AAN in Motown: 2012 Annual Convention Heads to Detroit

february 27, 2012  03:17 pm
AAN in Motown: 2012 Annual Convention Heads to Detroit
In a series of guest posts leading up to AAN's 2012 Annual Convention in Detroit, the staff of host paper Metro Times will offer insight into a city they are proud to call home.

In the weeks ahead, you'll hear about the grassroots citizens and creative entrepreneurs who are changing Detroit, get a glimpse into the city's still-vibrant music scene, and learn about downtown Detroit and other nearby areas convention attendees are likely to visit. In this first post, managing editor Brian Smith describes a city reinventing itself.

Detroit Rock City, Part 1
By Brian Smith

Sure, parts of Detroit resemble Ten Seconds to Hell shown on a weathered screen at an abandoned drive-in theater, you’ve seen that in the national media. We all have. But there's more that you may not have seen, and you've got good reason to come here to see it. The city’s haunted beauty is salient and absolute. It's also now pregnant with potential, change and synergy, and the creatives — the activists, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs from all manner of social stratum, homegrown and new arrivals — are seizing that promise. Yes, your jaw will likely gape at square miles of ravaged Victorian structures, abandoned deco skyscrapers and the multi-acre- sized auto factories and civic landmarks wearingly returning to earth (many with whole eco-systems on their rooftops, as if to hasten that return). But you’ll be surprised at the reclamation within.

The city's new narrative is one of reinvention, creation, just as our alternative weeklies and websites are now about reinvention and creation — the parallels between Detroit and our industry aren't subtle.

Detroit is about dichotomies: It's a multi-university town shaped by its deep Southern and blue-collar roots; it's home to the spiritual sons and daughters of the American industrial revolution, and it's been a well-spring of musicians, artists and all manner of folks who are fiercely loyal to — and prideful of — their roots here. But there are too few residents to inhabit it's the city's too-many square miles of "shrinking city" abandonment; and the fiscal and political repercussions are battled in headlines daily.

And yet … new things are happening here. Careers can be fostered through reuse of abandoned spaces and now-inexpensive buildings — acres of dispossessed cityscape is fertile ground for locally grown produce, a whole neighborhood can become at a drive-thru art installation (as in the internationally renowned Heidelberg Project).

A once-vibrant, then hollowed-out downtown is on the ascent. Major employers have moved thousands of workers to new and renovated buildings in recent years. A leader in the turnaround, Quicken Loans, one of Fortune's Top 10 companies to work for, has purchased millions of square feet of downtown space to house everything from venture capitalist firms to upstart designer companies, from new retailers to a new wave of residents putting the life into the downtown's nightlife.

It's telling stuff, reinforced by the fact the Detroit Lions, a pro football team with the worst record in NFL history a few years ago, became a Super Bowl contender this year while General Motors rose from ruin to again become the world's No. 1 automaker.

I moved here a decade ago from Phoenix, never thinking I'd stay longer than a few years. A decade later Detroit still fascinates me everyday. Everyday I see something new, and often intangible. So I ain't going anywhere. There's a ton for anyone to see — a ton of things that my colleagues and I are anxious to share with you on this website in the weeks to come and in person when you arrive.

Brian Smith is the managing editor of Metro Times.