Tag Archives: branding

Results from WDET’s “Detroit Move” Survey

WDET conducted a survey last month centered around the question, ‘What would it take you to move to the city of Detroit?’ The station’s analysis of the results of that survey have been out for several weeks now, so I figured it was well past time for me to post on them.

The response far exceeded the expectations of WDET’s staff:

We set a goal of 1,000 responses in seven days. We met that goal in 48 hours, over the course of a weekend. A total of 2,200 respondents were collected at the end of the week, making this the largest known data set of it’s kind.

It’s so rare to see quantitative data on people’s attitudes about moving to Detroit, which up til now have mostly been captured in a jumble of conflicting anecdote.  As the introduction to the summary notes,

The latest iteration of the persistent “Detroit authenticity/Detroit love”  battle shows little evidence of the participants actually engaging with the arguments/ ideas of  the other side. Instead, there is a lot of interaction with existing beliefs, misremembered history,  convenient reformulations of the past and a willful disregard for “live and let live” acceptance.

WDET wisely engaged the services of a social scientist, a PhD candidate at Brandeis named  Sara Elliott, to help design the survey.  The survey questions they developed were concrete and specific, and admirably, Elliott and her collaborators at the station steered clear of extrapolating too much from the results.

Still, when ‘84% of city residents said they would be unlikely to move to the suburbs in the future,’ I suggest we’re a bit closer to guessing why, in spite of the conventional wisdom that Detroit is a dying city, over 700,000 residents remain.  Those who survived the exodus of the 2000s are a resilient bunch and have compelling reasons to stay.

Another interesting data point pertains to how Tree Towners and other Washtenaw residents view the city:

Paradoxically, a smaller percentage of survey takers were from Washtenaw County and this group comes to Detroit less frequently than those living in Wayne or Macomb counties, yet this group was the most likely to say they would be likely or very likely to move to the city in the future (50%). The next largest group of respondents who said they would be likely or very likely to move to the city in the future lived in a county other than Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne (outside Metro Detroit) (42%). Smaller percentages of survey takers from Wayne (35%) or Macomb (34%) counties and Oakland County (31%) said they would be likely or very likely to move to Detroit. The largest group of survey takers was from Oakland County, but they were least likely to say they would move to the city in the future.

Responses to the statement ‘I would support a friend or family member’s decision to move to the city of Detroit’ were more positive than I’d have expected:

There is data to back up an observation that I’ve seen made frequently (and have made myself), which is that younger people view the city in a more positive light than older generations:

Over half (55%) of those under 25 years of age said they would be “likely or very likely” to move to the city in the future, compared to one third (36%) of those 26-45 and one-quarter (24%) of those 45 and above. As age increases, likelihood of moving to the city decreases significantly.

And there are some clues for whoever ends up in charge of the city as to what priorities they should focus on:

A few factors stood out as mattering to more of the respondents who said they were likely or very likely to move to the city in the future…

  • Better city services (57% of likely movers compared to 51% of unlikely movers)
  • Better public transportation (60% of likely movers compared to 36% of unlikely movers; this factor rises past lower crime to the #1 issue among the very likely subset respondents) 
  • Increase walkability (53% of likely movers compared to 41% of unlikely movers)

Note the walkability figure;  in spite of pockets like Greektown, Midtown, Corktown and Mexicantown (basically any neighborhood ending in ‘-town’), Detroit lags many of its suburbs in that respect.  Also, the most likely recruits appear to be swayed more by service provision (including both schools and transit) than by “lower taxes” or “better jobs” which are way down the list.

Surprisingly, I haven’t seen reaction to the survey from Detroit’s other media outlets such as the Free Press or the Metro Times.  Perhaps they were embarassed they didn’t think of it first.

For more, check out the summary of the survey results (PDF).


Barlow v. Miller

So there’s been, as Supergay Detroit puts it, “a little bit of a shitstorm” over Toby Barlow’s piece for the Huffington Post, ‘”Detroit,” Meet Detroit.’

I don’t actually disagree with Barlow — if I were to take a job in the tri-county region, I would want to live & work in the city of Detroit.  I always encourage acquaintances to consider living in the city and applaud when they do.  I’m quick to correct outsiders when they make blanket generalizations about living in the city.  So I agree with him when he writes:

(Y)ou can’t have a region without a center… It is not just some idealistic dream, it’s an economic necessity… (I)t’s the straightest path to getting your property values back… (I)f you’re in Southeast Michigan, you’re from Detroit. It’s your brand. So deal with it. When companies are thinking of relocating to the region, bringing jobs here, the perception of Motown is the biggest thing that matters. And when companies start thinking of relocating away from the region, the health and reputation of Detroit has a certain undeniable weight. Those companies aren’t going to listen when you say “Come on! We’re different! We’re Troy!” They may have fallen for that in the past but now they know the truth. Detroit is right here, front and center, our inescapable fact.

But then Barlow kind of shot himself in the foot with this: ‘Seriously, nothing good ever came out of suburbia.’  God only knows what kind of damage control his employer, (suburban-based) Ford, has been doing on that statement alone.  (Although they appear to keep him on a pretty loose leash.)  A sloppy, ill-considered attempt at tongue-in-cheek?  With that sentence, a perfectly good sales pitch fatally devolved into a city-v.-suburbs debate, and naturally, suburbanites with an axe to grind pounced.

Barlow is a fairly recent transplant to Michigan but you’d think even he would have recognized that “Detroit v. the suburbs” is a tired, fifty-year-old argument that no one on either side has ever won.  It’s an argument that, for that matter, nobody would even be having if Detroit were not perpetually in crisis.  (I’m pretty sure there is not a similar feud between, say, New York City and Westchester County.)  And it’s not an argument Detroit proper can ever win.

Toby Barlow’s heart was in the right place with this essay, and 90% of it is right on target.  He would have done well to have left the 10% that everybody is all riled up about on the cutting room floor.

Like me, SupergayDetroit fundamentally agreed with Barlow.  And I nodded in agreement with some of what he had to say, too:

(T)he fact is, if you don’t live in the city, if you don’t put up with the bullshit along with the glory, then you ARE a suburbanite.  The biggest lesson I learned when I moved to Detroit was that living in Detroit was a completely different experience than just hanging out in Detroit.  And you can’t fake it and you can’t learn it from the outside and it is almost impossible to create authentic, meaningful, non-douchebaggy change unless you live here.

Supergay starts to lose me, though, with a personal anecdote:

I was having a drink with an old acquaintance a while back. someone who knew me from my store back in the Ann Arbor days and who now lives in Royal Oak.  He was doing what I call the Suburban Shuffle … getting in on the street cred of Detroit while trying to rationalize staying in the ‘burbs.  The old, “I’d move to Detroit except …” And I said listen, nobody who lives in Detroit has any superpowers.  But they did make that leap, and they take the bad with the good.  So don’t expect a pat on the back because you tool down I-75 for the fun stuff and then tsk-tsk from the comfort of your fake loft when the latest calamity strikes.

I can’t recall the last time I had a conversation like this.  The closest I’ve come is discussions with parents with young kids, or expectant parents.  I’m thinking specifically of my cousin Kate, who was raising 3 kids in Farmington Hills, and of a former colleague who had moved from Southwest Detroit to Plymouth after her marriage and was planning to have children.  Both of them were perfectly upfront about the fact that they would not consider parenting in the city with young kids, which I feel is a pretty solid excuse:  living in Detroit is not always a cakewalk even without the demands of parenting.

Where I HAVE witnessed it, it is companies using the Detroit ‘brand’ as a marketing device, the prime example being Chrysler’s marketing campaign.  THAT is the douchebaggery Supergay is talking about:
There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in Detroit right now, and it hasn’t always been this way.  And suddenly it’s cool to say you’re a Detroiter.  I do believe there are Detroiters “in spirit,” but at the end of the day you don’t get to use Detroit to validate yourself without fully committing.

So what IS the status of the suburbanite who loves Detroit but won’t or can’t move to the city?  Or who just loves where they live (because frankly our suburbs are pretty great if you’re into that kind of thing)? Well, I think you are “A Suburbanite Who Loves Detroit.”  Or a “Detroiter in Spirit.” It’s not an aspersion, it’s just a fact. I know a TON of people who fit that description. Please, do stuff in the city, work to make it better if that’s what you believe in, say good things about it.  And be honest and unapologetic about your level of involvement.  I think you’ll find everyone appreciates that.

At first I wondered if Supergay is maybe building a wee bit of an imaginary problem with this argument, because again, I do not personally know a lot of suburban residents running around claiming to be hard-core Detroiters.   He is much more active in city boosterism than am I, so again, he may meet lots of these kinds of people.  For everybody else, it seems like hair-splitting.

But then it occurred to me:  Maybe I was one of those people SGD was talking about, racking up visitor hits to this blog in part due to the way I throw around my Detroit references.  Am I a douchebag because I no longer work, live or pay taxes in Detroit — only did it for a year or so, in fact — but still blog about it?


And I thought:  You know what?  I don’t give a shit.

Let me explain why:  I moved to Ann Arbor for school, because it made no sense to me to commute forty miles each way every weekday.  I stayed in Ann Arbor after I finished school because it was University of Michigan, not University of Detroit Mercy, where I was offered a job, and once again, a daily commute from and back to Detroit made no sense.  In theory, I could eventually take a similar job in my field at, say, Henry Ford Hospital or Wayne State, but I’d do it because it made sense to me professionally, not because of a deep and abiding desire to “save Detroit.”

Ann Arbor residents like myself have been studiously ignoring the rest of the state, including the city of Detroit, for most of the city’s history.  I don’t see how that has served Detroit very well.  I’m paying attention and blogging about it because my partner lives there, I still spend a lot of time there each week (not to mention a small fortune on gym fees, parking, gas, food, drink & recreation), & I enjoy it.  My partner & I relish the increasingly frequent occasions when, while we’re walking someplace in the city, motorists from the suburbs (often black) pull over to ask us for directions.  But when people ask me where I live, I tell them Ann Arbor because, well, that’s the truth.  (I am still, arguably, a douchebag, but there are lots of other reasons that might be the case.)

The idea that suburbanites might somehow be benefiting from unearned street cred, associated with Detroit, may irk Detroit residents.  Supergay may have a point when it comes to rich celebrities (Kid Rock, Eminem) and companies (Chrysler) where image and branding is everything.  But I think Detroiters have enough problems already without getting all territorial and (as Rabbi Miller would put it) “Coleman Young” about what’s Detroit & what isn’t & is somebody pretending-to-be-cool-when-they’re-really-just-a-poseur.

Next post, I’ll jump back to Supergay’s & Toby Barlow’s side, and take a crack at Rabbi Jason Miller’s equally problematic response.

Detroit’s pockets of promise: news from Corktown & Downtown

Having spent the past couple of weeks wallowing in cynicism and negativity on this blog, I thought it was long overdue to highlight the many recent developments worthy of celebration in the city of Detroit.

Here are just a few:

Those Corktowners are persistent.  Mercury Coffee Bar didn’t make it, but a couple of their former employees are trying again.  What’s impressive is how much mutual support seems to exist among businesses on this stretch of Michigan Avenue:

If all goes well, the coffee shop, just a few doors from the popular Slows Bar B Q, will be followed by seven other bars and restaurants slated to open between Sixth and 14th streets. They include a cocktail bar, burger joint and a coney island, and they’re all receiving support from the neighborhood and nearby businesses…

Astro, for example, salvaged wood for its interior from the corner pawn shop, and Phil Cooley, a Slows owner, helped with interior construction.

Landlord O’Connor Real Estate contributed by bringing the building up to standard codes, an often expensive proposition for new businesses.

Meanwhile, downtown seems to have become Dan Gilbert’s pet project.  Like the Ilitch family, he’s gone on a buying spree, but unlike the Ilitches he actually seems to be using most of his real estate acquisitions downtown for something besides parking.  A relocation incentive for Gilbert’s Quicken employees to move downtown, similar to the Live Midtown program, is in the works.

Downtown is also benefiting from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s decision to move its Southfield workforce there:

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has reached the halfway point of transferring 3,000 workers to downtown Detroit…(putting) the company on track to complete its goal of having 6,000 employees on its new downtown campus.

Since announcing the move nearly a year ago, BCBSM’s Detroit workforce has grown to more than 5,000.

Occupancy at the RenCen’s Tower 500 has gone from completely vacant to completely full.

And apparently the hotel market has recovered enough that investors are working to rehab the empty Whitney Building and convert it into a boutique hotel:

Metro Detroit’s hotels had their busiest May in more than a decade with an occupancy rate of 61.4 percent, according to STR. The last time May’s occupancy rate was higher was in the dot.com boom days of 2000, when it hit 68 percent, according to STR.

The region’s occupancy rate averaged 55.8 percent through the first five months of the year, the best showing in four years.

Lastly, I recently discovered Detroit LISC’s blog.  I was impressed with their post about “The importance of neighborhood marketing,” so much so that I thought it worthwhile to share the following lengthy excerpt.  LISC Communications Program Officer Ulises Silva describes a panel discussion he attended in May, and some strategies for successfully showcasing what’s best about your neighborhood :

The panelists at the symposium discussed the importance of building “neighborhood confidence,” and of the things neighborhoods and supporting CDCs can start doing in order to generate some positive buzz about Detroit neighborhoods. This can be through social media, traditional print publications, or any other grassroots marketing campaign that aims to attract residents.

Here are some of their suggestions.

“Maximize what’s hot.” Even if a neighborhood is in transition, emphasize the things that arehappening. Whether it’s a new storefront, community art, or a rehabbed home, emphasize the positive elements.
Emphasize the “lifestyle opportunities.” Is there something about your neighborhood that might appeal to different segments of the population? Are your streets bike-friendly? Are there eclectic hangout spots that artists might dig? Are there parks nearby that families might enjoy? Then mention those.
Testimonials matter! One panelist gave this great example: if we see a dingy, scary-looking restaurant, we probably wouldn’t want to go in. But if we read stirring testimonials about its great food, then we would probably give it a try. It’s the same with neighborhood marketing. Make sure to get the positive stories out so that prospective residents knows there’s more to your neighborhood than the occasional foreclosed home. Think of it as Yelping for your community!
Ask prospective residents about what they like and don’t like about your neighborhood…Take the time to talk to people. Their insights might prove more helpful than any faceless market research study in attracting new residents.
…BUT make sure you understand what they mean! One panelist offered another great example: when prospective residents were asked why they wouldn’t move into a neighborhood, “safety” was a common response. Everyone assumed they meant crime; in fact, they were referring to the area’s speed limits, and how unsafe they would be for children playing in the streets…  Don’t make assumptions about why people won’t move into your neighborhoods.
…(W)hile each city and each neighborhood will require different approaches to the same problem, one thing we all need is some creativity. Because it’ll take some creative thought to not only create grassroots marketing campaigns, but to fund them—or make them happen with little or no money. Thankfully, social media is the great equalizer in modern-day marketing: it’s vital, expansive, and free! If you’re a CDC or a neighborhood organization, make sure you’re on Facebook…

One panelist said it best: “The only thing that won’t work is doing nothing.”

You can like Detroit LISC on Facebook.

In other news:  We had a nice turnout of about seven people at our first ever Ann Arbor Blogger Meet-Up last Friday at the Heidelberg.  Bloggers from Damn Arbor, Michigan Exposures, and Great Lakes Guru joined us for lots of tasty and affordable German beer, and equally scintillating conversation.  Those who missed it, take heart:  we hope to repeat the experience this fall.

I’ve been very remiss in blogging recently, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.  Expect very light posting next week, when I’m on vacation, and the week after, when I’ll be playing catch-up at work.

“Great Lakes Bay” and silly re-branding

This blog is ostensibly focused on Metro Detroit (broadly interpreted to include the Ann Arbor area).  But for the purposes of this post, I am diverting my attention to the area of Michigan I grew up in, the Saginaw Bay area, or as we used to call it, the “Tri-Cities” of Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland.

Over the past few years, some well-intentioned booster (possibly the “Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance,” an amalgamation of the local Chambers of Commerce) somehow got the local elites to re-brand this area as the “Great Lakes Bay” region.  Why did they do this?  Is there such a thing as the “Great Lakes Bay”?  Last I checked, the inlet of Lake Huron into which the Saginaw River flows was still the Saginaw Bay.

But, you see, Saginaw has a bit of an image problem;  in fact, the name “Saginaw” seems to be the PR equivalent of toxic waste.  At some point, this appears to have been brought to the attention of the folks in charge of marketing the region.

While the concept of the “Great Lakes” may have a more warm and fuzzy feel to it, evoking as it does all those Tim Allen-narrated “Pure Michigan” ads, the new term “Great Lakes Bay” possesses, in my view, a number of less attractive qualities:

  • Generic: If you wanted to go with something generic, why not stick with “the Tri-Cities”?
  • Presumptuous: The Great Lakes region boasts a vast array of inlets that can be classified as bays;  consequently, I find it presumptuous for the Saginaw Bay to appropriate for itself the status of THE bay.
  • Pretentious and/or slightly racist:  Yes, Saginaw has a pretty lousy reputation, for a number of reasons.  White-washing the name of an entire region is not going to move Midland or Bay City or Frankenmuth to a different spot on the map.
  • Condescending:  Who does the GLBRA think they are fooling? How dumb do they think we are?

Let’s just call a spade a spade.  I, for one, am not going to indulge the GLBRA in this nonsense.

Motown v. TreeTown: connecting the dots

For every post I write about Ann Arbor, Detroit gets two.  The reason is simple:  Detroit is inherently a more interesting and fertile topic to write about than is Ann Arbor.  It has a higher profile in the national media.  It’s more controversial.  It is, needless to say, more troubled.  And while I think Ann Arbor unquestionably holds far more promise over the course of my lifetime, Detroit will remain the most important, because it anchors a region of over five million people.

Detroit has, for me and I suspect countless others, been the troubled, vulnerable guy who you fantasize about rescuing, but who you’re just not ready to commit to, whose credit is still just too lousy, who you’re not totally comfortable bringing home to meet your mom; the damaged goods.   Ann Arbor has been the slightly boring but talented man you settle down with and marry; over-achieving, dependable to do right by you and your kids.  Detroit is Tom Sizemore, Ann Arbor is the Steve Carell character in Date Night.

Jim Russell at Burgh Diaspora caught my attention last week when he remarked on how in recent years Detroit’s image has handicapped Ann Arbor, especially in the area of talent recruitment.  He compares it to Madison, which has in contrast benefited from its proximity to Chicago (as has Milwaukee).  In his July 2010 post on Ann Arbor, he disputed a claim by Lou Glazer that the way to close the city’s gap with Madison was to emulate Portland’s land use and planning example:

Ann Arbor struggles to get out from under that ominous shadow (of Detroit)… Ann Arbor doesn’t have an urban planning problem. It has major branding issues… Ann Arbor should leverage Detroit’s current 15-minutes of fame. Madison doesn’t have access to that kind of urban laboratory. Take stock of your city’s unique assets and sell that to talent. Don’t try to be the next Portland.

He’s right:  while Ann Arbor’s residents have been in denial of this fact for decades, they are bound at the hip, they live and die together.   Ann Arbor by itself is a backwater, a small and isolated Snowbelt college town;  Detroit by itself is a doomed relic, a dinosaur.  That the Census Bureau technically treats them as two separate metropolitan areas is a mistake which we should disregard.

Even less than Ann Arbor, I have written very little about the Detroit suburbs.  This is in spite of the fact that a handful, as we southeast Michiganders know, are tragically underrated places.  Among them are  Dearborn;  the Woodward corridor in southeast Oakland County from Ferndale through Birmingham; and even Rochester and Plymouth (which lie, however, at such distance from Detroit that I don’t think they could ever be integrated into Detroit’s urban tissue the way the others I listed are.)

And yet despite this plethora of “Creative Class”-friendly hubs, metro Detroit remains much less than the sum of its parts to a greater degree than anywhere in the US I can think of besides greater Los Angeles.  Washington, DC and  Miami/South Florida are also notably fragmented, but neither as much as Detroit and LA are.  And Detroit lacks the (comparatively) coherent face LA is able to put forward to the rest of the country.  Oakland County and Ann Arbor try to advertise their highly educated workforce and their quality of place and of life by separating themselves from Detroit; but ultimately, out of staters judge the region by Detroit.

We’re getting better at connecting the dots between Detroit’s Woodward corridor and Oakland County’s Woodward corridor.  The “Night Move” between Royal Oak and downtown Detroit is perhaps the most successful example of this.  But there are still major divides between the two.  One is simple geography: there are several miles of fairly low-density, auto-dependent land between New Center and 9 Mile.  Another is political:  L. Brooks Patterson’s Oakland County is still light years from Dave Bing’s Detroit in terms of its leaders’ attitudes toward public transportation.  And a third is racial:  Birmingham remains rich and white, Detroit remains poor and black, and 9 Mile in Ferndale is the latest border in a racial frontier that continues to creep northward.

To a certain extent, the way we draw out-of-state visitors in, and where we put them, is part of the problem.  Two classic examples spring to mind.  One is the annual auto show at Cobo.  Thanks to the imbecility of its organizers, Detroit’s highest profile event manages to showcase the city at its most bleak, frigid and hostile time of year.  If my only experiences of Detroit were in the month of January, I too would write it off as a wasteland.  But for the purposes of this post I also want to emphasize how unfortunate it is that most out-of-state attendees go straight from the airport in Romulus to downtown Detroit, and back.  This route bypasses every single one of the region’s most vital and welcoming neighborhoods.

I observed the second example when the Creating Change conference came to Detroit in 2008, again in the dead of winter.   Did they hold it in Ferndale, where the region’s gay bars and gay-owned businesses, not to mention Affirmations, are most heavily clustered? No, they held it at the Renaissance Center, which might as well be Mars in terms of its proximity to gay nightlife.  (Not to mention it takes ten minutes just to find your way out of the building and another ten to cross Jefferson.)  The out-of-state attendees seemed rather bemused by this fact, and I can’t imagine most of them returned home with any sense of what the gay scene in metro Detroit is actually like (not that there’s that much of one to begin with).  It was a wasted opportunity.

These examples both illustrate a problem I think the Convention & Visitors’ Bureau, local officials, the Regional Chamber and others need to recognize and address, which is that the big convention facilities are isolated from the areas the region really needs to showcase.  From what I can tell there are no such facilities anywhere near the Woodward strip in southeast Oakland County; none in Midtown; and there is no transit infrastructure to facilitate casual exploration of these areas by visitors.  Outside of summer months, when the stunning riverfront is at its brief, bustling apogee, downtown behemoths like the RenCen and Cobo are more or less tombs.  Steering visitors to these facilities results in a lost opportunity, and helps perpetuate the monolithic image of Detroit as post-apocalyptic ruin.

Our assets are too dispersed.   The degree to which we’re able to connect the dots between white Ann Arbor, the white Woodward corridor of Oakland County, and the black Woodward corridor of Detroit over the next decade will largely determine how much progress the region makes during that time.