Monday, April 14, 2008

Be Thankful For What Detroit Is And Is Not

My wife and I returned last night from New York City and the weekend's 37th annual American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) conference. I moderated a panel on successful blogging Saturday at the Grand Hyatt, connected to historic Grand Central Station. I take great pride that a healthy number of professional writers represented our metro in New York so admirably. New York City is an unbelievable town, it's my favorite U.S. city to visit and I'm happy to say we added a little something to the journalism world from Detroit.

But I'm thankful to be home, too. It was nice to be on Orchard Lake Road at midnight last night with no honking horns, cabbies with guard rails on all four sides and streets clogged with pedestrians and trash in equal numbers. I'm thankful for green grass. There's hardly any grass in New York City, save for small patches in front of three-story brownstones that could be trimmed with scissors from the junk drawer in your kitchen. It's one of the reasons Central Park stands out in NYC. I'm thankful that our schools have lawns, shrubs, stadiums and fields. Our schools don't have to rent auditoriums and parking isn't confined to a seat on a subway car.

We have a special, unique aspect of our metro we all call Detroit. We're one of the smallest big cities you'll ever see. We're about coney islands and chili fries. We're suburbs and street signs. We're not landlocked. We're not congested and co-mingled beyond recognition. Our schools have names, faces and traditions. New York City has schools called Public School 180, and that gets shortened to PS, who on any given day PS 180 might play PS 148 or PS 127. We have Eisenhower and Chippewa Valley, Pershing and Denby, Troy Athens and Lake Orion. New York City schools rise among concrete jungles, decorated in colorful murals tagged on five-story buildings. Our schools have manicured greens, atriums with doors matching the school's colors and bands that march downtown before football games.

We're not at all like New York City, and in some ways that's sad. Our big city is corrupted and confused, sorely lacking leadership and professional direction. We have no mass transit of any kind, and no, the People Mover doesn't count -- we all know this. The building clocks and neon signs that mark other big cities are missing here. Remember the Goodyear auto production counters perched above our freeways? Gone. The neon letters of General Motors? No more. The Yellow Pages ad seen from the Lodge? It no longer works. We've allowed those aspects of our city to die. We allowed our city, county, regional and state leaders to take us to nowhere. It's truth.

But we also have some things to point to that make us special. We still love high school football, and why shouldn't we love high school football game? We have an excellent high school baseball tradition in this area, with numerous major leaguers coming from metro Detroit. We have beautiful gyms and a basketball heritage most major cities would love to claim. Our schools are clean. They offer gleaming facilities and opportunities that big city institutions can't come close to offering. In our schools, 10 dollars buys you a ticket, a program, a hot dog, popcorn, something to drink and a great game to watch with your neighbors and friends. In New York City, it might get you a trip uptown and back, and a cup of coffee from a cafe you've never seen but passed a million times before.

A fun place to visit, that New York City, but not somewhere I'd want my kids to be kids. New York City takes your childhood and makes you grow up too fast. Metro Detroit isn't New York City. That isn't going to change, and I hope it doesn't any time soon.

I love New York City right where it is. Detroit? We call that home.

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