October 14, 2013
So there was this gathering a couple weeks ago called TEDxDetroit and I was lucky enough to be in attendance. I debated back and forth about blogging about the event but decided to write this after talking to enough people who wanted to hear about it, so here are my highlights and lowlights from TEDxDetroit 2013.
Highlights: There were a number of great presentations and talks. These are just a taste of what I thought went extremely well, but please check the videos as they come out to hear some great talks that don’t get mentioned here.
Detroiters speaking on the real Detroit – The ceremony opened up with the video for Blair’s poem, “Detroit (While I Was Away)” and you can check it out here, RIP Blair you are missed. The next Detroiter who spoke some real honesty was Jackie Victor. Full disclosure I used to work for Jackie, but honestly she brought up the Grace Lee Boggs school, bringing eastsiders together with the members of the Detroit synagogue, and even calling out the organizers to have a more representative diversity of speakers for next year. Matthew Naimi from Recycle Here was awesome, and Amy Kaherl from Detroit Soup always does a great job. Lastly, the Inside Out Literary Project brought youth poets to the event and there were just too many awesome moments. The youth of Detroit have some serious courage to rip their poems in front of a few hundred folks and it was incredible.
Alternative transportation – There was two very exciting speakers that discussed how the Motor City is steadily becoming a Motor-less City. Jason Hall (pictured) from Slow Roll and Detroit Bike City gave a wonderful talk on how Slow Roll has grown from the community and how going after something you like to do can actually work if you make genuine connections. A touching moment was when Jason dedicated his talk to Hal Williams, who passed away the week prior due to injuries from a hit-and-run with a car while biking. Along with Jason, Norman Witte from Crain Communications spoke on what it is like to be a bike commuter in Detroit. He brought up very good points about making your workplace accommodating to bicycle commuters as well as how to ride through the winter. Both speakers made me really proud to be a bicyclist in the city.
Cobo Hall – Nearly half completed the $300 million renovation of Cobo Hall looks gorgeous. The updated 3-story atrium with the view of the river is breathtaking and where we took the above TEDx photo. The ballroom was sectioned off for our event and still felt open and exciting while simultaneously intimate enough for speakers and attendees. Definitely will make for a great space when the renovation is finished in 2015.
Lowlights: I’m not going to address the issue of access, diversity, or inclusion here; it has already been addressed by better people to discuss these things, this blog from Naomi Scheinerman does a good job in talking about some of the issues. I’ll just talk about my personal lowlights.
Charlie LeDuff – Ridiculous, foul-mouthed, strung-out, might be just three words you could use to describe LeDuff’s talk. He was clearly not prepared to give the talk, walked out with a fake security detail, and berated people about the idiocracies of government. I did agree with a few things he said but the man was totally inappropriate for the mixed age group and offered little substance to the conference. If you are unfamiliar with his particular ‘brand’ of journalism, this video is a good preview.
Les Gold – My biggest issue with the entire conference was Gold speaking as the keynote closer. It felt like a warped motivational speech that guys in their mid-life crisis would listen to in a Motel 6, nothing like a TED talk or even something to be memorable. Just an old guy yelling, “Do you want it ENOUGH?” and reminding everyone he makes money off of the media narrative of poor and broke Detroit on a trash reality show.
“Entrepreneurs” – This last one is a shout out to all the entrepreneurs who basically gave their investment pitches about their business to the crowd. There were a number of great businesses that I support personally, but as TED speakers they flopped. Extreme overuse of buzzwords and phrases like “saving Detroit,” “blank slate” and other tasteless terms the entrepreneurial community has decided to describe Detroit. I’d rather you talk to me about how you and your business is different, or how you engage the community you’re supposedly serving, and please stop thinking you’re fixing Detroit. I’m all for building businesses through hard work and the tribulations of small business are immense, so stop talking about it and do it – let the results speak for itself.
Okay so let’s recap – beautiful venue, wide range of speakers, solid showcase of Detroit businesses and people, and fairly well organized from registration to the after-party.
Overall – 4/5 with the recommendation to check it out for yourself and that I’ll most likely attend 2014.
(Photos Courtesy of TEDxDetroit)