We’re all Detroiters
The Frenchies have been busy bees this winter, hence the lack of regular posts here. Our apologies. Helene has been based in Europe to produce our documentary film (based in Paris, Budapest and now Vienna, she’ll return to Detroit this summer) – while Nora has gone back and forth between Detroit, Paris and Berlin (where she was selected at the Berlinale Film Festival last February as an emerging talent). Between the two of us, we can tell how much Europeans at large are intrigued by our stories. Guess what, they even dream about Detroit! Not a week goes by without an email from a stranger intrigued by what she/he read about Detroit. Simply put, the D fascinates. When we talk about the sense of community and the DIY initiatives that are happening here, people see this as a model to follow. You know why? It’s because we’re all Detroiters.
Whether we want it or not, we’re all Henry Ford’s grandchildren. I remember when I was 16 sitting in my high school history classes and learning about the “Second” Industrial Revolution. We would peep at pictures of the first assembly line “made in Detroit.” Little did I know that I’d end up here years later… In the global “West,” we’ve shared the roller coaster ride of capitalism, and today we’re looking for new ways to cope with its failures.
Around the world, Generation Y is beginning to be defined by its unemployment (just read this piece in Esquire for some terrifying stats). The only solution is to go back to the basics. My parents, both French, lived during the “peace and love” hairy movement of the 70s – but they were still using a ton of gas during their road trip to Morocco in their rusty blue VW truck… and I’m not sure they recycled their plastic bottles either. Today they are as concerned as I am about the question: “What’s next?” This month, the latest U.S. census was released. It showed an increase of people moving to cities – as opposed to the ‘burbs. The persistently high gasoline prices are largely responsible for this major shift; a USA Today analysis shows that only two places are still behind: Detroit and Cleveland. But this analysis ignores that last year, downtown Detroit experienced a 59% increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35 — nearly 30% more than 2/3 of the nation’s 51 largest cities. Detroit was built as a Jane Jacobs nightmare (author of Death and Lives of Great American Cities, a masterpiece about urban renewal published in 1961 — and still relevant today). The D did all it could to encourage urban sprawl.
Urbanization is increasing globally (see this very cool data visualization). Detroit serves as a reminder of what has been and what can be done. It’s a city of the past but it’s also a city of the future.
Today Detroiters – and Americans – try to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. The word “walkable” is in every mouth. Even though Europeans have been better at that game – mostly because we’ve avoided building freeways inside our own cities – the same questions are asked on each side of the Atlantic Ocean. So when we talk about urban farming, bike clubs, makerspaces, digital justice, or “life off the grid,” Europeans listen carefully to Detroiters’ efforts. They want to come visit.
For a long time, Europeans have looked at Americans with a mix of envy and mockery, of admiration and fear. For a long time, Americans didn’t know that Czechoslovakia was no longer a country. But the economic crisis has brought both Americans and Europeans together – we’ve shared stories that show how vulnerable we all are. Detroit is the epicenter of this phenomenon. Having fallen so hard, it now bounces back even harder. When I first came to the U.S. in ’08, I landed in L.A. to study. I was 22 and I had never driven a car – it was hard to get around. I cursed the “American way of life” more than once. But then I moved to Detroit. This is when I fell in love with the American spirit, with that ingenuity, playfulness, “entrepreneur” pulse. In its efforts towards sustainability, Detroit looks at Europe as much as the contrary is true. It’s a time of convergence, so let’s roll our sleeves together.
PS: Another proof that the world is looking at Detroit: we just published an article in Glamour Magazine (French version) about “Detroit doers.” Another article about the era of collaborative economy will be printed in the May issue of Usbek & Rica, a new magazine that talks about… the future! (We’ll be posting the .pdf of those articles in the coming weeks in our “Press” section).