Sitting at the Detroit Policy Conference on Thursday, there was a changing energy. A shift from an old guard to a new.
Sure, pizza and sports icon Chris Ilitch took the stage and did a large presentation and speech about the transition from father to son at that behemoth organization.
On a panel immediately after, developer Peter Cummings, who was key to bringing the Whole Foods to Midtown, talked about the work they’re doing in New Center and the age old question of incentives and how many and how much. This debate is important, for sure.
The big names will dominate the headlines because of the money in play and their thousands of employees will click stories about them anytime, let alone all of the Detroit scene onlookers. Not to mention, their collective billions of dollars flowing has a way of ensuring success.
After all, if you want to cause an online commotion in Detroit forget yelling “Fire!” — yell “New Skyscraper!” and watch the people come running. It takes big money to build skyscrapers.
But I’m going to endeavor to break your click reflexes (well, not too much, I baited you with a headline with Gilbert and Ilitch) and turn your focus away from the main stage to the people you should also be following.
Three names: Jason Hall. Amy Peterson. Marlowe Stoudamire.
They, respectively, do three things: Slow Roll. Rebel Nell. MASHDetroit.
That panel is where the true spirit of Detroit was alive. These three people are making things happen in interesting ways.
Slow Roll, co-founded by Hall, isn’t just happy people on bicycles. It, according to Hall, has a whopping $5 million economic impact on the city. It has brought together thousands and created reams of the positive press on the city. You might have scoffed at an Apple commercial, but the spotlight it shone on our 139 square miles is undeniable and the connections the event itself has made between people will last lifetimes.
— Daily Detroit (@TheDailyDetroit) March 2, 2017
Peterson’s Rebel Nell was started with the sole purpose of employing, educating and empowering disadvantaged women in Detroit. They do it in an interesting way, creating jewelry from unique local materials and selling it. In addition to employment, they provide financial literacy classes and business education that isn’t a handout, but a hand up. Their beginnings were inauspicious, pushing their goods at Dally in the Alley. Because that’s what it took.
MASHDetroit has added business incubation space to a neighborhood that sorely needs investment on Mack between Chalmers and Alter, and is working to bridge divides between the suburbs and the city. Stoudamire’s idea that he’s worked to turn into physical form empowers Detroiters through commerce and education.
And here’s the thing. All of this good work? For the most part, it’s been their side gigs.
Obviously, they’re not “the answer” to Detroit’s problems. Despite what the internet may tell you, there’s never “one neat trick” that removes years upon years of disinvestment, discrimination and inequality.
But people like them and projects like theirs feel a lot closer to it.
Magic in the real world is when something is unbelievable but it’s really happening. By that definition, all three of these people are creating magic.
They don’t let the doubters get in their way, they press on without “proper funding” and scratch it together because they love the city. They love the people here and love what they’re doing.
When speaking of activating Detroiters, Stoudamire said that “Detroit’s biggest commodity is our people.”
So when we’re talking about incentives in the city and providing resources to those making it happen, as in activating our city, big businesses will get press all on their own. Let’s make sure we’re always investing with our patronage, our dollars, our efforts and our attention where the spirit of Detroit is.
And if you ask me, part of that spirit is with Hall, Peterson and Stoudamire.