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Long written off by many, Detroit is becoming an interesting city to watch from an urban revitalization perspective. At the core of these developments is the emergence of a startup ecosystem where (for the most part) one did not previously exist. While still early, the progress made in this area over the last several years has been impressive and is having an impact on the region. As an outsider looking in with experience in other entrepreneurial hubs, I wanted to share thoughts on conditions and trends coming together that may help elevate this into a more viable and sustainable model for the city going forward.
I grew up in the Detroit area in the 1970s and 80s. While officially in the suburbs, our house was only two blocks from the city border, bringing the city a bit more upfront in our personal lives. During high school and college, I also worked at the old Tiger Stadium, which afforded the opportunity to experience the city even further.
It was a tough time for Detroit, coming off the riots from the late 1960s and the accompanying exodus of hundreds of thousands of residents. Those challenges continued well after I had left, with the downsizing of the automotive industry, a shrinking tax base, and too much mismanagement and corruption at a local government level.
After graduating from college, I left the area for a programming job in another state. While I continue to spend time in Ann Arbor, I’ve spent little in downtown Detroit over the last 25 years. Still, with family and friends in southeastern Michigan, I have watched it from afar with interest over the years. More recently I’ve been intrigued to
watch the rise of the startup community in the region. To be honest, I did not give it a lot of real hope considering the multitude of challenges facing the city.
Sometimes when you’re down, the only way is up. But the story goes much beyond that here. Despite the potential for municipal bankruptcy currently hanging over the city, there are good things happening in Motown. The recent TechCrunch profile of Dan Gilbert does a great job outlining some of them. The region is taking steps and riding some key trends that are starting to effect change. From an outsider’s perspective with some familiarity with the region, here are some of the key ones that are driving (at least for me) a more optimistic view of the city’s trajectory: