A pair of respected urban affairs writers -- scholar-author Thomas Sugrue and journalist-author John Gallagher -- talk about grassroots energy, reviving neighborhoods and sipping lattes in a timely Free Press Q&A.
Sugrue, a University of Pennsylvania historian and sociologist, made a splash in 1996 with his first book, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis” -- a look at postwar Detroit, where he was born in 1962. Gallagher calls it "one of the most important books on urban America ever published."
The 51-year-old professor revisits his hometown Thursday for a Detroit Policy Conference, where he, Gallagher and others will specualte about "Detroit's Next Chapter."
From his perspective in Philadelphia, Sugrue says the new "coffee shops, trendy bars, restaurants, art galleries" in Midtown, Corktown and downtown "aren’t places that are bringing back the jobs that are essential to the city’s future stability and possible growth."
"The future of Detroit is going to be improving the everyday quality of life for residents who are living a long way from downtown and a long way from Midtown, who probably aren’t ever going to spend much time listening to techno or sipping lattes."
Here's some of what else Sugrue tells the columnist in their setup conversation:
- "A real optimism:" There’s more grassroots energy . . . in Detroit than in many other cities that I’ve visited. And that gets to what I see as one of the fundamental characteristics of Detroit: There’s a real optimism among Detroiters about the possibility of changing the city for the better.
- Off-target efforts: A lot of the plans to transform and revitalize Detroit are targeting a relatively small subset of the metropolitan population . . . people with means, hipsters, creative types, professionals. . . . The thrust of the most energetic policy right now isn’t targeting that population whose fate is critical to the city’s future.
- Few trickle-down jobs: Jobs that are being created by a lot of the downtown redevelopment are jobs for folks who have significant education, skills and means already. They’re not, by and large, creating stable secure jobs for folks down the ladder.
- "Big obstacle:" No city in the United States faces such a big obstacle to that kind of [large-scale investment and population growth] than Detroit, even for all of its appeal to artists, musicians and other folks involved in creative pursuits.