Thursday, January 12, 2006

No such thing as bad publicity?

(No, I did not need a one-day break for my "research" of the Detroit Pistons/Automotion swimsuit calendar. Very funny. Smart guy.)

We're skewing local today, folks. For those in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area, did you notice the big slice of spotlight Ypsilanti received in yesterday's USA Today? I almost dislocated my neck, looking back in a double-take at the front page of the "Money" section, which featured a photo of the oh-so-distinctive sign belonging to the Tap Room tavern.

"Hey, I know that sign! Which paper is that... ?"

(Photo by Kimberly P. Mitchell/ USA Today)

Unfortunately, USA Today's spotlight was more like an overhead flourescent light that accentuated all the pores, bags, wrinkles and cracks that better light might hide. It's not that the article was a slam at the city; it's a matter-of-fact portrayal of a community that's had its limbs hacked off by the auto industry's decline. Schools are closing. Neighborhoods are crumbling. Civil services are dwindling.

How can a city redefine itself? Where will it find a new identity? What new industry will create and drive commerce for a place in desperate need of a fresh economic blood transfusion?

Some - such as the owner of the outstanding Sidetrack Bar & Grill, who is quoted in the article - think this could be a historic opportunity for Ypsilanti. Two universities are in close proximity, and if that brings in young people and creative talent who could stick around (ideally, with the help of programs such as Gov. Granholm's "Cool Cities" initiative), the city could have an infusion of new culture.

That might sound hopelessly optimistic, especially to those familiar with the area. I know several people (including some with whom I'm allegedly related) who are endlessly negative about Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor's ugly stepcity to the east, and wrote it off long ago. That kind of attitude is what kills communities. ("Oh, it's all going to hell. Why bother?") But those who are willing to take a chance on a place - one that's a hell of a lot more interesting now than it was even five years ago - can make change happen.

I'd much rather listen to an optimist who believes in something than a pessimist who believes in nothing. And that sentiment is what kept the USA Today piece from being utterly depressing. If this is the kind of publicity Ypsilanti gets, I don't think it's all that bad.