After months in the making, Ford Motor’s play for the Michigan Central Depot is official. Let the grousing begin.
It will start in the suburbs, from the generation that came of age during the urban unrest of the late 1960s, witnessed the controversies and power-shifting of the 1970s, and watched during the 1980s and ‘90s as capital and jobs fled Detroit for the suburbs.
They'll recall ol’ Hank the Deuce building and opening the Renaissance Center in 1976, only to see Ford sell it a generation later to rival General Motors. They'll pronounce Detroit's chances of becoming a desirable urban center for the 21st century about as likely as snow in July.
Ignore them. They're rooted in a past that does not preordain the future, no matter how hard they pound the metaphorical table. Their generation failed to arrest the arc of decline that culminated in the bankruptcies of the city and two of this town’s three automakers. And they’re still mad.
Times have changed. So has a new generation of leaders willing to learn from the past instead of remaining captive to it, and willing to seize the present and future as they are, not as they want them to be.
Ford’s commitment to bring 5,000 jobs to its planned Corktown campus – 2,500 of them working directly for the Blue Oval – is more evidence of the Great Reversal. After decades of seeing business investment traveling on a one-way road out of the city, the tide is reversing. And for suburban leaders accustomed to winning far more than they lose, the adjustment can be jarring.
They seem to believe it shouldn’t work that way … not around here. Southfield has the soaring office towers alongside the highway. Auto suppliers dot western Wayne and Oakland counties. Detroit’s not supposed to be vying for investment, for jobs, for growth.
But it is.
You could hear evidence of the jobs anxiety this week at the train station celebration hosted by Ford. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan urged folks to “let the city versus suburbs thing go. When Detroit revives,” he said, “it’s good for everyone.”
He’s right, of course. America’s most desirable metro areas have vibrant cities at their core. For decades, Detroit was a glaring exception, a region that even tried to distance itself from the city’s name because of the negative images it evoked about the place and its people.
That Detroit is gone. It was buried by public corruption convictions, by bankruptcies and by a new civic culture embracing authentic markers of Detroit. Politicians like Duggan and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans are realistic pragmatists far more interested in solutions to improve the quality of life here, not ideological battles for control.
Governor Rick Snyder, in the final months of this term, arguably did more to help Detroit than any Michigan governor of either party for the past 50 years. And business leaders – especially those competing with Silicon Valley – understand that place and purpose can be as important to wooing desirable talent as the job and the paycheck.
That’s worth celebrating around here.
Daniel Howes is a columnist at The Detroit News. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.