I remember one of the application prompts to the DCBRP asked something along the lines of ‘What do you see as Detroit’s future?’
I had been out of Detroit for pretty much all of my developed mind, and so I started googling prospects for the City. It turned up with economic development plans, tech-industry investments, and even a few stories about a burgeoning art scene.
The prompt question was just slightly pointed enough to make me skeptical of all that I read though. So I did a few counter-searches, and I talked to my Dad, and found myself in a land of problems so present and systemic that I felt like I couldn’t possibly answer the prompt in the words provided.
I did my best though, and I sent in my application, and few months later I was sent home with How to Kill a City. I spent an entire day flipping through its pages, and researching all its referenced videos and articles. The book granted me numbers, and stories, and a name and a frame for all these themes I had seen appear across media. It brought gentrification further away from a perspective, and closer to an inarguable injustice.
Having that experience, and having read what happened in San Francisco, Detroit, and New Orleans definitely influenced my experience staying in Midtown.
In a more simple way, it made me drive the roads instead of the freeways to my placement, and made me conscious of everywhere I visited and ate.
In more complicated ways, it completely shaped how I functioned in my internship for the city. Instead of being ‘off-put’ by some of the dilapidated houses I door-knocked, I was ‘off-put’ by a meetings celebrating corporate interests. Instead of having skepticism for the Detroiters I interviewed, I had skepticism for the Mayor’s development plans.
I know there’s still a lot more I need to learn about the City of Detroit. And I know there’s a lot I need to learn about cities, development, and gentrification in general. But I know for having read How to Kill a City, and for my time here in the DCBRP, I will be asking the right questions along the way, and I’ll be having my discomfort and skepticism in the right place.