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There Once Was A City With An Island

…and one day  someone offered the native inhabitants some beads to buy it. 

A man named Rodney Lockwood and a bunch of people with money and nothing worthwhile to use it for, have decided to put a one billion dollar price tag on Belle Isle.  They’ve done so without any consideration for all of the people and organizations who work so hard to maintain the park and its environment for the use of the entire community. And, get this, they want it to be a “Commonwealth” with its own laws, customs and currency.

The proposed “Commonwealth” will also have a citizenship requirement. Any interested citizens must complete an application, which is reviewed by a board of unidentified persons. In order to become a citizen of this proposed “Commonwealth” you must have mastery of the English language, have a good credit score (exactly what that is to the board is unknown at this time), no criminal record and you must pay a $300,000 “citizenship” fee which will be used to repay the investors and build an infrastructure for gas, electricity, sewers and a monorail. Did I mention that Belle Isle is approximately 5 miles long? Although Monaco, which Lockwood claims to have used as his point of reference, is smaller than Belle Isle, there are so many reasons why this is just complete foolishness. First what happens to the wildlife and other resources currently on Belle Isle? Why should Lockwood and his sheep get to retain use of said resources while no one else does?

Lockwood’s proposal has all the makings of the next great Ponzi Scheme. With YOUR $300,000, they will pay back investors (primarily Lockwood), build skyscrapers, condos, a sewer system, a monorail that goes 5 miles, print currency and what not. After all they will have just spent $1 billion to buy the “land” that is Belle Isle, so you can’t expect them to develop it without your help, right? Hence the credit check and minimum “citizenship fee” requirements. And no, you won’t get that money back. Any money left over, Lockwood claims, will be used to back the currency. So “Islanders” are going to use U.S. Dollars to back their monopoly money? But U.S. Dollars are backed by the value of gold. I’m not impressed. You want your own currency but you need the U.S. Dollar to give it value?  Lockwood would have impressed me more had he said he was going to use duck or goose poop to back the currency. Duck and goose poop are biodegradable and abundant on Belle Isle. A highly intelligent person could develop a way to turn it into a valuable resource. I’m just saying.

Lockwood states “citizens will come from all over the world.  People who desire to live in a beautiful city, free from excessive government and oppressive taxation, who want unlimited opportunity to lead a life of their own making will emigrate to Belle Isle.  Perhaps 50% will come from the United States, and the balance from other countries.  This diverse population will make Belle Isle a very cosmopolitan city, with an interesting culture.” But when that fantasy fails and they need law enforcement, they will be asking for it from Detroit and the United States. Yet, under this proposal, the rest of us, wouldn’t be allowed to go on Belle Isle. *hmmm…interesting*

Lockwood owns Lockwood Construction. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that his company would be building all of the proposed construction related to his own plan. How convenient. Again, does this not seem like a well thought out Ponzi Scheme to you? Lockwood also proposes that Belle Isle will have commerce related to finance, investments and insurance. Sounds like he wants to make it a mini-Wallstreet but with limited access for the rest of “us”. No offense to New York City, but there are a lot of architectural designers and engineers that have traveled to Detroit in the last several months to consult on many forthcoming projects. These subject matter experts have said that Detroit, and its Belle Isle, do not need to be transformed into a replica of any other city in the world. That if done right, Detroit can be a robust and beautiful DETROIT, not the next Monaco or Manhattan. By the way, the Grand Prix will have to take place elsewhere if Lockwood gets his way, and rightly it should be. Why should the “Islanders” get to benefit from all the fast cars zooming by while others can’t?  With 35,000 people paying a whopping $300,000 each, they can afford to get their own Grand Prix.

This is the most ridiculous use of money I’ve heard of yet. But Lockwood seems determined to make this happen and he has enlisted the help of many wealthy fools. I mean folks. Do any of them want to buy Pluto while we’re at it? It doesn’t technically belong to me, but since it’s vacant, and I don’t agree with its current use, I figure I might as well see what I can do to profit from it.

I have a counter proposal for Lockwood and his merry band of geniuses. First, everything on Belle Isle would need to be relocated to another park in Detroit or destroyed completely. And I mean everything. Every building, structure, plant, and animal. Including the fountain, the golf course, the Detroit Yacht Club, marina and the Casino. The “Islanders” should have to start from scratch building their utopia. Since they want their own laws, customs and currency, they should have their own country. Therefore, they should relinquish their citizenship from the United States and forego all of the rights afforded to them as citizens. Including the rights to vote, bare arms and have healthcare. I’m serious. They should be required to use the resources found  (or left) on Belle Isle and pay tariffs on all products and goods they buy from the United States and Canada. That includes food, clothing, and building supplies for their skyscrapers, condos, sewer system, and monorail. That also means, they can’t operate a business or “export” goods and services from Belle Isle into Detroit or Canada without abiding by international trade agreements and treaties [take that Lockwood Construction]. There would need to be an Immigration and Customs check point at the base of the Belle Isle Bridge and Jefferson Avenue that stops “Islanders” and checks for identification before they can come into Detroit. “Islanders” should not be allowed to own or operate boats without authorization since the Detroit River is considered an international waterway and is patrolled and protected by the United States and Canada. They could own the cars they took with them to Belle Isle, but wouldn’t be able to drive them anywhere but on Belle Isle, because they’re not United States citizens. I say just build a fence around them and call it a day. If Lockwood and his friends don’t want to share Belle Isle with us, why should we share everything else with them?

Under my proposal we wouldn’t have to accept their currency or employ them at our companies if we chose not to, after all they can’t scream discrimination and we couldn’t pay them in their own currency because it wouldn’t be in circulation here. Plus, its value would probably be less than a Peso considering it’s backed by the dollar, which is backed by gold (I told you duck poop made more sense). They’d have to have their own sports teams and stadiums for them to play in. They’d have to build their own schools, hospitals, have their own fire department and police as well. After all, that’s an additional 35,000 people. We’re already short-handed on law enforcement and public safety personnel here in Detroit. Because “Islanders” would no longer be recognized as U.S. citizens they wouldn’t be protected by any U.S. laws, which is what Lockwood wants, right? They would have human rights, of course, but everything else, they would need to establish for themselves like the first settlers did. I’ve seen pictures of the first settlers. Did that look like fun to you?

I mean if you’re going to do something Mr. Lockwood, fully commit to it. Don’t pick and choose what you like and not take some of what you don’t. How is that fair? Lockwood wants to isolate “us” from “them” yet keep all the benefits “we” have and take possession of our largest city park in the process. That’s like a group of people trying to buy New York’s Central Park then putting an electrified fence around it, so that no one else could have access to it. If this were New York City, Lockwood’s idea alone would be considered treason.

Lockwood’s utopia could result in additional work and even taxes for the rest of us, without us having the benefit of being able to go to Belle Isle freely. Let’s take car ownership as one example. Automobile purchasing and ownership is regulated and monitored by the State of Michigan Secretary of State. We pay taxes to the State of Michigan when we buy cars, sell cars and we pay fees each year to maintain licenses and registrations. Under Lockwood’s Dumb World Order, “Islanders” wouldn’t have to pay taxes. But those taxes have to be paid by someone, right? I seriously doubt the State of Michigan is going to waive those fees for 35,000 people. Lockwood wants those fees and taxes to be paid for the “Islanders” by the rest of “us”. It’s logical that some “Islanders” would already have vehicles so it’s only fair that they can retain them when they relocate to Belle Isle. However, because they are no longer U.S. Citizens, they can’t license or insure them, therefore as I stated before, they can only drive them on Belle Isle. In order to drive them outside of Belle Isle, they should have to pay to license, register and insure their cars as Detroiters currently have to do. Why should the State of Michigan or its citizens absorb costs to adhere to “Islanders” currency and laws? The costs to print “Commonwealth of Belle Isle” license plates, registration tags each year, driving records, driver’s licenses would come out of the pockets of the rest of “us” (higher fees to register our vehicles and renew our registrations) if “Islanders” are allowed to remain U.S. Citizens. Instead force Lockwood and his “Islanders” to develop a method of their own, since they want to do everything else on their own. Go Hard or Go Home. At the very least, then they should be charged more money by the State of Michigan if they can’t develop their own system. And they should have to pay in U.S. Dollars like the rest of us. No monopoly money.

I repeat: Lockwood has come up with the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever heard. Although on the surface it may seem well thought out because he has his FAQ neatly typed, it’s a hot mess of epic proportions waiting to happen. In other words, it’s fuckery. Anyone investing in Lockwood’s idea is being taken on the world’s greatest Ponzi Scheme and clearly has too much time on their hands and too much money as well. The truth is, even if Lockwood does get the City of Detroit and State of Michigan to go along with his foolishness, he still needs at least 35,000 idiots with $300,000 each, who meet his standard of a mastery of the English language, no criminal record and whatever he considers to be good credit (which could be a score of 900) in order for his plan to be successful. I say this: if Lockwood wants to own his own COUNTRY, which in essence is what he wants, he should find an uninhabited island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean to “settle” where the only contenders are potentially non English speaking natives with spears or carnivorous animals. Whoever is left standing, gets the island.

Belle Isle doesn’t belong to the City of Detroit GOVERNMENT; it belongs to the PEOPLE.

Of course, Lockwood might run across this blog one day and address some of the concerns I brought to light, causing him to make adjustments to his plans. However, that would just prove my point. The “Commonwealth of Belle Isle” plan is a selfish plan developed by a man with a selfish agenda of his own. It has nothing to do with beautifying an existing resource. It’s discriminatory at its root and has more long term negative impact than positive on the citizens of Detroit, Michigan and the United States, if allowed to come to fruition.

Talent in Detroit

With all of the bad news, crime statistics and potential for receivership under an Emergency Financial Manager (regardless of what Mayor Bing said in his State of the City address a few days ago), we often forget about the talent that is deeply rooted and often overlooked in the City of Detroit. Detroit receives worldwide attention for the North American International Auto Show, the government scandals and the uprise of foreclosures leading to additional blight, but Detroit doesn’t receive the same level of attention for the talent that has grown and exists here. So many people have left the arms of the City of Detroit for the softer, greener pastures of Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York (where the competition is stiffer), in an effort to become break out stars. Many of whom have achieved that goal, while others have been sent running home with their tails tucked.

As I look at all of the talented people in Detroit, I sometimes overhear people stating that they want to step out on faith, leave the city and become successful elsewhere. This makes me wonder ~ If they put the same energy into remaining and working on their craft here, as they put into their plans for exodus, how successful would they become? The same plans a person has to become successful in another city, can be implemented for them to become successful in Detroit. Don’t get me wrong, I clearly understand that Detroit is behind the eight ball in technology, infrastructure, commerce and entertainment compared to larger urban meccas like Atlanta, the bright lights of Hollywood and the always busy streets of the Big Apple. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t improve. Improvement requires people with ideas, just as much as improvements cost money. I sometimes think that we’re getting what we get from our leadership simply because we don’t demand more from them. They have cut the arts from schools, they don’t appropriate Federal funds into the community the way they should and they would rather lay people off from work than have an Emergency Financial Manager uncover their corruption. This results in people losing hope and feeling that the promised land is elsewhere instead of underneath their feet. Those are some of the same issues other large cities have. It’s the national recession. It just hits cities like Detroit harder.

This weekend I had the privilege of attending Fashion in Detroit, an event sponsored and organized by Denise Ilitch (her father is the founder, owner and business mogul behind Little Caesar’s Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Tigers), and Joe Faris (Project Runway contestant and Michigan native); two individuals who obviously have business and creativity in their blood. The afternoon was full of beautiful fashions designed mostly by Detroiters. Yes, fashion is present and alive in The D. Have you ever heard of a talented young lady by the name of Tracey Reese? She’s a graduate of Cass Technical High School in DETROIT.  Have you heard of Kevan Hall? He also is a native Detroiter. Shoe designers Shane and Shawn are also Detroiters and graduates of Cass Technical High School. If you didn’t know this, please allow me the privilege of educating you briefly…

Detroit has been fashionable since it was named Motown.  

Then there are the big names in entertainment like Tim Allen, Jerry Bruckheimer, Ellen Burstyn, Francis Ford Coppola, Jeff Daniels, David Alan Grier, Madoon, Eminem, Tom Selleck, Kid Rock, the late Sonny Bono, the late Aaliyah, Blair Underwood, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Bill McKinney, Big Sean, J Dilla, Brandon T. Jackson, Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, The Clark Sisters, The Winans, and many, many others. The list of heavy hitters in entertainer from Detroit is so long that it would take another 500 words for me to name them all. But I think you get the point. Detroit is full of talent. But we have to nurture its growth. Even if success eventually pulls people from the city, we need those people to be proud of where they came from. It doesn’t hurt for them to come back and visit sometimes. I honestly believe that if the most successful people who originated from Detroit, would occasionally show up and embrace this city as their home. and use their influence to improve the city’s image, the leadership here would be compelled to do a better job representing the community. That’s just my opinion and I could be wrong. But will anyone step up and attempt to prove me wrong with action? Worse case scenario: Detroit receives POSITIVE media attention.

I know that the city requires a lot of work to rise from the ashes of the last several years. I believe that it can be done. I”m working to do my part to change its image. But I’m just one person. And I’ve noticed that the Detroit community hasn’t quite embraced The Brand; mostly because it’s not what they are accustomed to. Michigan is a working class state. As a result, creativity is often frowned upon and viewed as mere craziness. This attitude results in talented people feeling the need to flee to other cities where they hope to be more “accepted”. I’m blessed to have the encourage of my supporters to keep me from feeling defeated by the lack of love I receive from my city. The first major publication to interview me was Rollin’ Out Magazine which is published out of Atlanta. The first talk show to contact me to make an appearance was also in Atlanta. There are a lot of opportunities for me in Atlanta, that I will take advantage of very soon. Taking those opportunities may result in me temporarily relocating, which I’ve planned for when the time comes. But my movie writing career is rooted here in Detroit (more on that forthcoming) and my business is headquartered here. These are things that will always spark me to declare that I’m Imported from Detroit. I hope that one day my city re-embraces creatives and supports the local talent more than it has over the last several years. If not, it won’t limit the opportunities for creatives elsewhere, but it will have a detrimental effect on the way the world views what was once called Motown.