Thursday, May 22, 2014

What I Learned From Detroit

As I settle back into my regular routine in my hometown, Downtown Rochester, I can't help but think about the last week spent in Downtown Detroit with 1400 of my closest friends at the National Main Streets Conference.  It was an event a year in the making, with over 225 volunteers working diligently to make it happen.  I had the pleasure of serving as co-chair for the Opening & Closing Committee, so I had a front row seat for the creative show.  

Choosing my favorite part of the event is like choosing my favorite pair of shoes - an impossible decision because they are all so fabulous.  From the Opening Plenary kicking off with the incomparable Selected of God Choir that totally blew the roof off Cobo Center to the Big Bash at historic Eastern Market featuring everything from a marching band to a graffiti artist and so much more.  So I stepped back and tried to take a wider view.  And it came to me, the best part really came down to the people.  I wrote a blog for the conference a few months ago, and I told everyone that the best part of their visit would be meeting the people of Detroit, and understanding their passion and energy for their city.  And I was absolutely right.  All I heard from anyone attending the conference was how amazed they were by everyone and everything they encountered in Detroit.  They didn't expect Detroit to be, well, cool.  They expected ruin and despair, but instead they found beauty and promise.

This is the first conference that I feel that I learned more from the host city than I did from the educational sessions (which were awesome).  Detroit is, in my opinion, the ultimate example of what Main Street is all about.  While they do not have a formal Main Street program in place, they are doing everything the Main Street way.  Specifically, Detroit, purely through its existence is inspiring individuals, businesses and organizations to invest time, dollars and talents in the City with one singular goal - to revitalize Detroit.  As attendees explored the streets of downtown this week, they marveled at the grand architecture, the vibrant public spaces and the people making it happen every day.

But most importantly, it was the energy in Detroit that caused all the buzz.  People found that Detroit is indeed a city on the brink, but on the brink of great things.  I made a lot of new friends this week, including a gentleman from Arkansas who told me that what we did through our conference efforts was create ambassadors for Detroit and those ambassadors would be going back to their communities to sing the praises of everything they discovered in Detroit.  And what a perfect way to dispel the negative national publicity that Detroit always seems to attract.

I'll take it one step further.  When I attend the National Main Streets Conference, I always look for at least one great idea to take home. And I believe that every attendee is taking home the same thing from Detroit - Hope.  It's a simple, yet powerful word.  If you look around Detroit, or any city, it's easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged by everything that needs to happen.  But if you hold the hope in your heart, if you keep Detroit in your rear view mirror as you look forward to the new challenges in your own community, you will be successful.  Downtown is never done.  It is a journey filled with challenges and opportunities.  And just like Detroit, there is nothing so insurmountable that you can't go on.  You find your hope, find your hustle and make it happen.

See you downtown!

The Downtown Geek