What kind of people forge full-speed ahead into treacherous territory with little but a dream and no guarantee for success?
Americans have been doing it for centuries, and I’m sure the parents of those early pioneers thought their children had lost their ever-loving minds. But what kind of country would we be without these fearless lunatics? Their undying optimism laid the foundations for some of our greatest cities: Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco – to name a few.
Then there’s Detroit. It’s almost impossible to miss the ubiquitous coverage of the city’s demise. But squeezed between the contentious debate over the city’s bankruptcy and the photo essays detailing infrastructural decay, the story of a new American pioneer is slowly unfolding.
They are the native Detroiters who stand their ground, seeking innovative and entrepreneurial opportunities to strengthen their community. And then there are the newcomers – many young people – who come for the cheap rent and stay with the hopes of playing a part in the city’s rebirth. Some of these people have even left behind sensible upbringings and beautiful suburban lawns. I’m sure their parents are horrified.
It’s a story equal parts inspiration and terror. You can participate in the next great chapter of American history, but if you get hurt in the process, it might be hours before an ambulance arrives. I can’t help but be excited when I hear about the folks who brave it anyway.
Amidst the ruins, a new generation of lunatics is dreaming. They see their destiny inextricably linked to the city they call home. New ideas and businesses are emerging. There are tech startups, ad agencies, super cool small businesses, and local eateries. There are also household names completely reinventing themselves.
True, Detroit has a long, long way to go, and the journey will be perilous. There is no guarantee the risk will even pay off. But like so many pioneers who came before them, the people who invest in this city, both literally and figuratively, share a common perspective.
Detroit isn’t a wasteland to give up on. It is a new frontier worth conquering.
(Oh, and for the naysayers out there, things could be worse. I have two words for you: Dust. Bowl. )