40 Years Later, Detroit Slowly Sees Renewal Residue from the 1967 riots can still be seen throughout Detroit. Although some economic development has taken place, abandoned buildings and other signs of urban blight remain evident combined with a population that continues to decline. But newspaper columnist Rochelle Riley says a new Detroit is slowly emerging.
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40 Years Later, Detroit Slowly Sees Renewal

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40 Years Later, Detroit Slowly Sees Renewal

40 Years Later, Detroit Slowly Sees Renewal

40 Years Later, Detroit Slowly Sees Renewal

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Residue from the 1967 riots can still be seen throughout Detroit. Although some economic development has taken place, abandoned buildings and other signs of urban blight remain evident combined with a population that continues to decline. But newspaper columnist Rochelle Riley says a new Detroit is slowly emerging.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We're going to turn now to Rochelle Riley, a columnist at the Detroit Free Press, for another perspective. She's joining us from Royal Oak, Michigan. Rochelle, welcome. Thanks for speaking with us.

Ms. ROCHELLE RILEY (Columnist, Detroit Free Press): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You wrote that you'd hoped there would be no commemoration or acknowledgement of the riots or the rebellion, as Mr. Archer and some others prefer. Why?

Ms. RILEY: I think part of the problem with Detroit is that it has redefined itself. It's redefining itself now, but it has defined itself for decades by its worst moments. And it's very hard to lift yourself up and to participate in a renaissance when you continue to live in the past. So I think that wasn't the best thing for us to do.

MARTIN: So how do you feel about it now that the week is going forward and, you know, and, you know, forgive me. I understand that - maybe you probably even have mixed feelings about this conversation, because we are, in fact, looking sort of background as a way to look forward. But how do you feel about it? Do you feel that people are looking forward now?

Ms. RILEY: I'm glad to have an opportunity to talk about what hasn't happened, not after the 1943 race riot and the 1967 civil unrest. We've never had a conversation. Those conversations are happening now. So if there's anything good that will come from all of these discussion, it's that we are discussing. It's been like the Hatfield and the McCoys, this feud that's been lasting so long between the races here, and no one looked up and realized that, you know, it's a different decade. Their children are no longer interested in the fight. And people aren't as different as they thought.

So this is a good thing. Last year's World Series, I wrote a column about taking a train sponsored by the team owners from of the suburbs down to the game. And on board, there were three generations of one family. The grandparents, who hadn't been in downtown in 20 years, the son and his wife who hadn't been down in a decade, and the kid with excitement in his eyes who just wanted to see a baseball game. So that's the kind of change that I want to celebrate and look at and not continue to count the dead from something that was unavoidable but doesn't have to be repeated.

MARTIN: One of the things you think Detroit needs to truly recover from the past - is it something that has to - I mean, obviously, the obvious answer is (unintelligible). But what do you think is the most important? Is it something that people in Detroit need to do, or are there still external help that's needed, either from the state or from the federal government that is needed to move Detroit forward?

Ms. RILEY: Well, Detroit has to first make the decision. Our big obstacle to any kind of progress is education. Our city schools are a mess, and people are not willing to move and bring the tax base and the new blood that we need because, you know, schools are most important for their children.

And that's one of the things that is a problem for companies that want to relocate. Even as we are having this renaissance - and we have done amazing things. We've redeveloped the waterfront into parks and condos, and it was once just cement silos. And what we've got to do is raise the level of education, because when companies come calling, the first thing that they want to know is the education level.

And then the second thing is the income level of the people within sort of a five-mile radius of where they would be. And we're still losing residents. Kroger decided not to put any chains in this city, and Farmer Jack just took all of its chains out. So we're the largest city in American without a major food chain.

MARTIN: No national grocery chain operating in the city.

Ms. RILEY: No national grocery chain. We have two movie theaters. When a rental car company opened - a new one - three years ago, it was big news - press releases. So those are the types of things that are counterbalanced with, again, the waterfront and the renovation of three major hotels. And literally, hundreds of lofts being built from the university district where Wayne State University is, down to the waterfront. So what we've got to do is make sure that the balance continues.

MARTIN: Okay. All right, Rochelle. Thanks. And I hope you'll come back and speak to us again about what's going on in the Motor City.

Ms. RILEY: Any time. Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Rochelle Riley is a columnist at the Detroit Free Press. She joined us from Royal Oak, Michigan. Thanks again.

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