The Generation That Will Save Detroit

Amy Elliott Bragg, author of Hidden History of Detroit and MC/Toastmaster at #DetroitLove

Last week – July 24th, to be exact – was the 312th anniversary of the founding of the City of Detroit. Not too many people were paying much attention, because most people were  too busy discussing the recent bankruptcy filing by the city and offering their not-so-expert analysis, opinion, and insight, regardless of whether they have ever been anywhere near the intersection of  Woodward and Jefferson.

But there were some who cared about Founders Day, as it used to be called, and knew the importance of acknowledgement and celebration. So celebrations were arranged.

I attended one of those celebrations, called Detroit Love, which was sponsored by an organization called Forward Arts  (with assistance from other Detroit non-profits).


During that party – and it was a party – I was struck by the fact that almost all of the people in the room showing their love and concern for the City of Detroit were a lot younger than me. In fact, I was pretty sure that I was the only person over 50 in the whole restaurant, with maybe a handful of people over 35.

Almost all of the celebrants belonged to Generation Y.

This generation of young adults,- also called Millennials, Millenniums, or Echo Boomers – gets a pretty bad rap from some sociologists and scholars. They are derided as Generation “Me”, with experts claiming that they are narcissistic trophy kids with a sense of entitlement.

But when it comes to the City of Detroit, they are the generation that senses the need to do something to ensure that the city has the kind of future it deserves. They are entrepreneurs and educators, preservers and promoters, adventurers and optimists. Look at the list of organizations that Forward Arts gave thanks to in the picture above. Almost all were founded by, or are driven and staffed and nurtured by, Millennials.

The problems that face the City of Detroit, including its recent slide into bankruptcy, are complex. They have been decades, not months or years, in the making. They have been smoldering and festering before the Millennials were born.  Gen Y, like Billy Joel sings, didn’t start the fire.

But Baby Boomers and Gen Xers stand around arguing about how the fire started and the best way to put it out. In fact, on the very same anniversary day as the Detroit Love celebration, somewhere between 70 and 100 lawyers packed into a federal courtroom to attend a hearing and argue about whether or not the Detroit bankruptcy filing was legal. While there was no reporting of the generational makeup of those lawyers, I will lay big money that there were very few from Generation Y.

Instead of arguing over how to put out the fire, those kids are too busy dragging in their fire hoses and optimistically working to save what needs to be saved.

Detroit is not going to be fixed by lawyers in a courtroom or a professional financial manager. Detroit will ultimately be fixed by people who believe in her, and are willing to live, work, and play in her boundaries, investing in and promoting her historical and cultural richness.

Right now the only group that seems to be doing that is Generation Y.