Is Detroit The Next Brooklyn?
MICHEL MARTIN, host: And now we turn to Detroit. Like many places around the country, Detroit has suffered some serious economic hardship in the last few years, including the near collapse of the auto industry, the loss of other manufacturing jobs and all the other bad things like foreclosures that follow job loss.
But just as Detroit's problems have often seemed mythic in scale, so is a sense of hope that many Detroiters have about the Motor City. Here's Detroit mayor, Dave Bing, in last year's state of the city address.
(SOUNDBITE OF STATE OF THE CITY ADDRESS)
DAVE BING: Together we can reinvent Detroit, bring in new jobs and investment, cleaning up our streets and getting tough on crime. Finding solutions to improve education and schools and once again restoring trust and pride in our city. We have an opportunity to reinvent Detroit like never before.
MARTIN: And now it turns out that there is proof that that hope in Detroit's renewal was not misplaced. New census figures show that in the last 10 years, while Detroit's population overall has shrunk by 25 percent, downtown Detroit has seen a 59 percent increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35. That's much more than in the vast majority of the nation's biggest cities.
We wanted to talk about what's behind this. So we've called Margarita Barry, a native of Detroit who started the website IAmYoungDetroit.com, which features local artists, performers and small business owners.
Also with us, Scott Harrison. He moved to Detroit in October from Indianapolis and he's director of patron engagement for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as well as its executive producer for digital media. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.
MARGARITA BARRY: Thank you.
SCOTT HARRISON: Thank you.
MARTIN: So, Scott, what made you want to move to Detroit? And I'll just ask the sticky question up front, did any of your friends and family think you were crazy?
HARRISON: Yes. That would be the short answer. But my friends and family had the same process - or the same discovery that I did. It was the job opportunity that brought me here that got me thinking about it. But there was a process after I sort of realized professionally this is where I'd like to move of sort of discovering and finding out what the city was about.
And what I discovered was that this was a place that's just a world of possibility and a world of open opportunities and a place that you can really create and invent whatever you want for yourself, personally, in your job. It's just that moment, like the mayor said, that is the moment of opportunity. And so my skepticism very quickly melted away.
And I think as I was talking to my parents, as I was sharing the idea with friends, they too very quickly saw that this whole idea that you could sort of become new in Detroit was too exciting to not be a part of. So they eventually were very supportive.
MARTIN: Can I just ask, just briefly, what were some of the concerns that were expressed to you or that you may have had before you actually moved there?
HARRISON: Well, I think there's a little bit of concern of - I wouldn't say it was safety, which would be what most people would think, right? I think it was more the idea of activity and lifestyle and would you find other young people? Would you find a place that you felt comfortable living? Would you find a place where you could go to the market and go to some cool bars and find shops and restaurants?
So I think it was more that quality of life and sort of the density of life was really the thing that was kind of stuck in people's mind. The image of a, you know, (unintelligible) images.
MARTIN: The city being emptied out kind of.
MARTIN: Like, everybody's packing up. All the moving vans are going the other way.
MARTIN: Margarita, what about you? Now, you grew up in Detroit. And, for example, I've lived in the Washington, D.C. area for a long time so I remember what it was like to travel, say, someplace on vacation and say to people, oh, I'm from D.C. And people go, really? You know, do you lock your doors? Isn't it dangerous? You know, I remember what that feels like. So I'm wondering if that has been your experience in recent years?
BARRY: Oh, definitely. You know, ever since I was a kid, any kind of vacation we go on, you know, you tell someone you're from Detroit and they're, like, oh my goodness, how are you still alive?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BARRY: So definitely there's this negative perception about Detroit and how we live and, you know, what it's like to live here.
MARTIN: But how is it different now? Or is it different now?
BARRY: I guess it depends on, you know, the individual. I would say certain pockets and certain areas of Detroit have certainly become more vibrant. In particular, the midtown area. That's where you'll see a lot of young people moving to a lot of activity. A lot of young creatives and a lot of entrepreneurs kind of popping up with businesses and just making it a more - it just seems like there's a renaissance going on in the greater downtown area.
MARTIN: What do you think is behind the renaissance, Margarita?
BARRY: I think there's a few different things. Number one, you know, there's the whole entrepreneurship. The drive to start a business in the city of Detroit. We have a lot of great opportunities in terms of, you know, real estate and grant programs and resources, business incubators. And so there's a lot of excitement in terms of starting a business in Detroit. And I think people are starting to see that. And they're kind of seeing Detroit as a place where you can go and kind of create from the ground up.
MARTIN: Is part of the appeal that you can have perhaps a quality of life that you can't have in other cities like New York? For example, just housing, for example, is so much cheaper. So you can have a much bigger apartment than you could afford in another city. Is that part of the appeal?
BARRY: Exactly. Yeah. That's definitely part of the appeal, you know. If I were to move to Detroit or move to New York I would have to, you know, probably have a couple different roommates to be able to afford that rent. But you come to Detroit, you're able to have this - to be able to afford a big loft and to have a job and also do, like, your side hustle. You can do all of these things and be able to afford it. It's a totally different lifestyle.
MARTIN: Scott, what about you? Were you - go ahead, just make me jealous. Tell me about your place where you live. And is it more luxurious, for example, than you might be able to afford in another city?
HARRISON: Oh, definitely. I think what I get from my money here, I've got a - it's a two-bedroom place. It's got washer/dryer. There's a backyard. And, you know, in sort of a great sort of making-the-best-of-Detroit story, me and my neighbors, we put up a volleyball net in the backyard. And so we have, like, volleyball games at night sometimes in the summer. There's gated parking. So it's really, you know, when you're in your home, it's just - it's amazing what you get for it.
MARTIN: What about the hip factor, though? Like we were talking about. But the wanting a cool bar to go to, for example. Are there places like that to go - kind of a nice - I don't know if you go to boutiques, Scott, I'm just saying.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MARTIN: But, you know, a cool boutique. A place to feel like you're really in the thick of it.
HARRISON: Yeah. I'm in Midtown, as Margarita mentioned. And Midtown is this area that, really, you can see some of the greatest promise of Detroit. I mean, I could rattle off 10 to 12 bars that I can walk to at night to hang out. I can think of a great bakery, a local organic grocer. I can think of some really awesome restaurants, some art venues both big institutions, my own - the Detroit Symphony and the Detroit Institute of Arts and also small sort of independent theaters.
So, I mean, I think within a 15 to 20 minute walk of where I live, I can find just anything, whether it's food, whether it's culture, whether it's entertainment, whether it's shopping. You know, we don't have the big box stores. If I need a Target, sure, I've got to get in the car and drive, but, I mean for day to day, six out of seven days of the week I'm sufficient and content just in my area.
MARTIN: And, Margarita, you know, one of the things I was curious about is you were born and raised in Detroit. And I know that your website showcases, you know, young people on the move doing exciting things. You know, sometimes when an area becomes, quote, unquote, revitalized, that doesn't always feel very good to the people who are already there. And I'm wondering if there's ever any, or do you sense any kind of pushback or a little bit of - some feelings from the people who kind of stuck it out in Detroit when other people left - is there any of that?
BARRY: Right. Well, you know, anytime there's change like this going on, there's going to be some people that kind of feel uncomfortable. I feel like, you know, Detroit is in a time and a place now where we kind of need some of that new energy. And I think it's great that new people are moving, you know. It's changing. It's changing a lot of different things, I think, in a more positive way. People are bringing new businesses, new ideas and I think it's going to make Detroit a more vibrant place.
MARTIN: So now when you go on vacation and people say, oh, you're from Detroit, what do you tell them?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BARRY: I've always been, you know, proud of being from Detroit, you know. So I wear that with pride. And I say, yeah, I'm from the D, you know. And I show them my website and I tell them about all the cool things that they don't usually hear about. And I think that's one of the reasons why I started the website is to show this other side of the city, all of the positive things that we have going on here.
MARTIN: Margarita Barry is the founder of IAmYoungDetroit.com. Scott Harrison is the director of patron engagement for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He's also the executive producer of digital media. They were both nice enough to join us from just outside Detroit, a studio in Southfield, Michigan. Thank you both so much for joining us.
BARRY: Thank you.
HARRISON: Thank you.
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