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4:39 pm
Sat October 13, 2012

Detroit Snob? Of Course I Am.

Originally published on Tue October 23, 2012 2:22 pm

In the past few years, the news from Detroit has been fairly bleak so it's no surprise comedians like Stephen Colbert have taken shots at the downtrodden city.

"Maybe someone could attempt the unthinkable: walk through downtown Detroit."

But many positive changes are taking place. Desiree Cooper, who started a company called Detroit Snob, says residents have a lot to be snobby about.

"What people don't realize is how much Detroiters really, really, really are snobby about the great, great things that are happening in this town," she tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Celeste Headlee.

Some residents have responded to Colbert's comments by taking pictures of themselves around the city holding signs that say, "Colbert Wasn't Here," as a way to shame him into visiting.

"If you look at that Facebook page, thousands have joined it, and people are having a great time pointing out all the things that, if anyone comes to this town, they should come and see," says Cooper. "There's a vital waterfront, there's a great nightlife, the theater district is vibrant, you can eat your way through this town and never get through all the great food. And now this town, on top of everything else, is just crawling with the creative class."

But lots of people don't see this. Headlee, who discloses that she owns a Detroit Snob T-shirt herself, says, "I was wearing it one day and somebody looked at it and started laughing. They thought it was an ironic joke."

So just what is a Detroit Snob?

"We are tried of trying to explain our town and trying to excuse our town. And yet, those of us who are here know that ... there are a lot of great people, great neighborhoods and great things," Cooper says. "So it's a way for us to have our own self-esteem, and find each other, and say, 'Yes, this is how we feel about this town.' "

But even the most enthusiastic Detroiters acknowledge that the city has had its share of problems and things are not always easy.

"One of the things Detroiters often think is there's no one coming to save us," Cooper says. "That we've got to try some things. We've got to ... figure this out with or without the city council, with or without the mayor's leadership, with or without a tax base, with or without the Feds coming to save us."

Cooper refers to the auto industry bailout "last week."

"We talk about the Great Recession," she says, "and Detroiters have been talking about depression for years. So, yeah – thank goodness that some help came. But even if that wasn't going to come, Detroiters have already been talking about how to diversify industry in this town, how to get more people to be attracted to our neighborhoods ... so if others pay attention and want to pitch in, and if we can get policy looking our way, that's great. And if it's not coming, we're not going to hold our breaths."

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Transcript

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

In the past few years, the news from Detroit has been fairly bleak. Most of what the nation's heard is really the economic downturn, of course, high unemployment, the auto industry bailout. So it's no surprise that comedians, like Stephen Colbert, have taken full advantage of the opportunity to take a shot at Detroit.

STEPHEN COLBERT: Maybe someone could attempt the unthinkable: walk through downtown Detroit. Have you seen Detroit? Bankrupt might be an improvement. There are some cities that have got some open land right now. Detroit is some primo real estate to tear down some buildings on. As we speak, a defunct satellite is hurdling toward the Earth, where it will destroy everything in its path. Let's just pray it lands somewhere it can't do any damage, like Detroit.

HEADLEE: But the nation may not have heard about the positive changes happening in the city. Here to talk with us is Desiree Cooper who started a company called Detroit Snob, because, Desiree, you say Detroiters have a lot to be snobby about, right?

DESIREE COOPER: That's absolutely true. You know, I hear what Stephen Colbert is saying. I'm thinking: Ho, hum. I'm yawning. What people don't realize is how much Detroiters really, really, really are snobby about the great, great things that are happening in this town.

HEADLEE: Well, some Detroiters are - have responded to Stephen Colbert's comments. And they've started a campaign where they take pictures of themselves around the city holding signs that say: Colbert wasn't here? They're, I guess, trying to shame him to come to Detroit. What do you think of that?

COOPER: I think it's awesome. It's what - exactly what I'm talking about. If you look at that Facebook page, thousands have joined it, and people are having a great time pointing out all the things that, if anyone comes to this town, they should come and see. There's a vital waterfront, there's a great nightlife, the theater district is vibrant. You can eat your way through this town and never get through all the great food. And now this town, on top of everything else, is just crawling with the creative class.

HEADLEE: Well, let's go back to the idea of Detroit Snob. I - full disclosure - am a proud owner of a Detroit Snob T-shirt. And I was wearing it one day, and somebody looked at it and started laughing. They thought it was an ironic joke.

COOPER: Right.

HEADLEE: So it's - explain what a Detroit snob is.

COOPER: Really, you know, we are tired of trying to explain our town and trying to excuse our town. And yet, those of us who are here know that there are a lot of great people, great neighborhoods and great things. So it's a way for us to have our own self-esteem and find each other and say: Yes, this is how we feel about this town.

HEADLEE: OK. So you've had your chance to be a cheerleader. Let's talk some policies here real quickly, because the mayor, Dave Bing, is now in the process of tearing down a lot of homes. They're just going to leave empty lots everywhere. What do you think about that?

COOPER: Well, it goes without saying that we do not have the tax base to support a city of our geographic size. And something's got to change. And one of the things that Detroiters often think is there's no one coming to save us, that we've got to try some things. We've got to pull together block clubs or whatever and figure this out, with or without the city council, with or without the mayor's leadership, with or without a tax base, with or without the feds coming to save us.

HEADLEE: You know, I've got to - let me interrupt you for just a second, because I think maybe the national perception may be that Detroit did have the feds come in and save - that's what the auto industry bailout was all about.

COOPER: Well, that's last week. You know, we've been at this a long - we have been struggling. You know, we talk about the great recession, and Detroiters have been talking about depression for years. So, yeah, thank goodness that some help came. But even if that wasn't going to come, Detroiters have already been talking about how to diversify industry in this town, how to get more people to be attracted to our neighborhoods and all of those which are redeveloping.

So if others pay attention and want to pitch in, and if we can get policy looking our way, that's great. And if it's not coming, we're not going to hold our breath.

HEADLEE: OK. That's Desiree Cooper, founder of Detroit Snob. Desiree, thank you so much.

COOPER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HEADLEE: And before we leave the beautiful city of Detroit, how can I resist giving a shout-out to the Tigers? Way to go, Tigers. Good luck against the Yankees. And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great night. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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