(Native Detroiter Francis Grunow returned to Motown in 2001 after a ten-year stint in New York City where he studied at Columbia, worked as a city planner, and fell in love with all things urban … the buildings, the people, the stories, the possibilities … and also the challenges.)

One million souls inhabit the city of Detroit, but on most days, you can hardly tell. Empty streets and sidewalks are spared the punishment of normal use. Empty storefronts never have to worry about changes in fashion. Empty skyscrapers stand abandoned and obsolete for lack of parking and their distance from the suburban sprawl.

Nevertheless, there are people who still choose to call Detroit their home. I am one of those people. Those Detroiters.

Nobody told me I was crazy when I announced I was leaving New York. I had only been talking about it for much of the last decade. The thing is, no matter how great a place like New York City is - no matter how glorious the compression of artists and dreamers, doctors and housecleaners, hustlers and street sweepers - Detroit can hook its claws in and pull you back. If you’re a die-hard Detroiter, you know it.

It was no surprise then that in the fall of 2001 I left the bustling city I had grown to love, and returned to the city of my birth, to the foundation and inspiration for what I had become. But that didn’t make doing it any easier.

Growing up in Detroit, you get used to the incredible: the appalling disparity between the city and its suburbs, the rift that so conveniently breaks along racial and socioeconomic lines; the thousands upon thousands of abandoned buildings and vacant lots (the absurdity of a single homeless person!); and, of course, our gift to the world, the car culture, with its freeways slicing and dicing said barren land, conveying automobile and tractor trailer cargo through Detroit on sunken scars of asphalt and concrete.

Each day I look out my window and think how reasonable it would be to walk across the street and buy a carton of milk. Every night I think how much sense it would make to take a train downtown to go out to dinner or to a movie. Every time I'm reminded of New York, I am leveled by how many people inhabit its spaces, its streets… And every day I think about how much Detroit could learn from places like New York City.

“Some day…” I think, every day.

Those who would rather not be associated with Detroit often evoke the phantom pronoun “they”: “They need to clean the city up…”, “They needs to fix the schools…”, “They need to make it safe….”

One step in making Detroit a better place would be to stop saying “they” and start saying “we” every time we talk about Detroit’s problems.

Some people point to how much has already happened, about how much new investment has been pumped into downtown, as if the end is in sight.

Yes, life here is better than it was when I left in ’92 - the city’s trajectory has changed, no doubt. Under the present course, making Detroit a reasonable place to live may be a safe and attainable goal. But can we rise to a bigger challenge? Can we to aspire to make Detroit an exciting, vibrant and meaningful place to live, a city that is truly “world class”?

We can if we learn to cultivate other ways of life and look to other places for inspiration and guidance. It would be the ultimate victory for southeastern Michigan if it would stop running from its long forgotten center and embrace it, instead. Could it happen?

Growing up in Detroit, you get used to the incredible. Maybe that’s the problem, but it’s also the promise. And maybe that’s why I came home.

- Francis G is a Detroit filmmaker and active member of Detroit Synergy [www.detroitsynergy.org], a civic coalition he co-founded with a group of tenacious Detroiters. He also plays tennis, goes to transit rallies and spends quality time with the object of his affection, his new niece.
He’s currently finishing the documentary, DETOUR:DETROIT, an exploration of contemporary American life in and around the city of Detroit. “What if Trains Came Back to Motown?", a five-minute short that challenges metropolitan Detroit to envision a vibrant public transportation system, is the first episode of Detour:Detroit. Look for www.detourdetroit.com in mid February.//
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