebranding itself based on its vacant structures or ruin. Braddock and its young unorthodox mayor hope young people will see their liabilities as opportunities in a new kind of frontier town.
When discussing the appeal of our urban areas Peter hits on the lessons Michigan could take from the notion of selling itself as a frontier town. That is a theme that resonates with me as it is one of the main reasons I chose to buy a vacant home in Detroit and become so involved in my community.
In a crass sense, history can be boiled down to a series of notable moments and places that defined an era where there was a perfect convergence of necessity, individuals, and scale. I think more than anywhere else at this moment, Michigan’s cities in their efforts to redefine themselves have the potential to define this era. The opportunities that this historic moment presents literally keeps me awake at night.
So when we sell Michigan’s cities to the outside world and ourselves, let us go beyond the arguments about entertainment and affordability and as Peter suggests, talk to the aspiration and opportunity for reinvention they offer.blog comments powered by Disqus