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Making the Pivot from DIY to Do It Together

Vince Keenan
Vince Keenan
This post authored by Vince Keenan of publius.org

Do-it-yourself Detroit is on borrowed time. Working around the democratically elected government of the city isn’t a long term strategy. One day soon we’ll have to figure out how to address the future of this city that stretches out beyond the horizon of our lifetimes, past the excitement of this burst of energy, past the frustration and decline that has plagued Detroit for 50 years. Inspiration and desperation come in waves. Good government provides consistency over time; failing government erodes stability. At some point we are going to have to institutionalize our best ideas and noblest principles.  

There are many stories about the positive energy in Detroit, from bright new enthusiasm to hardscrabble ingenuity. There are residents in communities that have every right to give up yet somehow find the reserve to keep things going. There are stories of large deliberate efforts and small but inspiring injections of hope. Not all of these stories get the same airplay, but many share the same theme: citizens doing it themselves. 

Detroiters are finding ways to fill in gaps that shouldn’t exist. People are pulling together to solve problems, from rescuing parks to community patrols to informal business support groups to dynamic large scale and small scale investments that drive a vision for economic development. There is a resolve that excites us even if city government isn’t working the way we want.  It is a resolve that says this city can come back. It’s good and necessary and ... fun. Today, we are focused on what we can get to work, to grow every spark into a flame and make sure every domino is close enough to knock down the next.

This is an era of short-term pragmatic optimism, when we focus our limited resources on achievable goals, and in many instances are knocking them back. What we can’t forget is that that we are inching closer and closer to when it will be time to take up the challenge of transforming city government.  It won’t be easy – many of us benefit from the space between the rules that exist and the rules that are enforced. But if you really are pulling for Detroit there is no way to accept chaos in government. 

DIY self-reliance that solves problems day-to-day with innovative practical solutions is one thing, but to make the leap to intergenerational solutions we’re going to need reliable government. Detroit’s future depends on citizens who see the connection between active and rigorous civic participation, voting and the future. It’s a boringly radical thought – democracy works when the people express their support not their apathy.

It’s time for optimistic Detroiters to rise to the challenge of bringing that optimism to voting, governance and the common good. We’ve got a pretty good handle on live, work, play. Now it’s time to tackle solutions that don’t just work for today, but for generations to come. If you live in Detroit it’s time to vote in Detroit (even if you have to figure out how to insure your car – that is an unjustifiable excuse). In the last three years, old and new Detroiters alike have voted to completely reshape city government.  In the last few months we have seen issues like the consent agreement, Belle Isle and public lighting come to a head.

On Election Day, there are 12 proposals on Detroit’s ballot, not including the five statewide constitutional amendments including the Emergency Manager law and funding for the public schools. Next year, with council districts, the structure of city government changes for the first time in almost a century. The decisions we make November 6th determine our options in the future. 

We may still have time and space for passion projects, but every important movement evolves. It is time to take that next step. Get informed, get local, and vote. The future depends on it. 
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