Blight. Poverty. Crimes. Poverty. Blight. Crime. Blight. Poverty. Crime. Poverty. Blight. Crime. Blight. Poverty. Crimes. Poverty. Blight. Crime. Blight. Poverty. Crime. Poverty. Blight. Crime. Blight. Poverty. Crimes. Poverty. Blight. Crime. Blight.
I can’t even recall how many times I’ve encountered these words during my past three weeks in Detroit. Five decades of transformation simply captured in three words. Like most outsiders, I was content with this mere simplification. I never questioned anything. In fact, there wasn’t much to explain. A few people really understand what has happened to this industrial colossus; some are simply tired of explaining. To make things easier, people simply adopt these three words as the “go-to” explanation, and others, like myself, pretend to understand.
The main reason I chose my current project is because it presents the opportunity for me to go into Detroit’s neighborhoods. After months of chasing after explanations in words, I’ve decided to experience it myself. The entrepreneurial scene in Midtown and Downtown is enticing, but I wanted to see the impact of entrepreneurship in Detroit’s neighborhoods and to experience what it means to live in Detroit.
I am currently working on the SWOT City Team at TechTown. The goal of SWOT Team is to accelerate neighborhood business development. For my project, I am exploring ways TechTown can most efficiently bring high-demand brick-and-mortar businesses into Detroit’s neighborhoods. One of the most common problems new business owners encounter is finding a location to start their business. At first, I couldn’t comprehend why this would be a problem. Rows of empty storefronts line the commercial corridors the once bustling streets. “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs are plastered everywhere – on dusty windows, cracked doors, chipping walls. However, the problem is not this simple. The phone numbers listed as the seller’s number are often outdated. Sometimes, the ownership of the property is not even clear. The neogiation process may take up to months. It is not unusual for it to take over half a year for a new business owner to finalize a storefront. Once the location is settled, undergoing city zoning applications and built-out presents another tedious, and often costly, process. All of these combined leads to a high barrier of entry for new business owners lacking the expertise and financial capability to successfully navigate through this complex process.
But they are the people the neighborhoods need. In a city where the government is bankrupt, where the police force is undersized, where people are afraid to walk around alone – even in daylight, where people don’t even have access to fresh produce, small businesses are the key to revitalizing the commercial corridors of the neighborhoods, to not only fill in the demand of neighborhoods residents, but also to re-establish the once lively and walkable city Detroit had been. Small businesses are the anchor that brings people together to form communities - with more small and local businesses along the commercial corridors, people will start to stroll along the long-abandoned sidewalks, chat with their neighbors, and hangout in neighborhood parks on the weekends. These are the changes they will erase the drug trafficking, gang activites, and gun violence that has pestered this beautiful city for way too long. It is time to change this.