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Ameen Suhrawardy
Dr. Martin
HON 1000 Seminar
4 December 2013
Youthtopia
The state of the city is comparable to a dystopian future, where some sort of apocalyptic
disaster forces the masses to flee as night falls upon the city. Immediately as the day starts to
wind up, the highways of I75, M10, I94, and I96—once a marvel and testament to the sprawling
success of the city—begin to rush with the exodus of the working class. While the paradigm of
citizen refuge in suburbia is not exclusive to Detroit, the city’s history of city flight and fleeing
of the upper and middle class has made the metropolitan a case study for city deterioration and
suburbanization. Now, recovery of Detroit is underway in the financial, political, educational
(slowly), economic sectors and more, but there is a spark missing. The spark of rejuvenated
enthusiasm, a new passion for our city, interest in being and contributing to Detroit, are slowly
rising, but the enthusiasm of the youth for the city is greatly lacking. The main issue with the
youth being addressed is: the isolation of suburban youth activity and the lack of youth culture
and college life. While there is no direct, immediate, or single resolution to these issues, the
proposed solution seeks to help take a definitive but small step in moving the situation forward.
Although many issues ail the Detroit community, specifically reviving the spirit of
Detroit may become a factor that sparks more regrowth. Other issues are being handled, from the
education systems, to new entrepreneurships and businesses, to entertainment districts. However,
the drive of the people—specifically youth—in the city, and the interest and passion of the city

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remains largely unchanged (Mohamed). There is mostly a lack of a youthful vibe in Midtown,
besides the daily rush of Wayne State University commuter students. Granted, rejuvenating the
activity of Detroit is a hefty objective, requiring initiative from every aspect of the current
societal organization in order to fully establish an infrastructure that will support incoming
youth. However, focusing on an individual aspect—the youth aspect—that will ensure our
future, can be a strong step toward city development.
“Young people are new people sent to this scene by Destiny to take our places. They
come with new visions to fulfill, new powers to exploit." Our very own Henry Ford, who helped
propel Detroit into its prominence in his day, recognized the integral role youth play in building
the city community. Don’t believe the recent increase in sales of Detroit vs. Everybody and
Made in Detroit apparel: although it may seem that there is a certain pride for the grim,
hardworking, rising-from-the-ashes Detroit, the youth are still largely disconnected with actual
activity in Detroit. Furthermore, there are two faces of Detroiter youth. The current narrative of
the youth, which is becoming less and less foreign in the city’s media coverage, is that of the tale
of two Detroits: there is the Detroit of the old, predominantly black, running generations deep,
rooted in the auto industry and Motown sound—and then there’s another culture of the new,
technology driven, social media oriented, Apple hipster. white people (Williams). There is a
clear gap between the city’s youth and suburban youth.
City Observatory, a new think tank focused on data-driven analysis of cities, published a
report on recent trends on movement of young college graduates. The study found that on
average among the 51 biggest metros in the U.S., the percent change from 2000 to 2012 in the
number of young college graduates living in the city, even in economically troubled cities like
Buffalo and Cleveland, was 25% (Cortright). All of these 51 major cities experienced a growth

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in young talent in the city…EXCEPT Detroit, which actually had a 10% decrease in the number
of the same demographic. This statistic should be especially flagrant to city dreamers, making it
apparent that improving the situation of the youth is a key concern to rebuilding the city
community.
The question must be raised: is there a deficiency in the institution of Wayne State
University, being the dominant university based in Detroit, that is making it fall short in bringing
the influx of young talent? Is Wayne State not as attractive to college students as it should be?
Wayne State is already active in transforming and changing for the better its academics and
scholarship which will make it attractive for academic students—however, another approach is
needed to make Midtown a desirable college campus in addition to academic interest: the social
aspect. According to Dr. Aaron Martin of the Wayne State Honors College, an active resident in
the Midtown community, in order for something to be “cool”, it requires other “cool” people to
be there.
The need is to help bring suburban youth to truly appreciate Midtown, to participate in
Midtown, and to bolster interest in the college life in the city. As of now, volunteer programs and
projects that bring suburban youth to the city, such as Summer in the City, RAD, etc. are
existent. However these projects often have an unintended side effect: the perception in growing
teens that likens the city of Detroit to a disaster-struck third world country in their own backyard,
rather than the real home and cultural, social, and economic center of the metropolitan. The aim
is, in the future, to make Detroit more than just a onetime summer volunteer opportunity—
helping to make it a cultural hub and a social spot, replacing downtowns of Birmingham,
Farmington and others with real city life.

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With a solution stemming from Wayne State University, it is possible that some the
separate youth issues may be linked together. The proposed solution is to create a new
infrastructure at Wayne State, a dedicated program or department preferably associated with the
Honors College, that is specifically geared toward the betterment of youth involvement in the
city. The selection of the site of the solution—Wayne State’s Honors College—is useful because
it utilizes two desirable objectives already in place for the university: progressing the Midtown
community and engaging the youth. It also allows us to narrow our scope, which was at first a
longshot of attempting to fully bring back youth passion in Detroit, to making a precise shot at an
actually beginning to change the youth perspective by means of the city university.
What would having a department/project devoted toward engaging the youth entail?
Facilitating volunteer projects like in earlier mentioned organizations, especially where suburban
youth directly work relief for urban youth, is not enough. Young city dreamers need to
collectively share the feeling that the state of the city is their responsibility. It is only after we
change the seminal way of seeing when we can hope for an improvement of the urban form. The
urban form we are creating, is first the actual program at Wayne State, and then the physical
involvement of the youth as a result of it. Perhaps a more effective program that would
encourage a better attitude, would be a program that connected suburban youth with urban youth
and allowed them to work together on specific volunteer projects for city development and
leadership training. In addition, the program could incorporate Wayne State students into social
science research on Midtown, in attempt to better understand the situation of the city.
Another aspect of this youth-dedicated department besides charity work—and arguably
equally as significant—would be the social aspect. This is where experienced university mentors
showcase and guide young people in the program through the exciting social and cultural aspects

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of Midtown Detroit. Showing off the sociocultural aspect would especially stress utilizing the
infrastructures already in place in Midtown. While not overlooking current youth activity and
young developers, a department/project at Wayne State dedicated to youth engagement could
help compound the effect of growing youth development and infrastructure by bringing more
youth interest to the site of Midtown. The approach to engage youth taken here is of the Farmer’s
Market over the “Supermarket”, promoting social interaction in community building and a
certain connection with one’s culture in place of just pragmatically sponsoring business
opportunities for the city’s growth (Herron).
Although the proposed program is very ambitious for being just another university
department/project, if ratified it would start churning out small groups of young, cultured people
with more interest and commitment to Wayne State and the rest of the Midtown community.
Although there is no set path to take in organizing events and programs through the department,
the key is to set a program that over everything else, empowers the youth—both suburban and
urban youth—to become leaders in the Midtown community and be socially and culturally active
in the city. While this is no advocacy of making Midtown a new young, culturally hip college
town like Ann Arbor, a certain sense of cooperation of livelihood and enthusiasm between the
city’s inhabitants and the suburban residents is the intended goal of this project.
The most compelling reason to encourage such a program in Detroit, is that there are
infrastructures in place and others in the works that hope to thrive off youth activity, such as the
new hockey arena, other sports arenas, and most importantly, the M1 Rail (which is expected to
bring unprecedented business opportunity on Woodward) (Eisinger). According to a study by
Michigan State University’s Regional Economic Intervention (REI) Center, economic
developments and pockets of urban residential are experiencing growth, but the current Midtown

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business strategy is reliant on the market becoming more attractive for developers and young
college professionals. The study tracks growth in Midtown by anecdotal evidence, measuring the
amount of new building permits, new construction costs and more. Even programs for attracting
youth and new development are in place, such as Patronicity (which was recently featured in the
news for transforming a rundown recreation park into a community skatepark and attraction for
young people in the neighborhood), MIST Detroit, Teen HYPE, Youthville Detroit, and others
(DeVito). However, this department at Wayne State would be unique because it would interlace
the roles of a citizen, a student, and a researcher in a community outreach program from within
the university setting. Furthermore, having a dedicated program at Wayne State It is crucial, for
the development of Detroit, for Wayne State University, to be invested in the betterment of the
Detroit community (Mohammed).
The proposal may seem to chase after a hefty objective, but nevertheless, Wayne State’s
investment and initiative is essential in developing the future of Midtown Detroit, even if it
begins by a program engaging youth. I find it an issue that universities like Michigan State
University and University of Michigan are conducting some of the best studies on Midtown
development. It should Wayne State, here in the heart of Midtown, investing time, personnel,
and resources into the betterment of the Midtown Detroit life and especially the community’s
youth. The responsibility should be in Wayne State’s hands, to inform the youth that too many
times, young peoples’ attitudes are: “this condition is substandard. I’m going to move to this
better established condition and make my life there,” instead of being “this condition is
substandard. I’m going to be a part of making this a better condition, and make my life here.”
Maybe even in the future, a far off utopian future, students of the Honors College—a more
prestigious selection of Detroit and Michigan’s finest young city dreamers by then—could help

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engage and maintain a prosperous Detroit community, by bringing fresh innovation and
improvement on the questions of Who We Are, Where We Are Going, and What We Should Do.

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Works Cited
Cortrightf, J. (2014, October 1). The Young and Restless and Nation's Cities. Retrieved
December 1, 2014.
DeVito, L. (2014, November 5). Patronicity gets crowdfunding dollars with an eye on
Detroit.Metro Times. Retrieved December 1, 2014.
Eisinger, P. (n.d.). Is Detroit Dead? Journal of Urban Affairs, 36(1), 1-12. Retrieved December
1, 2014, from http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/juaf.12071
Herron, Jerry. "Restocking.” Honors 1000. Wayne State University, Detroit. 17 Nov. 2014.
Lecture.
Mohamed, R. (2012). Development Trends and Developers in Midtown Detroit. MSU EDA
University Center for Regional Economic Innovation (REI), 1-31.
Thomas, J. (2013). Redevelopment and race planning a finer city in postwar Detroit(Paperback
ed.). Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
Williams, M. (2014). Listening to Detroit: Perspectives on Gentrification in the Motor
City.Department of Afroamerican and African Studies. Retrieved December 1, 2014