Save Detroit With Skateboarding
The Brewster-Douglass projects stand in the Detroit skyline as a metaphor for the contracting metropolis. Built between 1935 and 1955, the development first broke ground when first lady Eleanor Roosevelt broke ground in 1935 for the 701-unit development. Originally called the Frederick Douglass Homes, they were at once the largest residential housing project owned by the city of Detroit. The complex was home to a rolodex of famous figures from Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, Lily Tomlin, Loni Love and Etterlene DeBarge. But now, like the city it sits in, the projects are a shade of what they used to be. Abandoned, depleted and a dreary reminder of how the economic dream that was once Detroit has been turned into a financial nightmare with few resolutions.
On June 21, 2013 a cop showed up to a scene at the Brewster-Douglass projects that from the outside probably seemed like a situation that was getting out of control. Nearly 200 skateboarders had convened on the old housing projects and turned the space into a makeshift skatepark.
“Who’s in charge?” the cop reportedly asked the crowd. “You can’t be here; this is city property and you need a permit to do something like this.”
Unfortunately for the cop, there was nobody in charge. What the cop was witnessing was Detroit’s Go Skateboarding Day, organized by skateboard enthusiasts online and by word-of-mouth.What was unfolding at the Brewster-Douglass projects was not only a killer skate session, but an undeniable exemplification of city unified by skateboarding. Even more, it was a small piece of an ongoing effort by the City of Detroit to win a three-year bid for the X-Games to be hosted in the ailing city. This is no joke – while politicians were in gridlock in argument about what to do with failing pension funds and lobbyists protecting an economy centered on an automotive industry that will soon enter a fundamental shift with the introduction of mainstream electric cars – skateboarders, those punks with hoodies and beanies, were joining together to urge the X-Games committee to put the event there for three years.
Cities around the country were also vying for the economic opportunity. This past July, Austin was granted the 2014 summer X-games after 11 years of being hosted in Los Angeles. The immediate economic impact for the city could surpass $50 million with the event to reach an estimated 400 million households, and will be covered by 200-plus accredited media from across the world. But that barely scratches the surface. The demographic of the X-Games viewers tend to cater to one of the hardest segments in the market to reach – males between the age of 12 and 24. While the center stage for the X-Games are an amazing feat of athletic accomplishment, the business is a hodgepodge of marketing opportunities that ultimately associates the city with young, hip and energetic brands. This bodes well for the future development of the city’s workforce.
The city of Detroit knows these numbers also – using official ESPN viewership statistics, the city estimated that the four-day event could fill up 129,000 hotel rooms annually and attract up to 200,000 attendees every year.
That’s a lot of tourism dollars.
Needless to say, the skate community was spearheading this effort. Inner City Skateboard co-founders Darnell Turner-Stroud and Delon Robinson are a powerful force in the Detroit skate scene who largely supported the event at the Brewster-Douglass projects. Alex Alvarez, a masters student in urban planning commented that “something like this with all these skateboarders at an abandoned housing project, is definitely encouraging for the bid and it shows that there’s definitely more productive ways to make use of open spaces in Detroit.”
Ultimately, the bid was given to Austin for the entirety of the three year period. However, the story is just unfolding. With new skateboarding events such as “Street League” taking place every year, and skateboarding becoming a widely distributed activity online, there are more and more opportunities to make skateboarding a force for economic stimulation as well as a way to engage hard-to-reach segments of the population. The key will be to drive an understanding that ultimately niche communities can serve as a platform to engage very productive and unique individuals. Tapping their creativity and personality unites others in that community and creates a larger force for societal good. Sounds lofty, but with so few options to choose from, does it really sound that crazy?