Vice Cares Not For Dan Gilbert Using Detroit's Downtown As A Major-City Downtown
February 19th, 2014, 6:18 PM
So, it's come to this. I have to stick up for Dan Gilbert.
As a general rule, I subscribe to the "afflict the comfortable" school of journalism. Billionaires who can make the business press swoon don't need my help.
More specifically, I'm not exactly Dan Gilbert's biggest fan. I don't cotton to the whole paint the old NBD Building's lobby Dayglo green because (QED) it makes the creative class happy because (QED) making the creative class happy creates jerbs philosophy. I think his core business, mortgage origination, is a suspect enterprise because outfits that sell mortgages they don't service creates an environment where a lot of bad mortgages are written, which could end up crashing the economy . . . again. And we won't even get into the whole LeBron James letter thing. Or comic sans.
But having said all that, criticism by Vice bloggers Gustav Brovold and Andrew Roberts of Gilbert's 1217 Griswold acquisition isn't a valid criticism of unjust gentrification and displacement. It is the butthurt ramblings of guys who revel in Detroit's misery and decay.
Vice: Today, the six-story building remains a vicious assembly of some seriously cool-ass neighbors, including a photographer, super-burly rock band, taxidermist, master videographer, and the most brutal prog/metal band in Detroit. On the fourth floor, you’ll find my loft, which carries the pseudonym Adult Contemporary. My roommates and I run the place as a DIY venue bike repair shop, screen printing business, and the general headquarters for the galaxy of our musical operations. Across the hall is a brewery and another super swell, yet considerably less burly, rock band. A homemade skate park and a professional print maker round out the lot. In a few weeks, this big, fat, juicy wad of creativity and human expression will be disemboweled, and the remains will have new homes in nearby dumpsters, storage units and friends’ basements.
Maybe I should be more distressed over the displacement of Detroit's "most brutal prog/metal band," but that's the nature of renting space. You don't own it beyond your lease point. The kind of investment, both financial and emotional, required to create all that stuff was likely significant. It maybe wasn't terribly smart to do all that in a place you rent. These guys are the art kids equivalent of yuppies who install granite kitchen counters in their rental apartment.
The truth is there is no reason any of this stuff needs to end up in "nearby dumpsters, storage units and friends’ basements." Detroit still has plenty of inexpensive space. Downtown's gentrification zone/Gilbertville is really small. This isn't New York City. Roll down Michigan Avenue (past Corktown!) or go east down Gratiot.
There are real estate deals to be had. If you're serious about your homemade skate parks and breweries, buy a space you can control to do it.
I recognize none of that is necessarily easy or fun, so one might be tempted to give these guys some leeway to vent their frustrations. That would be fair. Unfortunately, there is no excuse for this whine...
Vice: Sure, eviction and gentrification happen all the time, but it is a particularly hard blow to Detroit, a city that’s been the final refuge for the people who lead broken lives in order to dedicate themselves to what they do. Like, fuck, I eat ramen so I can have enough money to fix my synths. We invest in a worthy PA system so that when DJ Dez, Kyle Hall, Laurel Halo, Magic Touch, Lord Scrummage, Young Prisms, Northlake, BMG, Coyote Clean up, DakotaBones, Nate Young, FIT, Jay Daniel, Bobby Browser, Ital, Mgun, or any motherfucker who plays here can be as loud as they fucking want. We don't have enough cash to hire a bouncer, so our security is a masonic ceremonial dagger i got off eBay, and a can of bear mace I keep on my hip at shows.
Ok, again, Detroit still offers plenty of opportunity and space for "the people who lead broken lives in order to dedicate themselves to what they do," even if it isn't necessarily in the central business district anymore. Actually, that's a good thing.
Here's the thing about Detroit -- it lacks the resources to adequately provide basic services like police protection and public transportation. One very big reason for that fact is so much of the commerce and middle-class population that long provided Detroit's tax base left. You want to talk about gentrification? The city effectively degentrified over the last half-century.
Gilbert's downtown play represents a return to the norm for a major city's downtown. At worst, it's the regentrificiation of an area that was intended to house offices of employees for big companies. That's what Dan Gilbert is doing, putting employees of his big company in downtown buildings.
Whatever else can be said about the man, it's hard to fault him for that.