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  • Giles Sibbald

we almost lost Detroit

how experimenting helps our own lives and those of others

Detroit. Now there's a city with a music history, right? Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, John Lee Hooker, Madonna, Stooges, Alice Cooper, Stevie Wonder….that's some heritage on its own and it doesn't end there.

The full history of this captivating city doesn't get much better than Mark Binelli's "The Last Days of Detroit". The industrial giant. Motor City. The American Dream. It's a great read, going into depth about the grandstanding growth, the racial segregation, entrepreneurialism, creativity and resilience but delivered with humility and offering Detroit and its citizens the dignity they deserve.

Detroit is also THE example of how a city was blindsided by technology transforming an industry to which it had sold its soul.

It's population declined by almost two-thirds in just 60 years. Buildings were left abandoned. Homes left to decay. Livelihoods decimated. Violence spiralled.

But an experiment emerged that changed things.

In 2007, Mark Covington was unemployed and living with his mum. He started the Georgia Street Community Collective after getting pissed off with trash getting repeatedly dumped near where they lived. The collective was originally meant to be a community garden to stop people tipping, but Mark began to think bigger and moulded it into an enterprise that has regenerated the neighbourhood by providing kids and long term unemployed in the area with mentoring and employment opportunities, by re-purposing an abandoned building into a community centre, buying land parcels and converting them into a farm, fruit orchards etc.

The human impact is immense, growing the human connection between residents and neighbours and providing self-belief and confidence to those who have had little opportunity to flourish.

Such stories of re-invention in Detroit are now more common. People are experimenting with, for example, adaptive re-use of infrastructure. People are driving this experimentation.

Covid-19 has hit Detroit particularly hard. The strong shoots of recovery from the Motor City experiment and legacy decimated in 3 months. Its citizens and businesses - particularly black communities and black-owned businesses - face an unimaginably difficult recovery.

But the stories from Detroit show that it has developed the desire to experiment, the ability to be resilience and creative, grow new skills and re-ignite human connections. These desires and abilities may have been born out of necessity but they are there. It will recover again.

We can learn from Detroit: to follow our instincts, try things out, make changes, try again.

Help our own lives and those of others.


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