Mayor Dave Bing’s assemblage of dozens of Detroit-area celebrity supporters to film a commercial promoting the city is tantamount to “putting lipstick on a pig.” Detroit won’t become attractive until government addresses the issues that created a many-headed monster that stubbornly eats away at the city’s reputation.
The intent of the “I’m a Believer” campaign is to mobilize and engage television, print, radio and newspaper resources to help change attitudes and restore Detroit to its former greatness. However, a lack of realism undercuts the overriding purpose of this “feel good” crusade. Managing Detroit’s image will be an exercise in media manipulation if all it does is hype the scant amenities in isolation of what’s happening in the rest of the city.
City leaders would have us believe that Detroit is no worse than any other major city. That’s disingenuous and deceiving. While there may be a few bright spots, there isn’t a lot to brag about in the Motor City. In fact, the perception is close to reality. And image, while important, is not as crucial as a government that is committed, competent and credible.
City government, for example is perceived as incapable of providing adequate services and schools. Creeping blight, fear, paranoia, uncertainty and deserved concern about crime and violence are not fabrications.
The most conspicuous of Detroit’s staggering disabilities are its disincentives for investment. Deficits, suffocating taxes, red tape and anti-growth regulations weigh heavily on the city’s image. The sum of these deficiencies contributes mightily to the city’s less than glowing perception among outsiders and residents alike. In a nutshell, Detroit provides too few of the things that favorably define “quality of life.”
The reasons behind the city’s perceived national reputation aren’t as important as an all out effort to change the reality. Rather than elaborate schemes and blaming the media for projecting Detroit’s poor condition, politicians need to be engaged in tough, precise reforms that remedy what ails the city.
No amount of media magic, creative television scripting or positive press can disguise the seriousness of the myriad problems facing the city. Jazzy promotion plans are just window dressing if it’s business as usual at City Hall. You change the city’s image by fixing the city’s problems.
It is strategically important that Detroit has a clearly defined brand and image to present to the world. Image nirvana, however, is hardly just around the corner. The way Detroiters view themselves is based on what they see, and what is actually taking place around them. Right now, that’s a long way from being a pretty picture.