A few years ago Time magazine bought a house in Indian Village (one of Detroit's wealthiest neighborhoods) and housed its staff there for a year to follow what appeared to be Detroit's slow death. And now with the presence of the Emergency Financial Manager one could argue they were right to do so. Although the "Detroit rising from the ashes" meme seemingly re-appears everytime a new mayor is elected what we are witnessing now is altogether unique.
Well, at least until it happens to the rest of America's urban cores.
There've been any number of articles about what we can do to save Detroit, and every now and again someone writes an article about Detroit's saviors.
Usually these articles to focus largely on the creative class and on knowledge production. The central problem Detroit faces is twofold. First Detroit suffers from mismanagement. Detroit is filled with bureaucrats and political officials who are either corrupt, incompetent, or both. The second is that Detroit suffers from the Rip Van Winkle syndrome. Whereas other cities have entered the 21st Century with a vengeance, Detroit has been asleep for thirty years thinking WWW is another World Wrestling organization.
If Detroit's problem is that it suffers from mismanagement and is mired in 20th Century thinking/doing, then the solution is straightforward. What we need is better management, more creativity, and 21st Century practices/visions.
Which screams creative class. Which rails against the idea Detroiters themselves have anything to say about their condition. And both put together screams whiteness. Indeed the only African American on the list is the emergency financial manager!
Even though critiques of this approach abound, it still lives. You can almost set your watch by it (the New York Times story that caused me to write one of the first critiques of this wave of articles was written almost two years ago today).
I'd argue that we need people like Ryan to be more diligent in their storytelling, and to at the very least consider the possibility that a city of 700,000 people, many of them black, Latino, and Arab-American, have some sense of what they need.
This argument would be wrong. In part because it isn't that a lack of diligence is at work here. Similarly I could argue that it's a matter of Ryan not knowing enough about the city he's writing about. That is wrong as well. This story isn't the product of ignorance but rather a very peculiar form of knowledge. Ryan doesn't write for the New York Times, he writes for Governing. These types of stories are part of a much larger political project. We need much more than storytelling here.