Long viewed as the foremost example of US inner-city decline, Detroit is now showing signs of a resurgence in its Downtown and Midtown neighbourhoods.
This the new face of Detroit manufacturing. At least that’s the hope of Shinola, a company that’s recently started producing luxury items including leather goods, bicycles and watches, in the heart of Midtown. With components imported from Switzerland, around 120 local workers assemble the motions here, allowing the city’s name to be proudly displayed on each timepiece.Like many of the start-ups in this business incubator, the company’s chief executive brushes off concerns about the city’s recent declaration of bankruptcy.
Steve Bock, Chief Executive, Shinola, said, “You know look, clearly you read about it every day in terms of what all the challenges are. This is something that is way beyond our scope and that we don’t deal with on a daily basis or on a weekly basis - really the effect on us has been insignificant."
Shinola was attracted to Detroit partly by the city’s long history of manufacturing and, analysts note, because its growing comeback narrative’ could be good for branding.But the biggest draw for businesses has been improved security, brought about by cooperation between Midtown’s major institutions. These include a university, two major hospitals and a number of museums.
Professor Robin Boyle, Urban Planning, Wayne State Univ., said, "This is one of the safest neighbourhoods in any major city in North America. High-quality policing using the most up to date technology, not just on campus here but spreading out towards the neighbourhoods. If there’s one thing that’s really had a major change, and changed the mindset of people here, it’s improved public safety.”
Paired with low rents, this has drawn in young creative professionals and means that, in Midtown at least, there’s now a housing shortage.It’s a similar story Downtown, with office vacancy rates at a four year low. Major firms such as Quicken Loans have lead the return. If it’s to recover from bankruptcy, the city will need companies both large and small.
"While the individual impact of Shinola or one or two of the other smaller contemporary manufacturing companies is tiny, miniscule, the image that is portrayed around the world is very different, it is a contrasting image, and that is very important.”Professor Robin Boyle said.
Despite big improvements in the centre, much of the city still looks like this. Now home to just 700,000 people, Detroit was built for more than twice that number... As Downtown starts to recover, one of the city’s biggest challenges will be how to deal with its decaying and emptying outskirts.