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By Ellie Chessen On February 13th, 2011
For Detroiters, the Chrysler commercial featuring Eminem stood out as one of the highlights of the Super Bowl, showing a different side of Detroit than what we have been seeing in the media. The commercial’s narrator gave Michiganders reason to be proud of the Motor City, boldly stating, “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well, I’ll tell you: more than most. You see it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel. Add hard work, and conviction and the knowhow that runs generations deep in every last one of us. That’s who we are. That’s our story.”
But Detroit headlines are trumpeting a different story. Instead of hearing about Detroit’s progress, we’ve been reading about soaring unemployment and urban decay. The sob story in the media only reveals a superficial understanding of what is really happening in Detroit. For reporters, it’s easy to keep up the image of destruction — anyone can go to Detroit and find abandoned houses and decaying buildings. But personally, I’m tired of hearing about Detroit’s disrepair. I’d like to hear more about what people are doing to put the city back on its feet. More and more young innovators are moving to Detroit to help with community revitalization. It seems that the younger generation is able to see creative opportunity in a place that others regard as rough around the edges.
As University students, we have a vested interest in the revival of Detroit. The University offers academic programs to students who want to experience Detroit firsthand. Semester in Detroit is a University program that is co-sponsored by the Residential College and the Ginsberg Center for Community Service and Learning. Students who enroll in SID live in the Detroit community for one semester, taking classes at Wayne State University and interning at Detroit non-profit organizations. Many of these University students have formed lasting bonds with the city — in the first two years of the program, 50 percent of seniors involved in the program moved to Detroit after graduation to continue their work and give back to the city. We need more University students to become personally invested in the social and economic betterment of the city, and get to know the community outside of the abandoned buildings featured on the news.
University students can also play a role in Detroit’s rejuvenation by moving to the city after graduation. For people who are paying off student loans or can’t afford expensive Ann Arbor housing, Detroit is a great option. Housing in Detroit costs a fraction of the price of Ann Arbor housing. While most University students love living in Ann Arbor — despite its increasing commercialization — Detroit is worth a closer look, as it’s fast becoming a place for innovators and local businesses.
Michigan artists and architects have already become involved in community betterment through large-scale projects in Detroit. Five young teachers from the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning made their footprint in Detroit by buying a foreclosed house for only $500 and completely revamping the inside through a series of innovative architectural projects. The team, known as the Five Fellows, took on five separate projects in different sections of the house. Each section served as an architectural experiment for the fellows. The house has become famous in the neighborhood and is now a point of pride for the residents. The Five Fellows project is living proof that through creative thinking and dedication, urban decay can become urban renewal.
University graduates who are interested in art, architecture or renewable energy should consider becoming a part of the Power House Project in Detroit — a non-profit organization that inspires neighborhood revitalization. One goal of the PHP is to introduce stabilization in communities by renovating abandoned houses in creative ways. The PHP offers an artist residency program for members, providing artists with a space to live while working on projects in Detroit neighborhoods. The PHP and similar organizations see art and community betterment as an essential part of Detroit’s development. The PHP relies on young people, like University students to carry out this goal.
Young people couldn’t ask for a better place to get started than Detroit. Detroit offers unique opportunities that a fully developed city like New York City cannot. In Detroit there is space for redefinition — anyone can make their own, unique mark. The city has been broken down, but the exciting part now is the building back up. This city, bursting with possibilities, is right at the fingertips of University students. So students, when planning your future, think Detroit.
Ellie Chessen is an LSA junior.