The Many Detroits of Detroit

West Milwaukee St. at Woodward Ave.

Detroit as displayed on the map is one city. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our fractured metropolis consists of many Detroits, from the city to the suburbs and beyond, and exists within the minds of those who have experienced it. This City conceptualized as an experience is but one facet of this geographical construct; our emotional connection with its name attests to its power.

Perceptions and emotions regarding Detroit do not end at the exurbs. Our city has become a regular topic of national and international media. It seems that we have become an unanticipated type of world city. Ruin porn tourists have flocked to Detroit with their cameras, and have carried away with them yet another Detroit.

We in Metro Detroit own our racial and economic inequalities; they no longer belong to generations past. We own our city, its blight, its crime, its corruption, and all of the rotten things for which Detroit has become the urban posterchild. However, we also own our strengths: Our history, our culture, our infrastructure, and our architecture. Detroit is not like other places; it is a beautiful, brutal city.

It is against this backdrop that the Detroit Idea Factory will explore what makes a metropolitan area, both within Detroit and elsewhere. There will be daydream scribblings that refuse to be constrained by the realm of the possible, but they will be tempered with a conservative analysis of what I have come to think of as How Things Work.

How Things Work

How Things Work is an ever-evolving concept that shapes itself to any given context. It can be political, financial, or logistical. It could be a matter of going through city contracts line by line and filling out spreadsheets with data outlining benefits, taking notes on zoning codes, or searching for dusty notecards from the 1980s to find the social security number of a city employee that retired in the 70s because someone entered it into the computer wrong in the 90s. This should be boring, but in practice it is usually frantic.

It is impossible to consider even small dreams without considering the minutiae of How Things Work. We owe it to ourselves not only to dream and think big, but also to be certain that the so-called small things are attended to.

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