Thursday, April 24, 2014


Lobbying is a cynical business. Working in politics every day has made this former idealistic thinker a bit of a Debbie Downer. There are lots of great policy ideas that get nixed every day because of politics. It's the nature of the game, but in my job it's the communities themselves that keep me focused on how I'm doing the right thing. Everyone wants to love where they live, but communities matter for many more reasons than that. They are the center for economic growth and job creation. They are attracting talented workers and entrepreneurial ideas. Working for cities matters because cities matter. It's enough to help me put my cynicism aside even if only temporarily.

Yesterday some of my colleagues and I had a joint retreat in Detroit. When you talk about the value of placemaking in communities, Detroit is ground zero for that conversation not just here in Michigan but across the country. I've blogged about Detroit on a number of occasions (even just a few weeks ago after I ran the inaugural Cocoa Class Half Marathon there), and everybody knows how much I love it. Sure, the City is embroiled in the nation's largest ever municipal bankruptcy. Sure, there are miles and miles of infrastructure that are seemingly impossible to manage. Yet those challenges create possibility - possibility that Detroit will rise from the ashes to be the City those of us who know it and love it believe it will be. 

We took a two-hour bike tour of the city with Wheelhouse, a company located right on the Detroit river. We hit many of the hot spots - the beautifully renovated river walk (where I ran during my work convention last fall). We saw an urban farm, toured the Heidelberg Project, and rode through beautiful and historic Elmwood Cemetery and Eastern Market. It was a fabulous sunny day in downtown Detroit, and my heart was happy.

With my colleagues in Downtown Detroit before our bike tour
After our tour we headed to 14 East Cafe to spend several hours talking about ways to make communities in Michigan better. I had this moment during our retreat where I was struck with the realization that I am so lucky to not only do something I believe in but to be surrounded by brilliant people who are passionate about the same goals. I left the meeting stimulated by the brainstorming and zeal of my colleagues. 

I stood on Woodward Avenue chatting afterward and was again struck by the sheer magnitude of what we're working to accomplish. Communities all across Michigan are doing some pretty amazing things despite state disinvestment and hard economic times. The City of Detroit is filled with so much possibility that my heart sometimes feels like it may burst because I want so badly to be part of the City's comeback. It's going to happen, and I refuse to give up on Detroit or any of our communities. Passion and possibility together defeat negativity. Even this cynic knows that.

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