Cities need romance, and struggling cities need romance most of all. They need to offer something unique to the young and energetic, if they are going to convince them to invest heart, soul, and cash in rebuilding.
Detroit is not lacking in romance–oh no, it is a fascinating and oddly lovely place–but it may be lacking in leaders with the right kind of imagination for a renaissance. Detroit has been bulldozing its glorious Victorian and turn of the 20th century architecture for years. Okay, abandonment and arson are tough to deal with, but I fail to see the point of slapping up cheap, faceless new housing all over the city, only to encourage more abandonment of the amazing white elephants that make Detroit Detroit.
Now, the city is considering closing the most unique and inspiring public school I've ever had the pleasure of visiting, Catherine Ferguson Academy, which is exclusively for teenaged mothers and their children. Catherine Ferguson sets very high standards for these girls despite the tough breaks life has given them: acceptance to college is a condition for graduation here.
That is not the only thing that makes the school unique. The athletic field behind the school has been turned into a farm, complete with horses and goats, an orchard, and an enormous vegetable garden. These girls are learning science by living it.
I wrote about Catherine Ferguson for O, The Oprah Magazine a few years ago. I'm not the only person to figure out Catherine Ferguson is a great story. Dutch filmmakers Mascha and Manfred Poppenk made a movie about the place last year called Grown In Detroit.
Now the city is thinking of closing the school. I wonder what will happen to the young mothers there who are absolutely heroic about pursuing an education under the most difficult possible circumstances. We are talking about waking up at dawn, feeding and dressing a baby, waiting at dangerous bus-stops with your kid, and then riding buses for hours in a sprawling city with poor public transit…just to get to high school!
If Detroit asked me, I'd say, close some ordinary school if you have to. Let the magically beautiful school full of heroic girls and heroic teachers be.
If you'd like to protest school closures in Detroit, on April 19th at 5:30 pm, there will be a rally at Martin Luther King High.