Review: Assignment Detroit

Time, Inc.

Review by: Midge McCauley

assignment detroitTime Inc.'s prolific "Assignment Detroit" project resulted in a series of 55 stories published in TIME, Fortune, People, Money and several of its other periodicals; produced nearly 200 on-line articles; presented 46 video stories on CNN; and yielded more than 750 posts to TIME's Detroit Blog.

Perhaps many of you caught a great deal of these articles, videos and posts, so I may be preaching to the choir here, but I encourage those of you who've neither read nor watched the full complement of stories to do so. I'd read a number of the articles when they were first published; once I began working on my own assignment in Detroit late last year I went back to read each one. Time flawlessly illustrated, in my opinion, the city's history and issues. Together with background, ideas and views from Detroit's citizens, businesspeople, educators, not-for-profit and private sector leaders, rock stars, and public officials, the opinions of many of our country's leading urban thinkers and pioneers are a part of the discussion. A few of my favorites thoughts and plans:

  • Daniel Libeskind, architect: " I would create a 21st Century Homestead Act.... Years ago I lived near Detroit and was a witness to a seemingly unstoppable urban decline. But I also lived in Berlin and saw an even more devastated city come back to life through creativity and a wish to succeed."
  • 635 Mile Road is a nonprofit organization made up of former Detroit residents who are "dedicated to improving the flow of funds, ideas and energy between native Detroiters now living elsewhere and our hometown.
  • Paul Goldberger, architecture critic, the New Yorker: "Pulling the city back to its center will allow Detroit to make use of its extraordinary inventory of 20th Century architecture."

At the start of Assignment Detroit, Time Inc. purchased a five-bedroom home in the West Village neighborhood of Detroit for $99,000 (about $80,000 above the average price of a house in the city limits!) to house its reporters. It began publishing articles in the fall of 2009 and continued for a full year until November 2010. It then put the refurbished house on the market for, $100,000, a mere $1,000 over its purchase price, and donated the proceeds to "the city's future: its young people".

You will find fellow IDA member, Dan Carmody, in one of the articles. Dan is President of the lively Eastern Marketplace, which is adjacent to the downtown core. On any given Saturday you are likely to find 40,000 metro are residents flocking to the top destination for fresh farm foods. The market, housed in a series of sheds (many of which lack siding), offers much of the best products of the Midwest. Today, there are plans afoot to physically improve and expand the market. Throughout Detroit, vacant lands in once abandoned neighborhoods are being converted to urban gardens-farmers won't have to travel far to sell their goods!

The stories from Time Inc.'s writers tell a tale of a city that deserves to be watched. Detroit is filled with citizens who love it and are stepping up to the plate financially, physically and emotionally in order to save it. Yes, there are many who deplore their living conditions as well as their city, but the articles foster hope that the former are willing to help the latter. Somehow I do not think Detroit is in this alone-Time Inc. has certainly helped to give the city's struggles and successes a national forum. Today, CEO's for Cities is heavily investing time and effort to further advance the revitalization of Detroit, whose shrinking population has left it the U.S.'s 11th largest city (whereas it had been the 4th).

If there are choir members that have not read about Detroit, I would recommend that you do so now; the plans and ideas contained within these stories can be used as benchmarks for Detroit's future.

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