Where did you grow up?
I grew up here, in Detroit, mainly in the Northwest side of the city, but I also spent time in Virginia. I moved there in the middle of third grade, so I would go to school down there and would come back in the summers.
How has Detroit changed between when you were growing up and now?
There’s been a lot of changes. I was born in the era of decline; you got a couple generations of people now who were born into the rapidly shrinking city of Detroit. It’s hard not to answer the question without a perspective of loss, but I don’t want to make it seem like it was all bad and despair. Growing up, there were obviously more people here because you know, our population declined every year. I’ve seen businesses come and go, houses disappear. Living in Detroit has been like living in the midst of a long, drawn out tsunami, but it’s an economic tsunami. There are things that were here a while ago that aren’t here anymore, and you have the financial crisis that really hit the city hard.
Now, especially in the past 10 years with the energy of certain areas like Midtown, Downtown, Corktown, Livernois Corridor, it seems like the resurgence of the city is actually going to stick this time as opposed to all of us just dreaming. But in a lot of ways it’s the same city. One thing that hasn’t changed is the passion and drive people have for Detroit. In the neighborhoods, people have always tried, they’ve always taken care of their houses, they’re always living the best they can and that still exists today. That’s the norm. There is a narrative about Detroit, about the people of Detroit, that’s really negative and so much of it has not been true. The media will take the anomalies and present them as the norm. So you’re getting this narrative like everything's the wild west and everyone’s packing a gun. But that’s just not what happens, that’s just not how the people are.
How did you get to where you are today?
I was working in this office, on the parks team, for a company called Detroit 300 Conservancy to do corporate marketing, which is finding sponsorships and stuff like that. I had been working for the parks and wanted to get into something more in my lane and where I could have a greater impact with and bring all my skills to the table. Around the time when MoGo was going to launch, it was really mainly Lisa that was running it and she needed to expand her organization’s capacity. I found out that the position was available and I’m glad I got it.
Outside of this, I have been a long-time event producer in the city. I still maintain my own company that produces events and does some PR services. I was part of the team that started the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, which is called Movement now. I still help produce an event called Dally in the Alley, which happens in Midtown and it’s like a block party on steroids. We had 120,000 people last year and it’s just one day.
I started off as a rave promoter- that was in the 90s- and now I’m director of marketing and community outreach for MoGo. The path was definitely nonlinear, but all this stuff is related. If you look at an event as a function of PR/marketing, because my degree is in public relations, you need the same skill sets to do one or the other. People tell me it’s really strange how you’re working for this bike share system, and I’m like not really- I’m the director of marketing and community outreach for it, which is literally what the promotion aspect of events is.
What are your opinions on the recent revitalization of Downtown?
Generally, I like it. I don’t really have a big problem with it; I know a lot of people are throwing around the word gentrification, and many people have different issues with it. My bigger issue is how it’s happening. I think it’s really dangerous to have one entity control so much in one area. Downtown obviously has Bedrock which has bought so many properties, and I don’t buy this idea that there was just no one else to buy them. You can see some of the results of that; if there are entities that they just don’t want in their world, in their planned vision, they can effectively block that by not renting to them which I think is a very scary thing.
Detroit is in such a unique position; in a healthy, thriving city, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion because there never would have been this many empty buildings, this exodus of people. This anomaly that we call Detroit, my home, my love, is in a situation where we are upside down and now we need to flip it right side up. Because we were in such a position, we had an opportunity here to regrow this in a different way than most American cities would have done. There were people living here who were displaced from their homes because someone bought it and wanted to make it more appealing. There used to be a senior complex on Capitol Park, most people have been there for decades. Then someone bought the building and basically kicked all the seniors out, then renovated the place and now are renting those units for x-amount more.
I think when we talk about development, there is a much more equitable way for it to be done. Right now we’re just kicking a group of people out just so another group can come in. We didn’t gain anything. That didn’t increase the density downtown, you actually just replaced people and that was not a net gain for Detroit. So I love the development, I’m just not a big fan necessarily of how it’s done all the time.
What does social entrepreneurship mean to you and how do you see it being used at MoGo?
I would say social entrepreneurship is stepping off on your own using your creativity and skills to really be in control. The social component is what makes it different from being a regular old entrepreneur because that usually is like, I want to open this business, we’re going to make a ton of money, and on and on, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I think with social entrepreneurship, the idea is service oriented and focuses on helping people. MoGo does that; the whole idea of bike share or at least our perspective of it, is to provide a way for people to get around who may not be able to afford a car or who are looking for healthier options to get around or more environmentally better options to get around. I mean all of those are social issues that really deal with the people perspective first. It’s not necessarily the product, it’s about the people who are using it and how we can best serve their needs.
I think that the very nature of MoGo is a good example of social entrepreneurship. If you look at our programs like MoGo for All, none of that increases our bottom line. I think our bottom line is ridership, getting people on bikes and being able to make money, sustain this program, sustain all of our lives, but no one had to do the Adaptive MoGo program, we don’t have to offer a $5 access pass, but those are things that are baked into the DNA of our organization. Lisa was very specific about how we have to be equitable and inclusive. I think it makes a big difference when you have an organization whose perspective is like that. It’s that first versus how much money can we make.
What hopes do you have for the future of MoGo and Detroit as a whole?
I hope that MoGo can keep expanding and providing the services that we do, and really transform the transportation game in the city. I’d really like to see us have a really extensive service area. We’ll never have 100% coverage of the city, but just like how we’re doing MoGo North, I’d like there to be a MoGo West for example, where we’re going up from Southwest to Northwest. They may not necessarily be connected because it might not make sense to, but it’d be nice to see MoGo do something like that in the future.
And for the city, I really do hope that we continue this rebounding trend that we have going on. It took decades for us to get to the bottom, and I want people in the city to prepare themselves for the fact that it will probably take decades to get us to where we’re really a thriving, functioning city as a whole. And that’s the truth. Detroit’s decline started in the 40s; it wasn’t the 60s, it wasn’t the riot in the 60s that started this max exodus, it was suburbanization starting in the 40s that was what started killing Detroit. We were one of the first, if not the first cities, to have something called a suburb. Because the federal government was instituting these highway policies, these anti-urban policies that incentivized moving out of the urban core. And the auto industry of course, which surged and was probably at its strongest in the 40s and 50s, supported that. This whole idea of let’s pave these roads and build these houses out there- it made sense then to have a car. It was the luxurious thing to do and then it became a need. That really started the flight.
So you’re talking about 60 years of decline, and that’s going to come back overnight. But if we’re really strategic and get on the same page we can correct some of this a lot sooner. We can course correct, and that’s what I really hope we start doing. Talking about social entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship in general, I see it in a lot of spots in the city; it’s just not necessarily communicated. It’s happening, and I’d like for the city government to give as much support to those businesses opening as they do to those stadiums and the FCA plants, those big-ticket things. The city has always had this really weird ‘eggs in one pot’ mentality, where it’s like if we just get this one factory everything will be fine, or if we get that stadium everything will be fine. The city is bending over backwards to make it happen when the money they basically gave away to the Ilitches for the Little Caesars Arena, that same amount of money spread out to local people running businesses in the neighborhoods would have had a much greater transformative effect. Small businesses continue to be the single largest employer in the city, so I would love to see the city support them with the same gusto as those big projects. That would transform the city a lot.