What Dallas Can Learn from Detroit

Every once in while I can't resist inflaming the tri-cornered hat don't-tread-on-me set out there by saying nice things about Detroit. Whenever I sing praises to my hometown of many yesteryears, I get such a nice bounce out of the people who need Detroit to serve as their 21st century version of Dante's Inferno.

Some of the most fun I ever had here was several years ago writing about how much more successful Detroit's farmers market is than our own. Good news about Detroit never fails to fly right in the face of something I just love flying in the face of.

I've been waiting for an excuse to relate an anecdote about my son's longtime girlfriend, who flew to Detroit recently to interview for an ophthalmology residency program at Wayne State University. She came back to Texas not merely singing praises of the program itself but also of a part of the city where she stayed, called "Midtown."

Never heard of it. I guess Midtown is one of those new made-up promotional names like our own Uptown. Anyway, right after she got back to Texas, the New York Times carried a story saying the so-called Midtown district in Detroit is so hot that people can't find enough available apartments there. Imagine that. A land-rush.

Oh, and what was my excuse again for this today? Right. In a recent state-of-the-city address, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced that Detroit is shaving down its debt by slashing spending. All the while, the city continues to suffer very tough problems with a soaring gun-homicide rate and challenges posed by vast areas of urban ruin.

I thought it was interesting, however, that some people are calling for a slow-down in the city's program of residential demolitions because of rising interest form people who want to buy old homes in the city and fix them up. If anything, Detroit has become an international model for urban self-help with programs like Detroit Soup, during which people pay five bucks for a soup and sandwich dinner and listen to entrepreneurs pitch start-up business ideas.

At the end of the evening, the several hundred people who show up at these things all vote, and the winning idea gets the proceeds from the dinner. A grant from the Knight Foundation has helped the program expand. How's that for an entrepreneurial environment?

Of course, Detroit still has its very tough problems -- problems Dallas is extremely fortunate to have navigated around over the years. I do love living in an old Dallas neighborhood, and I am not sure I'm pioneer enough to do the same now in my old hometown. If I did, I think I might have to trade in the shotgun for a shoulder-fired missile-launcher, which I am sure would not be viewed as especially helpful of me, but, you know. Even a liberal's gotta look out for Number One sometimes.

But here is a larger point that Detroit is teaching us all. No matter how beleaguered or battered, cities still exert an enormously powerful draw on people. Even when a lot of the bright lights have been shot out and the city is no longer as big as it used to be, a city is still a city, and people just love cities. Always have.

All of us lucky enough to live in major cities should look on Detroit as a joyous beacon of hope. No matter how bad things get, they can get better, and the biggest motivation for fixing a city is the city itself. Those lights will be bright; that city will be big; and then how you gonna keep us down on the farm?