The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
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    Feeling Good in Detroit

    They’ve elected a new mayor in Detroit, which, in other circumstances, might be a big deal, but since Detroit is under the thumb of a state-appointed emergency manager (who promptly–and probably unconstitutionally–took away all authority from every elected city official), the new mayor, Mike Duggan, will likely be mayor in name only.  He’ll be invited to be in the first car in Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and, as the city’s Goodwill Embassador, he’ll be entrusted with handing out city souvenirs, but when it comes to having a say in day-to-day operations, or putting his signature to important papers, forget it.  It’ll be a new day when, and only when, the electeds are able to get their offices back.

    Detroit is in a mess, as everyone knows–and as I’ve written about here and here and here.  They’re the largest city in the nation to ever declare bankruptcy.  The reasons are complicated and there is enough blame to go around, but none of it goes to the citizens of that city working tirelessly to keep it alive despite obstacles almost impossible to rise above.

    Every few years we hear about a coming renaissance in Detroit.  We watch as a few take tiny baby steps but nothing seems to come of it.  Not enough to make a real difference.  Until now.

    A bright light shines in the midst of the darkness in Detroit and, with any luck, it’ll be the light that guides them out of the fog.  A group called Detroit Venture Partners is buying up properties all over town–including in the high rent districts–with not just a promise, but proof-positive that a renaissance doesn’t have to be a pipe dream.  Headed by Dan Gilbert, founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, the group sponsors start-up companies, some which are already pitching their ideas via DVP’s website.

    On of their companies, Detroit Labs, just moved into a larger building and have big plans for their venture.  They design IOS and Android apps for companies like GM, Domino’s Pizza and Biggby’s Coffee.

    But it isn’t just business that will make the difference.  It’s the people who see value in every citizen, including those who are down and out.  Because so many of these groups are working behind the scenes to bring some aid, some hope, some dignity, it’s only every now and then that we hear about a happening that is actually good news.

    It happened again the other day.

    A coalition of unlikely partners teamed up to buy an old apartment building in a neighborhood with few redeeming qualities, and renovated it–not to make a profit, but to give the homeless a place to live.  They’re moving them in, even as we speak.

    A real estate developer, a Detroit Free Press columnist-turned-famous-author, and a congregation in a cozy, rather wealthy village miles away from the city–they’re all part of the project, along with Cass Community Social Services and other heroes, sung and unsung.

    They’re doing it.  They’re furnishing 45 apartments and readying them for occupants.  And when it’s finished, there will be another one, and another one, and so on.

    (NOTE:  You wouldn't be the first one to be thinking these apartments might well be trashed again a few years from now.  The sponsors are trying to keep that from happening by engaging the occupants and getting them involved in taking care of the places.  But there are no guarantees. They may well be trashed in a few years.  It's worth a try.)

    But get this:  I may have a connection, too.  The building they renovated and just opened is at Elmhurst and Woodrow Wilson.  I may well have lived in that same building when I was a baby.  My mom and dad are no longer here to verify, but I remember Mom telling me we lived in an apartment building on Woodrow Wilson, and my foggy memory is trying to tell me it was on or near Elmhurst.

    We lived a block away from Woodrow Wilson–on Highland–when I was in my early teens, and no matter how many times we passed that particular building, my mother couldn’t resist telling me once again that we had lived there when I was a baby..  Since I was a teenager at the time, I either couldn’t or wouldn’t show much interest, so now that I would like some real confirmation, it’s lost to me forever.

    apartment building woodrow wilson elmhurst

    Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press

    I can’t say for sure it’s the same apartment building, but I would love to believe it is.  Because nobody would have been happier about what has happened to it than that sainted lady, my mother.


    Are they going to bring jobs or are they just going to build homes and buildings?  Are they looking for an investment to hold to make money later?  Those are questions that come to my mind because of the bargain prices. 

    Trkng, of the two different groups in my piece, one is working on permanent shelter for the homeless, and the other is building a team of Detroit-based entrepreneurs. 

    One of the Detroit Venture Partners, Dan Gilbert, is also involved in buying up properties on the danger list with the idea of turning them into usable gems.

    From what I can see--or can't see (I haven't found anything shady about them)--it's legit and Detroit may finally have found the portal to a new beginning. Gilbert's groups are in the business of making money, no doubt, but they're keeping it in Detroit and they're proving that investing in Detroit can make a difference.

    Maybe I want Detroit to succeed so badly I'm deliberately missing something, but I'm actually getting excited about this.  I don't think Detroit will ever be what it once was--I'm not that deluded--but if they can bring businesses back into the city, build a transportation system, get rid of the corrupters, and get enough people to believe it, too, they might just pull themselves out of this mess.

    I hope it works well for the city.  I asked because of the corruption and state appointed manager. Detroit is stuck with this manager and that makes it helpless to corruption.

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