Why Detroit Was the Perfect Place for #ELGL17

by NRC
6 min read
May 22, 2017

-By Audrey Silliman

The City of Detroit is undergoing a profound transformation. Walking around Detroit’s downtown, you see signs of this transformation around every corner: from local artists painting murals, to neighborhoods finding creative ways to promote revitalization, to the recent opening of the QLine (a streetcar system the likes of which the city hasn’t seen since 1956).

Recently, ELGL (Engaging Local Government Leaders) held their annual conference in Detroit, and for good reason. “A city like Detroit has an incredible story,” said Kirsten Wyatt, Executive Director & Co-Founder of ELGL. “It was the perfect backdrop for [this conference] and what we try to celebrate as ELGL.”

Stories of Detroit’s revitalization, community and perseverance were woven into many of the #ELGL17 conference sessions. But even as I left these sessions and walked out onto the streets of Detroit, I noticed how the recurring themes of the conference and the core tenets of the ELGL community were clearly reflected in the city around me. In the downtown businesses, and in Detroit’s neighborhoods and parks, I saw a place that was focused on innovation, accessibility and fostering a community that cares deeply about Detroit’s future.

My colleagues and I at National Research Center, Inc. (NRC), a survey research firm that helps provide data to help move communities forward, were greatly inspired by Detroit’s story, its history and its efforts to reinvent itself. To us, it seemed that Detroit was the perfect place for #ELGL17, so we asked our fellow conference attendees: why did they think Detroit was a good place to hold the#ELGL17 conference?

The City’s Energy

Detroit City_NRC

“There’s some great energy here. There’s also the ability to innovate and look at new ways of doing things. I think Detroit is a great draw for people who live in the area and nationwide to come here and see the good work that they’re doing, but also at the same time realize that there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. I was especially impressed with the commitment to getting all areas of the community involved, which I think a lot of cities neglect to do.”- Kent Wyatt, Co-Founder of ELGL

“There’s a lot of excitement in Detroit, just in the revitalization that’s currently going on. What better place for a group of local government leaders to come and see, “here’s what’s going on, and here’s how people in the community are talking about it, and here are some ideas that we can take to our own communities.’”  – Ellis Johnson II, Graduate Student at the University of North Carolina

Detroit’s Local Government and Community-wide Innovation

Detroit Garden Tour_NRC

“I think it’s the perfect place to think about taking risks. Local governments aren’t necessarily known for being risk-takers, but this is the perfect canvas upon which to really do that, and think about innovation, prototyping, failing fast and really bringing a sort of lean-thinking to cities.” - Mariela Alfonzo, Founder and CEO of State of Place

“Detroit has seen the worst of the brunt of the rust belt problems. [But] they have brought in some of the best minds and solved many of the problems that they had. We’ve been able to witness that first-hand … In downtown Detroit, in the city proper, there is so much effort that’s obviously been put into it, and it’s working and it’s incredible. It’s a great American success story, and that’s a great reason to have [the conference] here.” – Nick Smith, Digital Content Specialist for Gaithersburg, MD

“You can see innovation in action everywhere you look. I want to change my middle name to Innovation. That’s how much I just love it here!” –Laura Savage, Community Relations Specialist and Administrative Clerk for Pueblo West Metropolitan District

Detroit’s Community


Earthworks Detroit Tour_NRC

“I feel like I came here to Detroit with a certain idea in my head of what is was like, and it’s been totally turned on its head. Detroit is someplace that has really had to reinvent itself; they had to start from scratch. There’s a lot of culture and community, a lot of spirit and connection. That’s what’s been really inspiring, especially from a local government perspective. They’re partnering with a lot of different types of people and corporations to bring things to the masses that they couldn’t do on their own. Look at the QLine they’ve just opened up. Even getting on the train, you could feel peoples’ excitement. You could feel the spirit. There’s just something in the air. People are excited and they’re renewed and they’re ready to go.” - Morgan Adams, Survey Associate for National Research Center, Inc.

“All of the people from Detroit who we heard from love their city, and they’re excited to be a part of its renaissance. I think that’s something every city can capitalize on: passion and pride in your hometown. I’ve loved it.” – Aly Van Dyke, Marketing Consultant for the City of Austin, TX

 The City’s Persistence and Evolution

Detroit Riverwalk Statues_NRC

“I think Detroit was a good place for the conference. [It is] a prime example of why local government is important, why you need to thrive and be persistent, be able to do your job and know how to grow.” - Corey Andrade, Account Executive for NextRequest

“Detroit is near and dear to my heart because I live very close by the city and I’ve really enjoyed seeing the city evolution of Detroit. It’s definitely up-and-coming. There’s a lot of great development going on and a lot of really wonderful things happening in the community. I think that seeing a city and an urban landscape like this for people in local government is really helpful to paint a canvas for what could happen, and what you can do to make improvements in the city.” - Michelle Woodhouse, Chief Operating Officer of State of Place

“Detroit was an excellent place for this conference to see what’s possible in cities. Even cities going through tough times are full of hope and are a blank slate to be able to innovate and rebuild.” – Chris Fabian, Co-Founder, ResourceX & The Center for Priority Based Budgeting (CPBB)

Detroit is an Example for Other American Communities

ELGL Tour Group_standing pose_NRC

“Detroit is nationwide known as a city in transition. The governments of cities all over the country have a lot to learn about what’s happening here. Being here in person, and having a chance to see it first-hand is one of the best ways to take in all of these ideas, learn from them, bring them back and apply them in the communities where ELGL members work and live.” – Josh Dukelow, Host of Fresh Take at 1150 WHBY

“Detroit is a good place for this conference because it really has a lot of value that folks from all parts of the country can come here and learn. There are so many different topics here that are being addressed: social issues, financial issues, and everything else. Detroit gives people a little bit of that wow factor. It will inspire them to think, ‘I can be the person who helps revitalize my city where I grew up, or some other place in the country.’ I think it’s a place that has a lot of inspiration, a lot of hope and it’s a great venue.” - Charlotte Colley, Village Administrator for New Concord, OH

“I feel that Detroit was an absolute great choice for this conference, as I am a native of the city. [It really gives] a full flavor, a full feel for the redevelopment that’s going on and gives people opportunities to see how a reemerging community can really look. [You can see] differences in diversity of opportunities and how we bridge it, some of the challenges with transportation and other issues.” – Christina Tookes, Senior Corporate Budget Analyst for Durham, NC

Full Photo Album By NRC

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National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) is a leading full-service survey research and evaluation firm focusing on the information requirements of the public sector, including local governments, health care providers, foundations and non-profit organizations.  Visit our home on the Web at www.n-r-c.com.  Check out our media page for more news, tips and human-interest stories from NRC.

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