Pray for Detroit
First, let me say that this was a post I have been meaning to do awhile ago with the title “Pray for Detroit”. Then as I am sure you all aware, ISIS attacked Paris (subject of as post) and #PrayforParis became viral. So, I made the decision to hold off for awhile. I should point out that prayers for Detroit (explained below), are not meant to take anything away from the tragedies in California or Paris or Lebanon or well you get the idea. It is instead meant to open your awareness of the realities of economic tragedy, something that gets way less news coverage and when it does it is usually too late and terribly inaccurate or helpful.
I visited Detroit for the first time earlier this Fall to visit my wife’s family. It was a short visit but nonetheless I did everything I could to learn about the city and photograph it. To do this, I will often engage the locals for tips on where to go/not to go etc. Thus, while having dinner at an upscale restaurant in the suburbs on our first night, I asked our waitress what she thought about downtown Detroit and if we should visit. Her response shocked me, I’ll paraphrase “Please sir do not go there at night, you will get robbed or worse. During the day is okay, but be careful where you park and watch yourself”. I was not really expecting this, every other place in the country that has a “bad reputation” is usually over-hyped and outdated, thus I shot back “is it really that bad?”. She returned, paraphrasing again, “I do not stop at red lights in downtown at night, too big a risk that someone will walk up and point a gun at your car and demand money.”
Well, long story short, we did not visit the downtown. I’d say this was more due to time constraints of a short visit than fears but my wife was happy nonetheless. This got me thinking, how could a major American city get this way?
Let me back up, Detroit was effectively the Silicon Valley of the early/mid 20th century. The auto industry was what the tech industry is today and Henry Ford and Walter Chrysler would have been the equivalents of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. So, how does the center of American innovation and capitalism become the punchline of jokes and a major municipal bankruptcy in less than half a century?
This not easy to answer, but I’ll sum it up like this. Detroit and the American auto industry was built on innovation, risk taking, and rule breaking (seriously, think about getting driver’s licenses, roads, etc., didn’t exist before cars were popular did it??). When it stopped innovating, risk taking, and rule breaking, it began a death spiral that would leave a city with so many excess homes they are bulldozing them by the dozens.
Thus, if there is any message I want every reader to get from this post it is this. If you allow or attempt to handcuff or stifle the innovative prowess, ability to take risks, and impose stiff rules (regulations) on the economic base of a city, you may just kill it. I see something similar taking place in the “tech industry”. Many tech titans are and were built on extreme innovation, major risk taking, and even TONS of rule breaking (I’m looking at you UBER and AirBNB).
If these groups become ensnared in all the issues of “employee” rules or whatever, do not be shocked if they stumble and fail. The economic cost could be massive (not sure if this is just a “Cali” problem, but everyone needs to think). Always remember Detroit = Silicon Valley. We do not want to lose the supremacy of another American success story (sidenote, new car factories were opened in the South, thus it is really not a “foreign” problem as so many would like to blame).
As for Detroit and other cities with similar economic conditions? Pray! What will fix them? Yep you guessed it…. innovation, risk taking, and rule breaking. I actually think Detroit can make a comeback, the population is loaded with highly talented engineers and scientists and several major universities are in a short drive (hmm… what does that remind me of… oh yeah Silicon Valley!), and people are ready for a change.
Should you visit Detroit? Well, YES! I will go back and hopefully visit downtown. We did lots in the suburbs, including going to this cool river powered cider mill:
Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge