Why Techonomy Still Believes in Detroit

As the media forecasts the dire consequences of yesterday’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy filing—and reports on the universal lack of surprise that it comes from the Motor City—Techonomists are booking airline tickets and hotel rooms to attend the second Techonomy Detroit conference. They’ll join a conversation on September 17th about the potential for a tech-induced revival there and in other post-industrial economically challenged urban areas.

Image of Detroit skyline via Shutterstock
Image of Detroit skyline via Shutterstock
Image of Detroit skyline via Shutterstock

As the media forecasts the dire consequences of yesterday’s largest-ever municipal bankruptcy filing—and reports on the universal lack of surprise that it comes from the Motor City—Techonomists are booking airline tickets and hotel rooms to attend the second Techonomy Detroit conference. They’ll join a conversation on September 17th about the potential for a tech-induced revival there and in other post-industrial, economically challenged urban areas.

Techonomy has called Detroit “a city energetically, desperately working to revive,” and at the 2012 conference, Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick proclaimed “there is no better place for a conversation on these national priorities.” Thought leaders including Square’s Jack Dorsey and billionaire investors Steve Case and Dan Gilbert concurred with Kirkpatrick’s view that the Techonomy Detroit events are a way to “shine a light on how technology can transform U.S. competitiveness, create jobs, grow our economy, and revitalize our cities.”

To be sure, these thought leaders have never been in denial about how desperate Detroit’s circumstances really are. And that helps explain why conference delegates will remain optimistic about the chances for a Detroit resurgence, even as pessimists dish on who’s to blame for its death spiral. The consequences of declaring bankruptcy to 100,000 creditors and reneging on pensions and retirement benefits remain to be seen. But Techonomy doesn’t believe they will derail a tech-based revival. (GrowDetroit’s Alex Southern agrees, explaining why in an interview on Bloomberg West.) Instead, many say hitting a restart button will enable the city to get on with recovery faster.

The New York Times reports: “Some Detroit business leaders who have seen a rise in private investment downtown despite the city’s larger struggles, said bankruptcy seemed the only choice left — and one that might finally lead to a desperately needed overhaul of city services and to a plan to pay off some reduced version of the overwhelming debts. In short, a new start.”

Meanwhile, The Atlantic today recalled nearly a century of media predictions of Detroit’s demise, including this one from 1957: “Urban deterioration offers at least one advantage. Once a city core has become as run-down as Detroit’s, you can start to rebuild fairly cheaply.” As Kirkpatrick wrote here last year, “If technology is the key ingredient to rejuvenating the American economy, it has to work where the problems are biggest and the task the hardest.” Two reasons to maintain optimism that Detroit might yet be a proving ground for a US economic recovery.

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