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Former Free Press Columnist Susan Ager Talks About Her National Geographic Piece on Detroit

A recent issue of National Geographic features a large, multidimensional spread on Detroit. The magazine is far from the only national publication to show interest in Detroit and what’s happening with both revitalization and decay, but this piece wasn’t written by someone from New York or Washington or Paris. It was written by Susan Ager, a long-time journalist at the Detroit Free Press. Detroit Today Host Stephen Henderson sits down with Ager, whom he calls a former mentor, to discuss her piece.

Referencing the piece’s title, “Tough, Cheap and Real, Detroit is Cool Again,” Henderson asks Ager to explain how she concluded Detroit is indeed “cool again.”

I remember when Detroit was cool.  And [then] I remember when people would say, ‘You work in Detroit?’” she tells Henderson.  But these days she says she doesn’t recognize downtown. “I’m not sure if I ever in my 61 years have seen downtown Detroit as young as it is now.  And young people define cool, don’t they?”

Susan’s piece shows Detroit from nearly every angle -from newcomers trickling into downtown and midtown to people living in struggling neighborhoods. And the piece features maps showing both the level of decay and the potential for rebirth.  She tells Henderson that the part in her piece that received the biggest reaction was the section on white money, excerpted here:

I am grateful to see money finally flowing in to rescue my hometown. It’s mostly white money, but—despite a lingering tangle of racial and class resentments—it appears that Detroit­ers, down so long, mostly don’t care. Money can fertilize growth.

Click on the audio player above to hear the conversation.

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