Thoughts on Civic Pride, German Journalists, and Serendipity in Detroit

6/7/12Follow @XconomyDET

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percent were African American, and 23 percent were Latino—a nice balance that Gordon wasn’t necessarily expecting to see.

Gordon said he was particularly impressed by how innovatively the younger players were thinking about Detroit’s future. The enthusiasm of the participants also revealed something Gordon hadn’t expected: That when we discuss the digital divide in Detroit, we might want to include some basic Internet etiquette tips, such as don’t type things in all caps or you’ll sound like you’re shouting, and don’t leave the same comment on every message board or you’ll appear to be spamming the system.

Detroit 24/7 Game Finale Video from Community PlanIt on Vimeo.

Part of last night’s event involved splitting into small groups to further map the city’s future. In looking around the table at my group, I couldn’t have scripted a better cross-section of the city: an older African-American gentleman from the west side, two Latino activists from Southwest Detroit, a young white woman from Ferndale who works in downtown Detroit, a visiting architecture student from Germany (Detroit must be big in Germany right now), a young white man from Northwest Detroit, and a facilitator from Detroit Works.

There were a few ideas that came up repeatedly: That neighborhoods need better access to the planning process, because they do care deeply about how the city looks in the future; that city government needs to make an effort to recruit the young entrepreneurs flocking to Detroit so they participate in the planning process, and the mayor needs to pick their brains for innovative solutions to problems like public safety, infrastructure improvement, and job creation. Above all, the people in my group seemed to be saying stop talking and start doing something.

Priya Iyer, the director of digital engagement for Detroit Works’ office of long-term planning, says that city officials will incorporate the data and ideas generated by Detroit 24-7 into the “roadmap” currently under development. She points out that the meeting was meant to be the beginning of engagement, not a one-off event. (The next event to solicit community feedback will be a telephone town hall on June 19.) Rishi Jaitly, who oversees the Knight Foundation’s efforts in Detroit, says Knight plans to take the platform to other cities so see if the game will spark similar levels of engagement.

“It’s not about creating a new Detroit, because that’s already here,” Dan Pietra, co-leader of civic engagement for Detroit Works’ office of long-term planning, told the crowd at last night’s event. “We just need to blend our expertise with that of community members. Engagement is really all about establishing relationships, whether digitally or physically.”

Lu Yen Roloff swung by last night’s Detroit 24-7 meeting on her way to the airport. Her 11-day trip to Detroit had come to an end. As we hugged goodbye, I asked her to keep in touch, though I suspect—especially with all those offers of free event tickets—that she’ll be back sooner than she thinks.

After all, that’s how it happens. Something about the city’s promise draws those of us who are receptive like moths to a flame.  And then the next thing you know, you’re sitting on the 3rd floor of the Detroit Public Library’s main branch, mapping out the city’s future with a table full of your peers.

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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