communication, détroit, sustainability, innovation, ecology, USA, branding, brand

Claire and Guillaume from strategic planning were in Detroit from 22 to 25 May for Sustainable Brands, the global event for responsible and innovative brands. Workshops, testimonies, city tours ... Making the most of the opportunity of being there, they were able to discuss topics ranging from food in cities to the workings of urban farms, a widespread phenomenon in Detroit.
For, contrary to popular belief, far from being a ghost town, Detroit is a city of the future - especially in terms of social innovation and sustainability.
But how has vital necessity, which the American city has been feeling the effects of since the 1950s, created the conditions for the emergence of tomorrow’s solutions?
Claire explains the important lessons that the reinvention of Detroit can teach us in a series of 5 articles! She gives us an insider’s view of three days filled with discoveries, sharing and emotions.
We have already posted the first two episodes: Ford & Detroit: A History of Interwoven Destinies, and Human Beings beyond the Headlines.
Let’s move on now to the third episode, “Places of Reinvention Reinvented”.

plAces of reinvention reinvented 

In Detroit, more than anywhere else, everybody soon realized that to get by they would have to pull together. Here co-working is not just for show: it is an essential weapon to revive the city. Whereas for us co-working spaces are generally the hang-out of busy startuppers or nomadic freelances, here they are places of hybrid connections and real centers of mutual support, deeply rooted in the fabric of the local community. These are places where the "co" is not just there to look nice, if you see what I mean...
Now, a brief close-up of two places whose approach particularly appealed to me.

What is it?

It’s at once a co-working space, an artists’ residency, the home of high social impact startups, a dance studio, maker space ... and more. Bought by an NGO, Ponyride was initially an empty box built by local volunteers in the aim of bringing together people from all walks of life to demonstrate the power of collaborative work. Today, it rents out space at a low price to artists, entrepreneurs and project promoters who seek to have a positive impact on local communities. By the way, people who enter here undertake to do 3 hours a week of volunteer work.  A great idea, no?

Why did I choose to talk to you about it?
Just the name made it a real must (you should have seen the driver's expression when we told him we wanted to go to Ponyride!). But the idea behind the brand name is even better. At Ponyride they believe that life should be like a pony ride: we get on, fall off, dust ourselves off, get back in the saddle and off we go again! A philosophy which I’m totally in harmony with.
It’s also the first time that I’ve visited such a completely hybrid place where art, crafts, startups and co-working all come together. On top of that, it’s a place that has opened up to the local community, hosting dance and music classes. A space which opens its doors to everyone!

That’s right, the famous JR came to visit the premises;)
How could it inspire brands?
I dream of a world where brands express themselves in a myriad different ways, and no longer think in terms of preconceived compartments. Where they create multi-stakeholder innovations involving innovative startups, enthusiastic consumers, craftspeople and designers, and artists with dreams. Then we’d be sure that innovations would be more than just a new hamburger-flavored chewing gum …

What is it?
It’s the largest incubator / business accelerator in Detroit and has a dual approach. 1: an accelerator of tech startups (Hi to all my friends at NUMA!) And 2: (spoiler alert: this is my favorite) a program to support local businesses in the city.

Why did I choose to talk to you about it? 

Because it is another incubator that has really thought about how it can impact the local ecosystem. A bit like Le Comptoir (an incubator set up by the INCO to create jobs in the Seine-Saint-Denis area) in Montreuil, but going a step further. The aim here is not just to bring in entrepreneurs, who are often highly-educated graduates, but also to help ordinary local people develop their own project. To be more efficient, Techtown can even relocate its programs to different parts of the city and adapt itself to the specificities of each case.


How could it inspire brands?
Yet another way of engaging with the local community! Maybe brands should give local branches more scope to develop projects specially designed to benefit local communities. A bit like Starbucks is trying to do with its Starbucks Community Service program. They might be able to find, somewhere between their identity and the needs they have analyzed, real spaces to make a difference. For example, what if a Carrefour hypermarket supported the development of small shops in villages too far away for people to get to its store? This would be another way of illustrating the usefulness of a brand that seeks to make quality food available to all.
Let's open up!
I’d just like to conclude with 2 points:
            1. Let's open up our businesses to local communities before changing the world
            2. Let’s break down barriers between disciplines and points of view and come up with new, richer ideas and fairer values