Gentrification, Hipsterfication, and Yuppies Renaissance
Just drive northward down Gratiot Avenue through the sprawling metropolis, and you’ll see what I am talking about.
Let’s start from Compuware’s corporate garage just steps away from the heart of downtown Detroit. You’ll pass through several high rises (most of which either owned by, or leased out to Mr. Gilbert and his Quicken Empire), numerous high-end restaurants and bars, a handful of young professionals chugging their morning Starbucks on their way to work, and an ominous gray citadel – the Wayne County Jail project – now locked in limbo after years of political incompetence and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted.
Let’s keep driving. The buildings will gradually grow lower and lower, and you’ll notice there are fewer people on the streets. And of the people on the streets, significantly more of them are black. Let’s cross the Chrysler Freeway and continue north.
Numerous old storefronts dot the now relatively empty sidewalks. Many of them are well maintained but are no longer in business. Then, some liquor stores, some auto repair shops, some barbershops. Just around the corner, you’ll see some back-to-nature blocks that used to be residential lots but are now demolished by the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force.
Red light. You’ll hear someone blasting Trick Trick’s “Welcome 2 Detroit” from his beaten up car stereo, windows rolled down. Wait, what happened to the high rises, vibrant urban landscape, and young professionals?
You don’t have to live in Detroit to realize the unevenness of Detroit’s sprawling metropolis. Nowadays, there is so much buzz around Detroit’s urban revitalization. Bustling coffee shops, bakeries, boutiques are opening their doors in the Midtown area; high-end technology startups and international corporations are moving their offices into Dan Gilbert’s newly renovated office spaces, attracting thousands of young millennials into what used to be desolate streets and empty skyscrapers. These young professionals – commonly known as hipsters – are bringing with them an unprecedented sense of energy and creativity, stirring up Detroit with innovative solutions while helping to strengthen the city’s tax base, which will in turn support essential services such as police, fire stations, and façade improvements.
But we cannot conclude here. As Ashley Woods reminds us, Detroit doesn’t need hipsters to survive, it needs it black people. I cannot agree more with her point, because the success of any city rests on improving its public infrastructure – such as public school systems and public transportation – that will raise its working class population. With a population that is 83% African American, most of whom live in Detroit’s neighborhoods, trickle-down urbanization will not work.
However, the heart of the conversation should not be a debate about whether or not gentrification is occurring, or reducing individuals by labeling them as this and that, but be about how we can collaboratively work together to address the complexity of the problem we all face as residents of this city. We need to dive deeper to find the solution. I am not saying it is not important to recognize our differences and the exclusiveness of Detroit’s reinvention, but I want to shift the weight of the conversation towards a discussion of how we can use these differences to our advantage, because in the heart of all differences we experience is an undisputable commonality: we share this space because we have an unwavering faith in the city we live in.
Let’s imagine: what if the Detroit City Government, Detroit Public School Systems, top real estate firms, and nonprofit institutions collaborated together to renovate abandoned city schools into office spaces for local businesses? What if technology firms collaborated with nonprofits, community development corporations, and small businesses to map out key locations for commercial development across the City of Detroit to facilitate new businesses moving into Detroit?
So, let’s direct our energy into brainstorming ways we can work together instead of focusing on the things that separate us apart.