As I mentioned in my short piece ‘Ouroboros’, I am in the midst of transforming my Resurgent Cineribus series into a 20 minute-long keynote speech. Part of this is relatively easy – moving over the images I had collected into a PowerPoint slideshow. There were a few choices to make – for instance, choosing a PowerPoint theme for the presentation (I went with one in shades of black, orange, and red, to echo the flames of the phoenix). I also wanted to start and end the presentation with quotations, and I ran across this gorgeous one by urban artist FEL3000ft, which will be on the final page: “A star is born through immense pressure and we have had our fair share. That beacon of light you see in the dark is our fair city rising from the night sky.”
Part of the technique I’ve learned of putting together an effective presentation is to create one that is as free of text as possible. You want the audience listening to you and looking at images, not reading text on a screen. I’ve chosen to include no text whatsoever, except for the quotations that open and close the presentation. I am going to put together a few bulleted notes for myself, but really, this content has been my passion for so long that I anticipate that the stories should, for the most part, just flow as prompted from the photos.
I’ve also read a handful of articles (particularly this long one from the New York Times, from November, 2017) to confirm the gut feel I had while visiting the city two weeks ago. After all, I was only really there for about seven hours (two of which were dedicated to attending a concert) and I was curious about what others had observed. My gut, as it turns out, was bang on. The downtown core is absolutely on fire (to continue the metaphor), with a building boom, new restaurants and hotels, renovated abandoned buildings, and even a streetcar line opening within the past five years. Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, but according to Forbes, ” Within just thirteen months (they) emerged from the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy. A partnership between city and state government, business leaders and the city’s philanthropic community led an innovative effort to restructure the city’s debt, estimated at $19 billion.”
That being said, this is still a city that has lost 60% of its population since the 50s, a city that still has a school system that is barely functional (not helped by the state’s aggressive patronage of charter schools, at the expense of public schools –this is Betsy DeVos’ home state, after all.) City services are still underfunded. There are still neighbourhoods full of deteriorating homes, particularly in the inner suburbs; while the downtown may be trendy, it is yet to be seen how the revival will help these areas. Detroit still struggles with crime, as well as with its Rust Belt legacy of deteriorating industrial infrastructure.
But as I’ve noted in previous visits, Detroit has long been full of industrious, hardworking people who have a deep love for their city. These are the people who kept the place running during the dark days, who built community. These people who hung on are now the pioneers in what the city might decide to become in the future. I’m rooting for them.