January 1, 2010

Phillip Cooley's Version

Phillip Cooley & company opened Slows Bar-B-Q just a few years ago. When he's not helping make that place a wild success, Phil does things like build parks and teach kids how to use power tools.


Did you see correlation between your experience of Detroit and the media's depiction in 2009?

I am in Detroit because I wish to be here. I am very fortunate to have experienced life in many other cities, but I moved back to Detroit because of the possibilities here. Detroit's struggles are real, as are the statistics. However, it's how we, as a community, react to these adversities, and learn from our difficult past. This is a city like no other, and rather than strive to become the next Williamsburg or Berlin, I am hopeful that Detroit will learn from the past successes, and failures, of other great urban centers. I have never lived in an urban environment with such a strong sense of community. It is clear that the people of Detroit are it's greatest assets, something the media continually fails to comprehend. The people and Detroit's other strengths, infrastructure, industrial know-how, architectural heritage, and urban agriculture, to name a few, don't typically make headlines. I do not wish to generalize, but many in the mainstream media, especially in the United States, seem to lack the mental capacity to see our potential. I do not always blame them. When I moved here seven years ago I had an inkling of what I would find, but I am surprised and inspired by this place every day.

What'll be different about 2010- for the city? For you personally?

I am optimistic for our new government. This is the first time I've felt this way since Kwame Kilpatrick took office. Mayor Bing's appointments that I have had experience with have been incredibly progressive. I am also excited about Governor Granholm's appointment of Robert Bobb.

I hope more Detroiters see the possibilities that abound and take pride in their city. It's hard. People who have lived here for as long as sixty years in this man-made "disaster" find it hard to be optimistic. But it is growing. More and more, I see people volunteering, standing up for themselves, growing their own food, etc. Personally, I hope to continue to learn from my mistakes - and make fewer of them.

Why do you live in Detroit? How's it different from other places?

This is a city that allows us great freedom. It's up to us to use that freedom to positively affect our community. When you move to Detroit, you have a chance to be who you want to be. Here, you are who-you-say-you-are, as long as you do the work. In other cities, you are who-you-are-told-to-be (until you grow old and then become who you were twenty to thirty years ago, but with half the energy and openness). This city is a blank canvas and it's residents are the artists. Ryan Schirmang said it best, "I have friends that are musicians, baristas, architects, painters, and bankers. Anywhere else, architects only hang out with architects, musicians only hang out with musicians..." when describing the creative environment with such great collaborations from diverse perspectives.

What kind of things do you get into in Detroit? Do you have a job? What is it? Why not do it in Royal Oak? in Chicago? NYC?

I opened a restaurant with my partners in Detroit because I am an environmentalist. I believe in dense urban areas. I also feel that environmental justice is about people and community and that, by creating 61 jobs in an impoverished community and showing that success is possible in such an environment, that we are truly a triple bottom line company: Caring not only for the environmental and fiscal impact of our business, but also about the social impact. I find many reasons - fiscally, environmentally, and socially - to open a business in Detroit.

What's your favorite thing that happened here in 2009?

Burton Theatre, Mayor Bing (so far), City Council, City Bird, Leopold's, Good Girls Go To Paris expansion, Le Petit Zinc and Supino's hitting their stride; a better than expected Tigers team; ping pong at the Lager House, Shangri-la, Roast Happy Hour and bar menu, Honey Bee Expansion, Eastern Market Expansion/Improvements, Dequindre Cut, ROC United coming to town; ClandesDine, Macho City, Majestic Cafe revamp, Hugh, Re-View Gallery, and much more.


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