This summer the editors at Time Inc. did something a little out of the ordinary for us or, frankly, for anybody: we bought a house in Detroit. As houses go, it's nice enough three stories, five bedrooms, 3½ baths with a yard and a basement. We paid $99,000, about $80,000 above the average price of a house in the city limits.
Why would we ever do such a thing? Because we believe that Detroit right now is a great American story. No city has had more influence on the country's economic and social evolution. Detroit was the birthplace of both the industrial age and the nation's middle class, and the city's rise and fall and struggle to rise again are a window into the challenges facing all of modern America. From urban planning to the crisis of manufacturing, from the lingering role of race and class in our society to the struggle for better health care and education, it's all happening at its most extreme in the Motor City.
As a story, Detroit has been misunderstood, underreported, stereotyped, avoided and exploited for decades. To get it right, we decided to become stakeholders. Over the next year, we intend to flood the D-zone with journalists, photographers, videographers and bloggers from TIME and TIME.com, Fortune and Fortune.com, CNNMoney.com, Money, even Sports Illustrated. Some will live in the house dubbed the "D-Shack" after Detroit-area native Kid Rock dropped by with a housewarming gift of a Gothic D (for the mantel) plus a keg of his Badass Beer and others will stay there while reporting. The house will be a gathering place and a clearinghouse; we've already had Mayor Dave Bing over for dinner and thrown a lawn party to greet our new neighbors.
After spending a couple of days there, along with TIME editor Rick Stengel and TIME.com managing editor Josh Tyrangiel, we found that you could not throw a rock in Detroit without hitting a good story. In this issue, you'll read Daniel Okrent's insightful analysis of how Detroit got off track and how the hardy souls who remain are fighting for the city's future. Steven Gray profiled one of those fighters: Bing, the NBA Hall of Famer and steel entrepreneur thrust into an office once rife with corruption. Future issues of TIME will feature stories about Detroit's thriving Muslim population and the city's drive to diversify its industry, while TIME.com will cover the city every day with audio, video and the just-launched Detroit Blog.
The hope is that through all these efforts, a narrative arc about Detroit will emerge over the next year that can somehow make a difference. While we do not intend to be cheerleaders or apologists, we do have a point of view: we want Detroit to recover and find its way into the future.
Not all that long ago, Detroit was one of the richest places in the country, the citadel of the auto age, the "arsenal of democracy," the nexus of technology and innovation. Today it struggles for its life: not one national chain operates a grocery store in the entire 138-sq.-mi. city limits of Detroit. The estimated functional illiteracy rate in the city limits hovers near 50%. The unsolved-murder rate is about 70%, and unemployment is around an astonishing 29%.
Our challenge is to bring a sense of surprise, discovery, enlightenment, horror, joy, inspiration and fun to the reality of Detroit. And that reality is that Detroit, like all other cities, is human. Beneath the statistics and the headlines, people live there. They struggle with profound change, they fight to raise and educate their families, they mourn the past, and they hope for a brighter future.
But most of all, Detroiters are proud of their city. They fight to open charter schools. To jail criminals and bring back the rule of law. To band together and renew their neighborhoods. To open restaurants, stores and clinics. To make great music and try to beat the Yankees.
For the next year, we'll be right there with them, and we hope you'll join us for this adventure. It matters.
John Huey is Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief.