Detroit’s Offer to Creatives – Space, Food and Time

The revival of Detroit is happening, slowly but surely.  The best indicator is the pulse of the so-called “creative class” that are typically the first to re-enter and re-catalyze an urban area.

This weekend, I met up with a friend who is a prototype of the creative class – an artist and musician who organizes underground music events, plays shows on tours around the country , and works freelance as a computer programmer.  And, he has been living in downtown Detroit for almost ten years.  He is living the pulse.

His response to why Detroit is a great place to be an artist – space, food, and time.

For 1/4 the cost of a renting a single room in Chicago or New York, my friend has a stunning and raw 1000 square loft with 20 foot high ceilings that he shares with one other person.  For a quarter the cost, he gets 10 times the space in Detroit.   He has all the room he needs to live, to create music and art, and to put on events in his space.

Untrue to the common gripe about no grocery stores in Detroit, my friend is within walking distance to fresh, local, inexpensive food 365 days a year at Eastern Market, the largest open air market in the country.  In fact, this weekend, bell peppers were selling 5 for a dollar – can’t beat that.

Unless, of course, you are growing it yourself.   My friend also had a vegetable garden outside his building, one of an increasing number of urban gardens and farms in Detroit.   Detroit can now offer the cultural value of urbanity with the space and sustenance of rural living.

With less cost needed to sustain himself, he has more time for his creative pursuits.   The economics of creative work, for those that want a raw urban experience, make sense right now.

And, more and more people are taking up the offer.   My friend said the pulse is changing – Detroit is much better than it was 5 years ago and significantly better than when he arrived almost 10 years ago.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Hi Matthew,
    Are there examples of other cities finding their revival through the “creative class”? Is the idea that this group can provide the foundation of a bigger, future revitalization?

    1. Valid question – what role can the creative class play in Detroit. I can share two additional points about why I think my experience with my friend this weekend is important.

      The first is the body of work by Richard Florida, the author who termed the phrase “creative class”, and showed how this segment of the labor force is critical to a thriving economy. The following article in the Washington Monthly gives a good overview, including a “Creativity Index” by city that he linked with economic success. The key point is that you need creative types – i.e. people who can create music and computer programs – to thrive.

      The second is that downtown Detroit faces real struggles in attracting educated young talent and solving this issue, we think, is the most important thing that could start to return Michigan to prosperity. But, it is a chicken-egg problem – if more young people lived there, the amenities would follow, but without the amenities it is not attractive to most young people. We have to start somewhere in getting critical mass. The experience with my friend this weekend showed that it several attributes of Detroit that make it very attractive for people who want to pursue creative activity. In my mind, that is a place to start in getting more young people in Detroit. And, as a bonus, they are the type of people who do help in economic prosperity.

    2. Case, There are three ways that where the creative class concentrates are thought to drive economic growth. (1) by creating their own businesses. As a group they are very entrepreneurial. A good proportion of them will create their own jobs/businesses wherever they choose to live and work. (2) by attracting businesses that are looking for creative talent. This is the notion that – because talent is the most important asset and the one in the shortest supply – businesses needing talent increasingly go to where the talent is, rather than the other way around. (3) by creating amenities/neighborhoods that college educated adults – particularly young – value they impact the location decisions of knowledge workers. Sure seems to be enough evidence that it matters to economic growth that it should be part of every state’s/region’s arsenal of economic development priorities.

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