Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has managed to piss off some city leaders, as well as school officials, as he labeled Detroit as a disaster. I have to wonder, is this a case in which the truth hurts?
I love Detroit, it is my home, and I don't foresee myself leaving anytime in the near future. That being said, there are a lot of things around here that are pretty fucked up. First and foremost, as Mr Gingrich pointed out, the Detroit Public School System It is interesting how when criticized, an unbelievable amount of people will stand up for the system in place. All the while, our very own mayor was pushing hard until recently for more charter schools, as he seemed to feel that DPS was failing. Whether or not the statistics for the drop out rate are accurate is really of little importance, as the discrepancies seem to be whether or not the students transfered to a charter school, or perhaps another school. I ask, does it matter? It should be all the proof you need, when combined with the 10,000 or so students DPS has lost in recent years, it's quite obvious something is wrong.
DPS has it's gems, schools in which I would send my own children to, schools that would almost insure a full ride at the state's best colleges upon completion. The problem is, these schools are but a handful of all those within the city. I have many many former DPS students, many of whom were drop outs, many of whom have about a 5th grade reading level at best. I work with some of these people, and I hear the problems first hand that went on at the schools they attended. Arrests were not uncommon, somebody bringing a gun or knife to school happened plenty often to be concerned. With very few exceptions, all the criteria is in place to earn the "disaster" designation. I highly doubt there are many other cities in the United States with a school system as bad as Detroit's.
Now how about the unemployment, which was also targeted by Mr. Gingrich? In this case, I think you can point the finger all the way to Lansing. Our economy continues to be in the shitter, with I believe the highest unemployment rate of any state. Detroit's unemployment rate far exceeds the national average, perhaps even double, if I recall the last article it was reported in. Again, a sure tell sign of "disaster," don't you think?
Whenever we travel to the warehouse for work, the area we stroll through on the east side looks like a war zone. I'd estimate about 50% of the warehouses have long since been abandoned. Few houses remain, though the vacant lots unmowed and full of trash still exist. As do the packs of wild dogs, prostitutes, and drug deals, all of which happen in the middle of the day. Take a stroll through some areas of the city, and you'd easily label it as a disaster.
I've visited probably a dozen major cities, yet I really can't say that I've seen the problems Detroit faces on a equal basis in any other city. I stored my Detroit pom-poms away shortly after moving from the downtown area, and started seeing the city for what it really is.
I accept the fact that Detroit has many problems, I can even accept that some may perceive the place as a disaster. Yet for me, I have also seen the progress that has been made, as well as the direction the city is headed. I have experienced Detroit's gems, and I know why people grow to love it here. While at one time I would have taken strong offense to what Mr. Gingrich had to say, now I simply accept the fact that yeah, perhaps you may see my city as a disaster, but it's my disaster. It's a place in which I'm doing my part to help change that perception, and I see the change taking place with each passing day. Sure, we have a long ways to go, and I'm not sure we'll ever completely erase everybody's negative opinions on Detroit, but can't we try?
I mean damn it, I love it here. I think a new wave of people, people of all ages, are sharing in this new found love. I wish that all of the critics would just shut the hell up, pull up their sleeves, and give a helping hand. Perhaps if Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken/Rock Financial, makes his long anticipated announcement to move downtown, even more people will take notice. Detroit needs more Karmanos, Forbes, Penskes and yes, even Ilitches, if this place is going to continue its forward push. I believe in the NEXT Detroit.