With Super Bowl Sunday coming up this weekend, Detroit will have its chance to shine. Even amid economic difficulties, a reputation for violence and recent automotive industry layoffs, Detroit has managed to present a good face to the nation. While the city’s optimism is a refreshing and necessary change from outside perceptions, it is crucial that improvements and an intensified spirit of renewal are not conditional on the flurry of activity around the Super Bowl. Detroit – and its surrounding communities – cannot be content with the city’s success in attracting more than 100,000 tourists and high-profile guests, but must keep the momentum going in order to enact bigger changes after the Super Bowl ends.
Detroit is trying hard to overcome its lingering image as an urban wasteland constantly teetering on the brink of riots. It has certainly made significant improvements over the years, but the city has gone to great lengths to ensure that it shines during the Super Bowl. The homeless have been hidden away in shelters, the streets have been cleaned, and blue steel beams have been constructed as a sort of modern welcome mat to greet tourists. Friendly Detroit volunteers have been stationed in areas like Detroit Metro Airport to give visitors a warm welcome and provide them with maps and cold-weather hand warmers. Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick voiced his optimism for the city, saying: “We’ve stepped up. We’ve been the butt of jokes for the last 50 years. This is a chance to reintroduce ourselves.” Detroit is making this introduction with celebrities and politicians, hosting strings of nightlife parties and providing P. Diddy, star party host extraordinaire, with the Elysium Lounge to hold his own Super Bowl festivities.
Residents hope the Super Bowl will attract investors and businesses to the city. Indeed, 70 new businesses and restaurants have opened since Detroit was announced as the 2006 location. Now Detroit must ensure these new businesses stay open and that investors stick around after Super Bowl Sunday. Even abandoned warehouses have been renovated as party places for the weekend. Although put to use for a few days, efforts to restore or replace vacant buildings shouldn’t be forgotten or ignored after the tourists have packed up and gone home. Detroit needs to harness this spirit to keep it going beyond superficial images, beyond the downtown area and beyond merely keeping the streets clean.
To help Detroit keep moving forward, it needs fair media coverage. Disparaging remarks, like talk show host Jimmy Kimmel’s 2004 comments about potential that Pistons fans would riot, misrepresent the city and could thwart even the most sincere efforts to improve Detroit’s image. Reporters need to balance their coverage, showing that despite negative claims and stereotypes, Detroit really has improved.
Super Bowl parties for the homeless and shiny blue bridges may be sincere attempts by the city to improve Detroit’s image. But when the game is over and fans pour out of the city as quickly as they arrived, Detroit will hardly be relieved of the serious problems it faces. It will take strong city leadership to keep the Super Bowl momentum going beyond this weekend. To direct even a fraction of Detroit’s efforts to make its downtown shine toward the rest the city could do much to improve the lives of its residents. Ending damaging stereotypes and showcasing the long-hidden positive aspects of the city will be important to changing the nation’s perception of Detroit, but it will take improvements that run deeper than a few inches of fake snow to bring about true reformation.