Detroit is in trouble. No surprise there.
In July, Detroit became the largest American city to file for bankruptcy. Detroit faces crippling unemployment, high taxes, out-of-control crime, and is $18 billion in debt.
The facts are scary, but they don’t tell the whole story.
To get a different perspective, we traveled to the city and worked with a talented team of local filmmakers at Detroit Lives! to interview real Detroiters about bankruptcy, the city, and their hopes for the future.
What they told us might surprise you.
In these videos, we profile three different Detroit businesses and their hardworking owners. They told us the stories of their businesses, the challenges they face every day from a dysfunctional city government, and their thoughts on the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings.
Aside from the problems, the Detroiters we talked to told us about hope. Hope for a renewed Detroit, with less crime and more jobs.
But they’re not just dreaming of a better city – they’re working to make it a reality.
If Detroit is ever going to renew itself, it will be because hardworking entrepreneurs like the ones we interviewed are willing to risk their blood and treasure to rebuild the Motor City.
Part One – The Past
We first interviewed Hector Sossi, the long-time owner of Roma Cafe, and his daughter Janet Sossi Belcoure, who currently manages the business. Roma Cafe is Michigan’s oldest, continuously run restaurant and is located in Detroit’s Eastern Market, a historic farmers’ market in the city that’s been feeding Detroiters since 1891.
From Hector we heard about Detroit’s heyday: when the factories were humming, and lunch at Roma brought lines around the block, with distinguished diners like Henry Ford Sr. and former Michigan Governor Alexander Groesbeck.
Janet told us how she got involved with the family business and why she runs things at the Roma like a family. Janet also told us about the challenges of doing business in Detroit, like being hit with a $400 awning tax because her restaurant’s awning covers a city sidewalk.
Part Two – The Present
In our second video, we talked to Percell Jordan, who runs his own barbershop, Percell’s Extraordinary Cuts, on Morang St. on the east side of Detroit.
Percell told us about how he first started cutting friends’ hair on his front porch as a boy and eventually saved up enough money to open his own barbershop.
He shared his struggles with the city’s bureaucracy, when he wasted a day going floor to floor in city hall trying to find the right department to get details to purchase the building where his barbershop is located.
But Percell also told us about the sense of community he tries to foster – with his friends, his business, and his neighborhood.
Part Three – The Future
In our final video, we spoke with Austin Black, a young realtor who runs the real estate firm City Living Detroit based in midtown.
Austin told us about how he first became interested in architecture growing up amidst the beautiful Art Deco skyscrapers of Detroit.
He told us how the city’s bankruptcy has impacted the real estate market in the city, and the need to lower Detroit’s sky-high property taxes to make the cost of living in the city comparable to the suburbs.
But there’s a repopulation happening in parts of the city, Austin explained. People are moving back into some Detroit neighborhoods, and businesses are coming with them.
Austin noted that other cities across America are facing similarly tall mountains of debt. So what happens with Detroit’s bankruptcy could be a model for other municipalities.
There’s no doubt that Detroit has many problems. Earlier this year, I wrote about a lot of them in a blog post for our sister project, WashingtonCouldLearnALot.com. However, there is cause for hope.
As Hector, Janet, Percell and Austin show us, the key to Detroit’s rebirth is its people: ordinary citizens willing to invest in their communities and smarter government policies that let them do just that.