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Dissing Detroit is a convenient national pastime

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Friday, October 15, 2004

Dissing Detroit is a convenient but ill-informed national pastime

By Daniel Howes / The Detroit News

Detroit bashing isn't just a city thing.

It targets our automakers. Real progress making quality cars and trucks that rival the best from Japan and Germany is routinely overshadowed by nagging financial problems, especially at General Motors, operational weaknesses and public calls to ease their health care burden.

It's aimed at our last national retailer, Kmart. A decade of mismanagement and ultimate bankruptcy reorganization made it - and by association, us - exemplars of an institution unhinged from its customers. So now that a new Kmart under new leadership is showing signs of getting its act together, from Michigan, it wants to leave altogether.

Some endorsement.

Detroit bashing comes in national magazine surveys, many using half-baked methodology, labeling us the fattest city or the most sexually diseased city or the most dangerous city or the most racially polarized city. If you think that doesn't reflect on the suburbs, too, you're kidding yourself.

Word that sci-fi movie producers are eyeing one of our abandoned iconic buildings, the Central Depot, as an eerie backdrop isn't a compliment, either. Nor was the out-of-town couple who arrived for the Ryder Cup describing a mental picture of Detroit they derived from watching Eminem's "8 Mile."

Those are small pieces of Detroit, not all of it.

We host the 35th Ryder Cup Matches at Oakland Hills and numbskulls wonder "how we'll do." Fine, thank you. Not that the event's luster is muting questions about whether "we'll be ready" for Major League Baseball's All-Star game next July or Super Bowl XL in February 2006.

This is all so tiresome. If those of us who live here, let alone those mulling offers to work here, truly believe more than a fraction of this stuff, we should a.) leave b.) find therapists or c.) be finalists for some national self-flagellation award.

But we don't leave. And business is investing in southeast Michigan, even Detroit, because most of us know better. The hometown industry is more competitive today than five years ago, even last year. Lots of work remains, but Detroit's automakers still wield tremendous economic power.

We can claim having world-class cultural institutions, funding enviable state universities and supporting major sports franchises, several of which have won their fair share of championships. Downtown Detroit is more redeveloped than it was a few years ago, and more new housing is opening in the city every month.

That doesn't mean a City Council resolution calling for an African Town business zone isn't a counterproductive and probably unconstitutional blemish on efforts to keep Detroit moving in the right direction.

Or that the political battle over how to govern the city schools, culminating in a Nov. 2 vote on Proposal E, isn't more about who controls the contracts than it is about curriculums and kids.

Those aren't particularly attractive endorsements, either. But they don't define Detroit, writ large, any more than product recalls or a losing season for the Tigers do.

Daniel Howes' column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (313) 222-2106 or at [email protected] Catch him Fridays with Paul W. Smith on NewsTalk760-WJR.

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