I’ve been traveling a lot lately. Toronto, Chicago, New York, Fort Lauderdale, all in the last couple of months. Inevitably the people I met – whether it was an Uber driver or a fellow conference- or concert-goer – would ask me where I’m from. What do you say when you’re asked this question?
I say “Detroit.” I say it plain and proud. I know some locals who think you aren’t entitled to say that unless you live in the city proper. To that, I say B.S. No other major city has that rule. People who live in Schaumburg, Illinois will tell you they’re from Chicago. Period. End of story.
And I know others who try to distance themselves from our major city and cite the suburb they call home. I also think that’s a load of crap. Why? Because no one outside of this area knows where Shelby Township or Birmingham is, so you’re not helping them understand where you’re from. And to both of these parties (the Detroit defensive and detractors), I have news for you: We’re in this together. The fortunes and failures of Detroit affect us all, though that’s true to a lesser or greater degree depending on your ZIP code.
During my travels, I was pleasantly surprised by how many young people lit up when I told them where I was from. “I LOVE Detroit! What a cool town with so much happening and so much space. I wish I could live there.” That was the response of a tatted Torontonian artist in his early 30s who sold me a wedge of Canadian cheddar I’m still dreaming about. I admit, his gushing praise about my hometown made me speechless for a second. It’s not what we’re used to, right? But after my momentary pause, I just shot right back, “Yeah, it IS a great town, and it’s an exciting time to live there.”
So it was really fitting that last week, after all my recent travels were behind me, I was sitting in a Leadership Detroit meeting downtown (Class 38 – best class ever!) when a speaker mentioned that one of the things that holds the Detroit region back is how shabbily we, native Detroiters, talk about our town. This man, who isn’t from Michigan, said that before he accepted his job he talked to locals and got almost entirely negative assessments of the Motor City.
This doesn’t surprise me at all. We Detroiters can be very down on ourselves. Instead of focusing on all the great assets we have in this region, we are almost apologetic that we’re not Chicago or Portland or even Cleveland. Enough! I’d love to tell you that the focus of our Holiday “It” List – a Merry Motown Christmas – was inspired by this experience, but it wasn’t. It was the brainchild of our managing editor, Kim Kovelle. But I think it was kismet. We city and suburban dwellers alike have to start celebrating what’s great about our region (our parks, our museums, our lakes, our ability to drive at 2 p.m. and not encounter traffic unless there is a really, really good reason) and pass on that pride to our children. After all, if we bash our town, why would our kids want to stay when they grow up? So let’s give our dear ol’ hometown a special holiday gift and start singing its praises instead of picking it apart. That’s good advice for our loved ones too this time of year.