spacematters

It’s time for a new narrative on Detroit. | December 14, 2010

When I moved to Detroit in 2007 I was bitter that nobody in national media or politics was paying attention. Everything I learned in those first two years seemed like hyperbole. Detroit is the blackest big-city in the hemisphere. Detroit has the highest crime rate in America. Detroit has the highest poverty and unemployment rates. Detroit is the most segregated city. Detroit has shrank more than almost any other city in world history. 1/3 of the space is empty. Positive “biggests” and “bests” abounded too. Detroit is the center of the home-building industry, has the richest suburbs in the nation, and still has the largest black middle class anywhere. So why wasn’t Detroit on the front page of every paper once a week for any reason? After all, it’s still a very large city by any standard, and remains important to the national economy.

Alot of us felt this way until 2010, and for this reason I don’t think anybody expected Detroit to burst onto the national media scene like it has. But despite all the new attention, and despite my previous complaints, I am even more embitterred than before, and not for all the familiar reasons. While whites and blacks, suburban and city residents, say these media representations are too positive or too negative, white bohemians, the newcomers, are controlling the story. While the rest of us bicker these urban homesteaders hog the media spotlight with a celebration of white creativity, ingenuity, and capital revitalizing the city, one project at a time.

This is the real crime. Not that the media focuses too much on our problems or assets, but that the wrong people are controlling the narrative altogether. In a city with nearly 800,000 black folks, and tens of thousands of latinos and immigrants working hard not just to survive, but to find creative solutions to a problem foisted upon them by global economic forces, the media representations of both Detroit’s problems and its comeback feature white people almost exclusively. What’s worse, whites are credited as the only people with the skills and wherewithall to make a difference. Whether teaching blacks how to farm, staging park cleanup events for the media, or tearing down buildings by the hundreds, whites, it is believed, need to come back and clean up the mess. Former model Phil Cooley has been featured countless times in the national media simply for owning a restaurant and  taking what many would consider, at best, a baseline (or expected) level of interest in the health of his own neighborhood. At worst, he’s known as a polarizing leader indirectly spiking racial tensions and violence in the neighborhood with new, unilateral renewal initiatives. In Chicago or Cincinnati, helping out with a park cleanup or taking responsibility for your own block is what you do as a small business owner. Here it makes you (if you’re pretty, rich, and marketable) an urban Messiah. The non-white people of the city are taking responsibility for their neighborhoods in the same ways every day, but nobody’s watching them.

But I’d rather not digress on a rant about the media obsession with the Prince of Corktown. What I want to do is open up a larger discussion about a new white narrative that is both national and local, and that is much larger than Cooley. I want to explore where it comes from and, most importantly, what it obscures and leaves out. Detroit’s problems, solutions, and the lived experiences of its residents are far more complex, and far more interesting than the explanation which the national media and white frontiersmen/women are advancing.

Part of what I’m trying to do with this blog is explore the racist functions that this narrative serves in the context of broader historical themes on urban discourse and the black city. Who is behind it? Who benefits from it? Who is marginalized and rendered invisible by it?  How does it relate to who has power, and who does not? I will argue that the present phenomenon of black invisibility in the black city is not something new; rather, we can trace its geneology through the history of urban renewal, gentrification, and white spatial conquest in Detroit and the American city more generally. We must produce a counter-narrative that is more just, accurate, and productive than the one serving white developers and entrepreneurs with big ideas for places they have already, wrongly, claimed ownership of.

I will likely be criticized by many for calling out the contradictions of the present Cooley-farming-rightsizing-privitazation-entrepreneurship-creative class-centered narrative for being hypercritical, or seeking to stymie the only efforts being made to revitalize our beleagered city. I contend, however, that these aren’t the only efforts, nor our only options for change. The people at the front of the media frenzy want us to believe that you can vote republican, hire vigilantes to “clean up” the streets, and take a clean-slate approach to city-building while still being hip, progressive, and a part of the community. They wish to work against and work with old residents at the same time. But the truth is, a small cadre of whites are re-aligning city and state politics to remove obstacles (black people and the policies which protect their interests) to their big ideas for the city. Are many of these newcomers well-meaning? Does Detroit need areas to gentrify? Is drastic change needed? Should we include these people in developing solutions for the city? I would answer all of these questions with a resounding yes; however, the problem and possible solutions are more complex than whether or not we want white people to move back into the city. I think we all do. There is one problem:  at present, some of the most important actors, in cooperation with the crooks running the city, are aggressively seeking to bypass the nearly one million other people already here, whose lives will be greatly impacted by whatever solution is implemented. Moreover, there are those whose plans are not necessarily well-meaning, and they are winning the support of the white fence-sitters, the cops, and the mayor. We are already seeing major problems in Corktown, as a frighteningly quiet and subterranean white vigilante group seeks violent “justice” on the streets and hillbilly hold-outs are placed angrily on the margins along with people of color. For years suburbanites have been formally casing the most stable black neighborhoods for potential white “take-backs.”

We need a more honest discussion about what is happening in Detroit. We can’t just “take what we can get” if what we get isn’t worth it. Stay tuned.

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45 Comments »

  1. I did not get your name. However, I like a lot of what you wrote in observation and analysis. I am not a native Detroiter but I’ve been here now going into 17 years. I first noticed this city being rebirth 6 – 9 mos after moving from Memphis TN and living here since 1994. The devastation of abandoned buildings touched my heart bringing tearsdrops from my heart’s string. I day that I noticed construction for updating an area made me realize how God was restoring Detroit from its past. The past of the riots of 43` and 67.` So I took a class during my undergrad years in 95 about the city and its history. I can say that my issues with the city deals with the relationship with the citizens, the community leaders, city development, businesses within the community, the lack of the best of consumer products and services [great stores](found only in suburban areas ie. Novi,)in urban areas and lack of home improvement for home owners in the areas where farming is being taken up by the named individual. Farming was going on before he and others came. People started this before I arrived. It seems that everytime something seen (worn) or done (actions) or a way of being from the Nation of Black Americans is copied by someone across the globe. Why does it appeal to other nations what we do so that it can be mimicked to cast before us all that those nations can do it better? Every urban city in the USA has the same demise. Over 30 years and more have citizens from other nations moved out of the inner city to realize it is the jewel like the top green leaves (to be thrown away) from a turnip was for our ancestors one of the foods that kept our people healthy (wealthy in a sense) and wise. Those in position would rather buy the urban city owner’s property than to empower them with the money they would have need of to supply renovations and rehabiting a neighborhood. The buy out money would amount to much but to only make an owner a renter. The Mayor and City Official if made to really service its city and citizens should once a month for two weeks ride public transportation. This will help with understanding the needs of the people who’s livelihood is dependent upon the sad sap of service given. Them being involved this way would show more empathy when making decision and budget cuts. Neighborhoods where renters now occupy and are running home owners away from familiar communities are becoming a terror. No one person or group can police it properly because there is not enough of precinct leaders, judges, businesses and others who can make a difference by really being involved and better serve it people. Other nationalities are given card blanc over neighborhood to purchase businesses to serve our peoples needs filling the communities with junk food, and disrespectful attitudes to swallow. Homelessness and the mentally ill walking around with nothing to do but get in trouble, wander, or get killed. Our communities are filled with gas store owners and managers allowing vagrants to pesture its consumers. They should be fined for allowing sure behavior. It is not safe. We should start suits against it all. Red lining, insurance games and personal policies called public… still we strive. The real truth not only for Detroiters but urban communities everywhere, must be addressed and it must be known that only God for the people will heal the land when the land dwellers heal one another and each other!

    Comment by Ja. Streeter — December 14, 2010 @ 3:07 pm

  2. I’m a reporter and would love to interview you.

    Comment by Loved it! — December 14, 2010 @ 5:00 pm

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matthew Elliot, Adele Nieves. Adele Nieves said: Must read of the day! It’s time for a new narrative on Detroit. http://tinyurl.com/2dfcour [...]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention It’s time for a new narrative on Detroit. « spacematters -- Topsy.com — December 14, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  4. I too have been frustrated by the 2010 version of Detroit’s rebirth, both because it is too narrow (centered on the White Horse heroes) and not narrow enough (leaving out the ongoing dominance of unsustainable capitalist interests on the city’s fate). Your blog is a much appreciated counterpoint to the new white suburban narrative. However, please dig deeper into the economic interests that will seal Detroit’s future if not addressed: the property owner in the richest suburbs who doesn’t want to pay regional costs for a bus system or to limit exurban building so that the surplus of housing doesn’t continue to grow; the big businesses who will move from the area if they don’t continue to get tax abatements; the politicians who think the value of land is solely in tax base. Deindustrialization of Detroit is what made racism necessary – not vice versa.
    thanks again.

    Comment by Eastside Wilshire — December 14, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  5. Of course it’s the whites again. Taking from all other races. Those bitching wold rather leave everything as is & just keep feeding money into a hole in the ground.

    You’d probably like to be able to vote back in Kwami, Monica & the rest of the black mafia. Ah, but, yes, don’t forget, we’ve got that wonderful statesman John (Monica’s silent husband) Conyers that will bring pork home from DC. He’s someone to be proud of. Great Black leadership in all those instances. How about Coleman recarnated! There would be our salvation.

    Yes, racism is alive a well in Detroit. Just great.

    If you haven’t noticed, Mayor Bing and the city council, all elected by residents of Detroit, are working their asses off, going out of their way to include residents, trying to come up with alternatives for saving the place.

    By the way, population has been south of 800,000 for quite some time now. And shrinking. Still.

    DRASTIC action has to be taken. If you want scrambled eggs, you can not avoid breaking the eggs. Lots of eggs. All the eggs if we have to.

    Geezzz

    Comment by Patrick — December 14, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

  6. I have read your article and you make some really fantastic points but I think you have missed a couple of important points.

    1. I believe Cooley is from a small town in Mid-Michigan, not Grosse Pointe. Even though it’s not an important point. You should be certain your facts are accurate.

    2. While all community organizers deserve a wealth of credit for their actions of being champions of their neighborhoods and performing their civic duty as citizens, wouldn’t be more productive and positive to cheer on any individual who acts as a champion of his/her neighborhood and not isolate them because of their race?

    The reason why Detroit exists in the condition it finds itself in is directly related to attitudes such as your own. The city will only succeed when we fight for each other and not against each other because someone gets more credit than others. Are we engaging in civic duty because we want credit from the national media and magazine write-ups, or because we want what is best for the city we were born and choose to live in?

    For those who may not have been born here (like Cooley), why is it so threatening to have people move here because they enjoy the city and decide to involve themselves in community organization? Is there some reason to be afraid of a new perspective or new involvement? That status-quo has not worked efficiently thus far.

    Comment by Juicy X — December 15, 2010 @ 1:38 am

    • 1. Noted.

      2. I addressed this matter quite clearly in the article. The point is not that white people should not be involved (even very involved) in what is going on, if they decide to move here. The point is that when a white person moves into a neighborhood or starts a business or any other small matter and does something thousands of black people, immigrants, and hillbillies have been doing for years, we say, “Well done sir! People like you are exactly what we need to turn this city around!” That ignorantly assumes that the people here aren’t already doing those things, and that if everyone just did park cleanups, neighborhood watches etc…, the problem of “blight” would be solved and the city would recover. The problem is much bigger than trash or blight, and no matter how many people clean up an area, the global forces which have destroyed the city remain. We need to recognize those limits and get more creative, while still continuing to be active citizens in our neighborhoods.

      I am not criticizing Cooley for helping his neighborhood. 1) It’s not about him or any one person, it’s about a problem he represents and likely isn’t even responsible for. 2) That problem is the media obsession with white people doing small acts of kindness or entrepreneurship, suggesting that that is what is needed to save the poor ignorant black folk from utter failure, and reinforcing the invisibility of hundreds of thousands of people.

      Moreover, “cleaning up the park” isn’t all that’s happening right now in Corktown, and other neighborhoods that are becoming fashionable. Police sweeps of the homeless, quiet demolitions and land transfers, and uneven police support for certain groups of people is also a part of this. I’d love to sing songs and hold hands and live together, but alot of people are laying claim to spaces because they feel entitled to them, and using undemocratic and unfriendly means to get those spaces. You can’t be a part of the neighborhood and undermine the people in that neighborhood at the same time.

      Comment by spacematters — December 15, 2010 @ 9:18 am

      • If thousands of minorities have done what Phil Cooley has, instead of critizing the media for focusing on this one white boy, why don’t you name some of the minorities who have (1) started a successful business in Detroit without city/state/government subsidies (2) engaged the community to build and improve the surrounding areas (3) donated to community and neighborhood organizations (4) reached out to business leaders to improve their properties (5) worked the cities bureacracy without calling in favors to people that they know in power.

        Instead of isolating yourself by critizing others, perhaps you can elevate the “thousands” of other similar stories that are not getting attention.

        Comment by Detroiter — December 15, 2010 @ 4:22 pm

  7. [...] then this blog posting that came out the other day, which really calls into question the media portrayal of detroit and [...]

    Pingback by furthering the discussion – race and gentrification in detroit | little house on the urban prairie — December 15, 2010 @ 8:18 am

  8. Jackson, well put. I’m looking forward to the series.

    Taking into account the comment about racism above–can you reflect on your attempts to explore race and the knee jerk reactions that come with it? e.g. If you talk about race you are therefore racist. (oy vey).

    These days, I think that this reaction is due in part to racist attitudes of the people professing it, BUT also because most people are uncomfortable with messy social problems and are truly unable to navigate a situation in which there is moral ambiguity, a less direct line of cause and effect, and a solution which lies in collective participation and power sharing instead of prescriptive policy.

    In a nutshell, people jump up and down and point the racist finger an an attempt to reduce your argument to simple cause and effect in order to mold the philosophical implications of your argument to fit their overly simplistic world view. So .. it’s like an attempt to discredit it because accepting it or even exploring it opens up a big can of worms where everyone is a bag guy and the solution involves giving up power and acknowledging “the other.”

    hmm..
    rambly rambly.

    more please now. thanks.

    Comment by christy mcgillivray — December 15, 2010 @ 8:50 am

  9. As a young, white, native Detroiter, I’m appalled by this post. I’m not a “newcomer” as you suggest – I’m a seventh-generation Detroiter. Moreover, I’m hurt when you refer to whites as a distinct group with shared values. I, for one, am not “all too eager to live in a post-racial world.” I would never presume that every black person share any particular value.
    It’s ironic that your argument is based upon the same hurtful generalizations that you argue against.

    Comment by Bobby — December 15, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  10. “The reason why Detroit exists in the condition it finds itself in is directly related to attitudes such as your own.”

    AGREED.

    It blows my mind to see someone who moved to the city in 2007 take such a know-it-all stance. Cutting down people like Phil Cooley does nothing but make you look bitter and perhaps a little jealous. Maybe as part of your “series,” you should actually talk to a few of these white people and see what their motives are, instead of assuming that it’s for some short-lived media publicity. I have lived here for almost a decade, and I have seen people of all races and walks of life take on various projects and recieve varied media coverage. Maybe over the course of this series, you can dig a little deeper and highlight some of those people, as opposed to taking the all too common negative approach and cutting down Phil.

    Comment by Katie — December 15, 2010 @ 10:41 am

    • What an ironic criticism. The very anger and feeling of being passed over as someone who was “here first” is precisely what the post’s author was trying to explain about how many blacks in Detroit feel.

      Comment by Kris — February 7, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

  11. wow, as cliche as the mainstream media canonization of someone like cooley may be, it’s no more of a cliche than his vilification by the progressive white elitist human geographer. do you have any sense of how unoriginal your uninformed rant actually is? the dustbins of our prestigious academic institutions are filled with the claptrap musings of clever outsiders who’ve come here to disparage dogooder whites while praising (on unread paper) the city’s poor, unheralded noble savages.

    the only thing more useless than a mainstream journalist is a goddamn academic. phil cooley may just be a prettyboy business owner; greg willerer may just be a guy with a shovel. but I’d take one of them over a hundred PhDs any fucking day.

    Comment by bear — December 15, 2010 @ 1:34 pm

  12. I think you overgeneralize. I have read quite a few articles on SW detroit and Midtown, which didn’t praise the white guy for helping the area recover. If anything SW detroit which is one of the most blended areas has had some of the biggest growth in the city.
    Additionally, when it comes to Corktown, isn’t part of it the fact that after tigers stadium left, it was a rudderles part of town which could have gone in many directions, and through people it propped it self back up.
    Lastly, if the media isn’t on the other parts of detroit doing good things, why aren’t they? Are they not publicizing the things they are doing? Is it more a problem of mouthpieces and knowing how get people to pay attention? Or is it about who the city wishes to get back into the city? The race riots caused a huge perception issue in the white populace which the 20 somethings now don’t have as much of a bad taste so it could be more of a look its nothing like your parents said about detroit come live here approach..while it may be disrespectful of the current residents, you don’t market to your core, you market to who you want to bring in.

    Comment by Tony — December 15, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  13. I think your overall point about the overwhelming number of stories in the media being about young white kids moving to the city is spot-on. But each time you bring up your accusations of white suburban colonialism you hedge it with “of course everyone is welcome” and I think that creates a red herring in a story (about media attention) that is actually very compelling.

    I gather from your intro that you have lived here less than half the time that Phil Cooley has. He has worked to rehabilitate a block of mostly derelict buildings and runs a small business that is, by all accounts, more successful than any opened in the city in recent memory. He did not move to the suburbs with his business success like so many (white AND black) businesspeople do.

    You may mock him with the title Prince of Corktown, but before you criticise I do think you should be able to better articulate the ways in which he (or any other “white homesteader”) is harming the community instead of making a lot of vague generalizations. Also, if you think there is a parallel story of black entrepreneurship and community involvement we are missing, I think that would be an outstanding post.

    Oh, and I had no idea about the gay bus tours. Can you provide more information about those?

    Comment by Supergay Detroit — December 15, 2010 @ 4:37 pm

  14. While you have some valid points to your blog, I am always amazed how so many people in Detroit fight change even when change is needed. Support is given to politicians that are crooked and have committed criminal acts (Kilpatrick, Lonnie Bates, Monica Conyers, etc) just because they stand up to the “outsiders” or “whites”. When we continue to use language such as this, it only makes “racial tensions” more apparent. Believing gays are being bussed in to help whites “take-back” certain neighborhoods only perpetuates the belief that some people trust anyone. Some of the most stable neighborhoods in the city have a mix of blacks and whites (and others). People in these neighborhoods don’t focus on who’s getting credit for keeping the neighborhood stable or well maintained. They are out there just doing what they need to do. I personally believe your efforts would be better served if you talked to the thousands and thousands of middle-class blacks who have left the city for the burbs. I think a lot of the answers you are looking for might be found there. You will hear some very direct and surprising responses.

    One last point, when it comes to politics you will always find groups, people, etc who are doing things to benefit themselves. While it is unfortunate, it goes both ways. You saw this with Harmony Park, you see it in Mexicantown/Southwest Detroit where our past leaders required companies working on contracts and projects to employ “African-American’s” while ignoring others who live in those communities and so on.

    Let’s just try to focus on the positives and help keep building up the neighborhoods…no matter who is living there.

    Comment by mlmdetroit — December 15, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

  15. As someone who works in an area of Detroit with a significant Appalachian population, I really cringed when I got to the word “hillbilly.” Terms like redneck and hillbilly are historically connected to impoverished and marginalized groups of whites, namely poor rural farmers and those from mountain cultures, again living in poverty. Though common to be sure, I think it is unfair to use these terms interchangeably with for whites whose actions are racist, bigoted, or violent.

    I do however completely agree with your analysis questioning the narrative framing of Detroit’s “rebirth.” It has been very clear from the beginning of this new national interest in our city that the media is, at best, quite lazy. They interview and feature the same handful of urban pioneers over and over and create poster images out of a few residents who may or may not want to embody this supposed “new wave” of creativity and reinvestment. I look forward to the rest of your pieces on the this topic.

    Comment by Tiffany — December 15, 2010 @ 6:02 pm

  16. Actually, this homesteader-y narrative about Detroit has been floating around for years, although it has certainly come to a fever pitch recently. Certainly since 2007 at least.

    I question the productivity of bitching that the mainstream media is sympathetic to white narratives of the city. That seems pretty much like a given to me. You want the media to accurately present black and Latino narratives, or even a simple unbiased story about daily life in the city? You need a relentless PR pitch for that to even think about happening. Like others have said, if we *need* a new narrative, start framing one and put it out there, right off the bat.

    As a new Detroiter myself, this city fascinates me every day. Its processes and realities have frustrated me from afar, as a researcher, and up close and personal as a resident as well as hopeful change agent. It seems to me as if Detroit is at a crucial moment, and that anyone with an earnest interest in bettering the city should be given some leeway. Would you rather the “homesteaders” leave or stay quiet and the dominant perspective be that of nasty white suburbanites?

    I don’t even know what to say to you about gentrification. Surely no one should be “rounding up” our homeless residents and dehumanizing them. But at the same time, it seems counterproductive to vilify those moving in because they want to change things. It’s not like Detroit is a textbook case of gentrification, either. Gay, white “take-backs” is a joke, right? And while the patronizing overtones of the whole entrepreneurial homesteading situation are deeply disturbing, the reality might be that we need to heal those black/white power differentials through exposure, cooperation, and trial-and-error.

    I guess I’m looking forward to reading more, but I’m also afraid that you are headed in a painfully misguided direction. I’ve never been one to look away from a train-wreck, though.

    Comment by james pierpont — December 16, 2010 @ 2:26 am

  17. Well done, Jackson. Some very important perspective here. Glad to see some critical analysis of certain “revitalization” efforts getting out of our private conversations and into the the public realm.

    Comment by bobby colombo — December 16, 2010 @ 9:51 am

  18. you, an anonymous blogger, perform a factually-inaccurate hatchet job on an individual citizen of the city in a rambling, incoherent rant that seems to say little more than that journalists are lazy.

    wow, if that is the sort of idea you’re hanging your academic career on, I wish you luck shelving books you didn’t write at the only place you’ll be able to get a job. no amount of tired, mid-nineties identity politics are going to save you, honey.

    yes, the reporters for media outlets like the New York Times, etc. look and think a lot like Phil Cooley, talk like Phil Cooley, and are going to be more comfortable talking to someone like Phil Cooley. that isn’t exactly a profound, racially-charged explanation, but it’s the truth. members of the media are lazy and like to talk to people like them. who’s your next target? Mitch Cope? Toby Barlow? the same argument works for them as well, what matters is that while you are sitting in your smug, ivory tower life of self-imposed “poverty” (yeah, I read some of your old posts. My bleeding heart went out to you for only having $9 a week for Avalon lattes!!!!!) these people are actually DOING something beyond sitting around midtown preparing for a career as a professional pitymonger.

    You want to speak up for the oppressed? Here’s your chance! As the commenter above suggests, why don’t YOU tell the stories for the brave minorities who’ve done so much work in this community but have been ignored by the bourgeois media. That’s what the new media is all about, kid: letting everyone tell their own story.

    Just be careful and watch out for the minority academic who comes along and trumps you completely by criticizing you for being a white person speaking up for individuals of color. Kind of like those white folks who have the audacity to volunteer to create more urban gardens because the black folks don’t know how to farm without them!

    Comment by notapioneer — December 16, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    • Honey I work with those academics. I’m not a kid.

      Comment by spacematters — December 16, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  19. Appreciate the sparking of this discussion. Although I have some minor critiques, I mostly agree that when the media “attempts” to highlight what is going on in this city, I suggest the mic needs to be passed to our youth and elders who have more experience living, building, and sustaining this city. And to people that think race and class are not relevant as it relates to Detroit’s development, I think you are sadly mistaken.

    Comment by Kenny — December 16, 2010 @ 10:57 am

  20. It’s pretty clear in the piece that what I’m talking about is the media representation of Detroit recently, and the media’s unwillingness to portray Detroit as an occupied city. I’ve stated explicitly that I’m not against gentrification, PC is just an example of somebody the media won’t let go of…

    Discussions about race are always going to get people who simply tell me to shut up but offer no critical analysis of their own, and people who will accuse me of being racist just for mentioning race at all. For this reason I will not respond to most comments, but I did want to clear the air about this. If you READ the piece, instead of skimming and then writing five pages in response, you will see that this is not personal, but a discussion about a broad problem in the media and the way we talk about our city.

    Thank you all for your comments.

    Comment by spacematters — December 16, 2010 @ 2:10 pm

  21. i believe there is a collective mourning process that has to occur in this region, probably in the whole country, and so we can’t shy away from this subject or attack the messenger. People’s anger about the bloggers’ perspective shows the passion and concern they feel as well as the frustration -because we all know that something is not going right here if one segment is doing so much worse than others. we all know if black income, mortality and other indicators of well-being are lower than whites as a whole, that it’s because of something systemic (- because we’re past the notion that there is something inferior in the makeup of one group of people.)

    that being said, i honestly believe the root of this issue is economic. that the primary forces of division are of those who are trying to secure and enlarge their portion of the proverbial pie – even thought it’s at others’ expense.
    historically, race was a tool for this through segregation in housing and the workplace, etc; and that has left a very real legacy. today, it’s these arbitrary jurisdictional boundaries that allow us to force the city of Detroit to manage the surplus of housing for example (100,000 vacant lots would bring down any government). one economic engine and 140 municipal “cities”?

    the national narrative is fixated on pretty white people – and Detroit 187 tv show is way too white. but that is because there isn’t the collective will to examine the unsustainability of our corporation-dominated society. i’m a white person who has lived my entire life in black neighborhoods – and this fact was one we always came back to in shared agreement. we were all being screwed by forces way larger than ourselves.

    rock on Spacematters, i want to hear more !

    Comment by Eastside Wilshire — December 16, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

  22. No offense but I did read the entire article and I do believe that you touched on a number of topics. What is one supposed to take from a comment like this: “Whether teaching blacks how to farm, staging park cleanup events for the media, or tearing down buildings by the hundreds, whites, it is believed, need to come back and clean up the mess.”? Do you really believe whites stage clean-up efforts just for media attention? If you go to the Belle Isle clean-up every May, you will see a lot of different faces out there (including lots of white people). They take pride in cleaning up the park every year even though they don’t use the park. They do this to help this city. A lot of these people come from the burbs to do their part to help the city move forward. Take a look at the island any given weekend and even though you will find trash everywhere and common disrespect for the gem these people continue to come back for their staged clean-up.

    You also stated that, “The non-white people of the city are taking responsibility for their neighborhoods in the same ways every day, but nobody’s watching them.”. I believe you stated you haven’t lived here for very long. I have lived in the city for 12 years and remember countless stories in our local papers about residents doing their part in their neighborhoods.

    For example, http://detnews.com/article/20100811/OPINION03/8110347/Detroit-community-gardens-grow-optimism.

    I don’t mean to discount your feelings but I do believe that you are accountable for what you say/write. While I will be the LAST person to defend our media I do believe they are not ignoring certain segments of our population. It’s just they are lazy and want to find the easy story to write (usually one that has been written before).

    When it comes to selling papers or getting people to watch certain programs (Detroit 1-8-7) their goal is appeal to the greater populace and make money. As unfortunate that may be, it is reality.

    Comment by mlmdetroit — December 16, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  23. I think some of the reactions to your blog post are almost too ironic.

    So, as I think you accurately point out, the problem is that significant segments of the population have their voices excluded from both media coverage and political forums. Race is a big part of this.

    The ironic reaction to discussion of the problem: attempt to silence the discussion and insist it’s not a problem.

    Slightly ridiculous.

    Comment by christy mcgillivray — December 16, 2010 @ 5:06 pm

  24. Great article… food for thought! I’m a Dutch documentary filmmaker and I hope I’ve made a a film that captures one of the many faces of Detroit, the City I love so dearly. You can watch it here http://www.grownindetroitmovie.com, pay what you want. Twenty years ago I fell in love with the city being an exchange student in Michigan. I’ve been back over and over again and one day I hope to be able to settle in the City I think offers so much by lacking things I don’t need (no luck on the green card yet…). I’m Dutch and white as it can be but feel totally accepted in Detroit. This is the city of the future and without most of you knowing it… the world is watching and learning from what is happening in Detroit. You should learn from others too. It might not the way you want it to go but you get that everywhere… this city has so much potential other cities don’t have and believe me you are moving fast already… no baby steps but in an adult pace. Enjoy it and grab the opportunities while you can, everybody. And look around how other people, cultures, nations, not just within the US, find solutions to certain “issues”, good or bad. Think outside the box and you will thrive, everyone of you in your own way… hope to join you soon!

    Mascha!

    Comment by Mascha Poppenk — December 16, 2010 @ 5:34 pm

  25. Yes please elevate the efforts like D-town Farms by the Black Food Security Network and consider dropping the hillbilly reference as it is offensive and like previously said here, should not mean racist in itself. I don’t want to be ashamed of part of my ancestry because they were hillbillies because they certainly didn’t corner the market on racism.

    Comment by jeanofarc14 — December 16, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

    • I’m talking about hillbillies fighting back against white gentrifiers. I wasn’t referring TO the white gentrifiers with the term, and using it to be derogatory. My entire fami ly is from the Ozarks and the Smokey Mountains and I can say, without a doubt, that most of us do not find the term to be offensive. White trash, and redneck, and hick, however, are pretty awful. So hopefully, now that I’ve cleared up that I’m talking about actual hillbillies, and not just slandering white newcomers, I hope it isn’t offensive.

      Comment by spacematters — December 17, 2010 @ 6:05 pm

  26. Again with the irony! “Cutting down people like Phil Cooley does nothing but make you look bitter and perhaps a little jealous. Maybe as part of your “series,” you should actually talk to a few of these white people and see what their motives are, instead of assuming that it’s for some short-lived media publicity.”

    The point is that well off white entrepreneurs ARE being talked to! *faceplant*

    This is not to say that their voice shouldn’t be heard, BUT, it’s not very hard for well off white entrepreneurs interested in Detroit to get attention. *comparatively* anyway.

    1. It’s not about cutting down individuals. It’s about systemic cultural storying (via the media and other outlets) that excludes low income people and people of color. It’s not a direct line of cause and effect, it’s a pattern with a vast network of causes. It’s important to acknowledge and talk about this pattern. So, thank you for starting the conversation Jackson. There aren’t easy answers, but some will surface as more people participate with good intentions in the conversation.

    2. Given the history of Detroit and the aforementioned pattern, it’s time to solicit the help and opinions of those who have been shut out of the discussion. Those who have the most to lose are usually in the least control, with the fewest resources at their disposal.

    hmmm… I sense a series of interviews on the horizon?

    Comment by christy — December 17, 2010 @ 2:44 am

  27. I am a lot less angry about the foolishness of your rant now that I’ve gone back and read enough of your archives to realize you are just an incredibly naive kid. good luck to you and your intellectual growth.

    Comment by notapioneer — December 17, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

    • Agreed. Not really worth getting worked up about. The author of this blog uses big words and long sentences, but is somehow unable to develope a big thought. Its an incredibly amateurish, pseudo intellectual blog that is full of contradictions and hypocrisy.

      Comment by Detroiter — December 20, 2010 @ 10:42 am

  28. This is an excellent piece. I would add that it is not just media that ails us, it’s foundations. Foundations that attempt to supplant the democratic process by taking over public education, pitting one neighborhood against another, giving money to non profits to create monopolies, such as in SW Detroit. Foundations who are hidden from view who can create divisions, co opt community leadership and never be held accountable for their hegemony. The foundations can define “The Dream,” create the school to train its minions and never have to run for office. Foundations set the terms and the agenda. We are like tenants on our own land here, history, culture, services all being decided without us. People in Detroit never give up hope and we always know that it can always get worse. We light candles, go to casinos and go to the mayors taskforce on downsizing. We watch people with markers, flipcharts tell us what we said and why they are telling us that this is the way it’s got to be. One correspondence even said, ” We’ll try being nice first.” It’s scary up in here sometimes, but not in the ways the mainstream press describes.

    Comment by Elena Herrada — December 17, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  29. How come all the awesome comments are from people I know? Really this is kinda alarming that there are so many unhappy responses.
    We all should be listening to each other more, mmm?? There is a lot of healing to be done lets join in working together.
    “I’m too blessed to be stressed and grateful to be hateful”

    Comment by jeanofarc14 — December 17, 2010 @ 8:33 pm

  30. I appreciate your incentive to open up this dialogue. It’s true long standing black business owners were never able to get more than a closed-eye nod from Indian Village http://metrotimes.com/culture/the-last-song-1.1070954 while others seemingly became the media’s focal point of renaissance. It’s a long over due conversation. However, If you are unable to address this with a selfless perspective, you only end up contributing to the downward spiral of misperceptions.
    I have given this subject much thought, how as a white artist that gets press I can respond and refract a predominantly black city while generating a more balanced perspective. Perhaps impossible to you?

    As far as the continued spot light on white gentrification, This smells of bad reporting and if anything the racial make up of the media. And lets be clear.. in no way have you called out Phil or the “Prince’s” contradictions, I know him well and he would be the first person to say “He doesn’t know much of anything”…. never has he pretended to be a genius but to say there is another Detroiter that any of us know that puts in more hours in the week to build a personal vision, their own dreams, as a Detroiter…
    I dare you. No one is saying his vision is utopian or even the best idea out there. shit I’ll come right out and say I think a skate park at the train station is downright dumb. But the only contradiction I see is that a prince is wearing construction boots, hard at work.
    For the record Koltay was calling “PC” the prince years before other obviously bitter boys with soft hands.

    Comment by gbone — December 18, 2010 @ 7:45 pm

  31. <>

    An absolutely ridiculous end to an otherwise thoughtful and articulate article.

    Comment by Greg Salustro — December 20, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

  32. read this article and thought you might enjoy this perspective.

    http://www.theroot.com/views/anti-gentrification-doesnt-mean-anti-white?page=0,0

    Comment by patrick — December 21, 2010 @ 8:37 am

  33. WOW – Phil Cooley has shown if you build it – they will come, and then they will come for you! It’s the age old story – Success breeds contempt in Detroit. Instead of lashing out at Cooley, why not lash out at an increasingly LAZY, disinterested, inane, anti-intellectual sorry excuse that passes for Journalism in this country. You don’t have the whole story – no one does for that matter, because reporters simpl don’t do their jobs anymore, and ciitizens are too uninformed to make rational educated judgements.

    How many NY Times articles have we ALL read in the past year that were riddled with errors, apparently cobbled together from other poorly written articles? Who is writing the narrative? Not Cooley, he’s too busy getting shit done. It’s lazy lapdog journalists cowtowing to their corporate masters that can’t get it right. It’s them you should be raking over the coals.

    Comment by Todd — December 23, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

  34. I read the comments first, thankfully.

    Critique on writing: you claim in the comments you are not really talking about Cooley, but the language you use about him says otherwise. Either you need to tighten up your writing skills, or you need to come clean.

    “white bohemians, the newcomers, are controlling the story. While the rest of us bicker these urban homesteaders hog the media spotlight with a celebration of white creativity, ingenuity, and capital revitalizing the city, one project at a time.”

    If your point was about the media, and not Cooley, might you have written thusly?

    “…white bohemians, the newcomers, are -the focus of- the story. While the rest of us bicker these urban homesteaders -are given- the media spotlight with a celebration of white creativity, ingenuity, and capital revitalizing the city, one project at a time.”

    The same apparent contradiction is found here:

    “This is the real crime. Not that the media focuses too much on our problems or assets, but that the wrong people are controlling the narrative altogether.”

    If the story is about how the media is dealing with the narrative, not Cooley or other whites getting spotlighted, maybe we should have read, “This is the real crime. Not that the media focuses too much on our problems or assets, but that the wrong people are -being heard- altogether.”

    Which is it, Cooley or the media? I can’t but help think it is actually both based on the language and tone overall, but here you seem to be using the narrative you are claiming, of media bias, “What’s worse, whites are credited as the only people with the skills and wherewithall to make a difference.”

    But… then you toss out this, “Former model Phil Cooley has been featured countless times… polarizing leader indirectly spiking racial tensions and violence in the neighborhood with new, unilateral renewal initiatives… (if you’re pretty, rich, and marketable) an urban Messiah…,” with the pregnant little morsel, “(yet),” thrown in for seasoning and end with, “I’d rather not digress on a rant about the media obsession with the prince of Corktown, however…,” but, sadly, you already have.

    I believe you. I believe you set out to talk about the race-tinged portrayal of Detroit in the media, but you distracted your audience with ill-advised, distracting side bars on what, based on the above, is sure to be a future, as promised, rant on Cooley, or something to that effect.

    So much for clarity, one point on accuracy. “Does Detroit need areas to gentrify?” You give a resounding yes to this self-query. Problem is, the term means to displace lower income brackets by higher income brackets moving in and raising costs that drive out the lower brackets over time. You seem to be using it to mean balance the ethnic ratios. Since that seems counter to the latter part of your post, I don’t think you mean to imply poor people should be displaced. So, what do you mean?

    “I will likely be criticized by many for calling out the contradictions of the present Cooley-farming-rightsizing-privitazation-entrepreneurship-creative class-centered narrative…”

    Having read the comments and your later post, I think you ended up getting called out mostly because you confused your audience. Make the editorial changes suggested and/or remove any references to Cooley altogether (saved for the apparently gestating story), and you likely get very little criticism for this piece. If you rewrite for clarity and leave out the pejorative references of Cooley, but still use him as an example, you’d likely still get some people defensive about Cooley or themselves based on the impression you disagree with what he and those of similar mind are doing.

    That’s a long way round to saying, “What we here is a failure to communicate.” Much ado about nuthin’. Mount’ns ‘n molehills.

    my 2c.

    Comment by editorializer — January 2, 2011 @ 7:51 am

  35. [...] so much attention when the efforts of so many African Americans before them went unrewarded? (Some clearly think not.) What kind of city will Detroit become if new residents start arriving in larger numbers? Detroit [...]

    Pingback by Detroit: Do-It-Yourself City | Rethink Detroit — January 6, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

  36. Very interesting article. Liked what you had to say about the whole “Slow’s Prince” stuff…..very much agree that he has become this icon that’s larger than life, when in reality he was just a dude that was able to make one successful restaurant.

    That being said, there are things that have to change in the city. Any visitor to the city knows this, and anyone living there should–yet there are many that are simply desensitized to the whole idea of decay and decline in the city, and don’t fully realize the need for change.

    Really liked your writing…even though I can’t say I fully agree with your points it is fresh to finally hear a different opinion about what’s been going on in the D of late.

    Comment by Alex — January 15, 2011 @ 6:02 pm

  37. [...] so much attention when the efforts of so many African Americans before them went unrewarded? (Some clearly think not.) What kind of city will Detroit become if new residents start arriving in larger numbers? Detroit [...]

    Pingback by Detroit: Do-It-Yourself City « Detroit Bred — January 16, 2011 @ 5:40 pm

  38. [...] to bring capital? But Jackson Christopher Bartlett of spacemakers also points out in his call for a “new narrative on Detroit” that the way news media has focused on investment in Detroit obscures the local people, [...]

    Pingback by Thinking about “ruin porn” « ladyelocutionist — February 11, 2011 @ 12:38 pm


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