Like myself, Chris is also a Michigan native. After working in a number of different locations, including Afghanistan, where he did development work, he decided to come back to his home state and work for Detroit Future City. This is the embodiment of what Detroit and Michigan as a whole need. With an excellent public university system, Michigan has a plethora of young talent. However, this talent is being drawn to places with a greater perceived opportunity such as Chicago and the big cities out east. When more people recognize the value of working in places like Detroit, the positive change will occur at an even faster rate.
One question that many people have is “What is Detroit’s biggest problem?” This is a question that is very interesting to me as well because it seems like there are a number of issues that are confronting Detroit and all of them are daunting and very important to solve. Chris’s take on this question was both interesting and valid. He said that Detroit is a city with a scarcity of resources and, because of this, not every problem is going to receive the amount of attention it is due. However, there is still a way to most effectively locate these resources and bring about a positive change in the city. Detroit’s biggest difficulty will be figuring out how to efficiently locate its resources to provide the best outcome for the most people. This is a problem that is also facing Detroit Future City at the moment, there simply aren’t enough resources to appease everybody, but is about improving the lives of the most people. Another issue that Chris brought up in our conversation was that of short-term vs. long-term gains. Sometimes, it may feel as if no progress is being made in Detroit. It is in our nature to want things today rather than tomorrow. While it is important to make sure that peoples’ immediate needs are met, DFC & Detroit cannot lose sight of the long term goals.
When asked about what Detroit Future City’s role in social entrepreneurship was, Chris responded by saying that Detroit Future Cities job is to find talent in the city and raise up that talent by providing the people with a structure so that they can bring about positive change in the city. DFC job is not to bring about this change, but to empower others to do so. In addition to helping others to make their ideas happen DFC is busy doing research on other cities, in America and around the world, to find ideas to implement within Detroit. This does not mean that DFC wants Detroit to become like any other city. When I asked if there was a specific city that Detroit should try to model itself after, Chris responded by saying that Detroit should not try to be like any other city because Detroit is perfectly poised to be its own great city. Detroit has resources unlike anywhere else in the world that include an industrial heritage, entrepreneurial spirit, and an unmatched amount of vacant space that is just brimming with potential. And because of these unique traits, Detroit is in a great position for the future.
At this point, our interview was almost finished and I decided to ask Chris what was the fastest-acting positive change that he has witnessed since coming to Detroit. I felt that the answer he provided was incredibly insightful and reflective of one of Detroit’s best qualities “There is an optimism here that wasn’t here before, people are betting on the future.” A couple years ago, Detroit had been bogged down with a “this is the way things are” mentality. Now people are pulling for doing things in new, more efficient ways in order to make things better. Although I wasn’t in Detroit to notice this change happen, I can undoubtedly feel the amount of optimism in the city. I can see it on people’s faces when they leave their buildings following a hard day’s work. People are excited about what is to come for Detroit and Chris and others like him are doing everything they can to accelerate this process.
I want to thank Chris again for taking the time to answer some questions. I learned a lot and am excited to continue my work in Detroit and with Detroit Future City.