Detroit, which is 83% black, made headlines by electing its first white mayor since 1973. The significance of that result is clouded by the fact that (1) the state-appointed emergency manager makes all key decisions for this bankrupt city and (2) 80% of the people didn’t bother to go to the polls. “This city,” my friend Charity Hicks said, “has given up on government.” Yet, like every desert when you look closely, Detroit is teeming with life. The city, said Jamie Shea, who guided me through this underworld, attracts risk takers because “ideas are welcome and you can make an impact.” Ideas like:
- A hydroponics farm in Detroit’s most desolate neighborhood.
- Detroit Soup, which hold monthly dinners where “for $5, you get soup, salad, bread and a vote” for one of the entrepreneurs presenting a social-impact project.
- The Empowerment Plan, where homeless women make winter coats that turn into sleeping bags for homeless women.
- A project to sell organic food in the city’s ubiquitous liquor stores because “that’s where people shop.”
- Sit On It Detroit, which turns repurposed hardwood into bus stop benches with attached bookshelves to create interactive outdoor libraries.
In this third-world city where three of five children live in poverty, an exciting movement is incubating: the ingenuity of entrepreneurs is melding with the social conscience of community organizers to produce a “third way” – that navigates between a capitalism obsessed with profits and a government entrenched in bureaucracy to create mission-driven projects focused on the needs of people and the health of communities.