Jonathon Liedtke – OurWindsor.Ca – August 22, 2013
While many have cast their hopes and dreams about Detroit into the gutter with the municipality filing for bankruptcy – the largest municipality to file for bankruptcy in the history of the United States- other are looking past the blight and dire situation to create their own future for both the city, and themselves alike.
This author has commented before that while Detroit saw the birth of the American Dream and the rise of the middle class lifestyle, its continuance and its highly visible and exposed downfall, that Detroit is also at the forefront of creating the new American Dream.
Calgary entrepreneur Zak Pashak agrees with this sentiment so much so that he gave up his life in Calgary to move to Detroit to manufacture bikes in the motor city.
Launching Detroit Bikes earlier this year, Pashak’s first batch of bikes are due to hit shelves soon.
“Detroit was really interesting for me,” said Pashak in an exclusive interview with ourWindsor.ca. “I got involved in politics in Calgary, learned a lot about cities and what makes them work well and [the opposite] and Detroit is sort of the frontier of figuring out how to rebuild a city and make it more functional.”
It takes courage and faith in your concept to uproot yourself from your friends, family and social network, and Pashak has nothing but faith in both his company Detroit Bikes and Detroit as a whole.
“I did feel compelled [to come to Detroit],” explained Pashak. “There’s a lot of eyes on Detroit … being called Detroit Bikes … it’s very much a Detroit product. It’s built by people in Detroit, I think it follows a Detroit aesthetic [and] curiosity about Detroit gets people to try the bike out, and when people do, they seem to really like it … it’s a good way to draw people’s attention.”
Pashak explained that he is interested in alternative transportation and “different ways to get around a city.”
“There’s a theory out there that we messed up in how we built our cities, because we built them around cars rather than people,” he said. “There’s a movement to try and change the way cities are built, and to get them back on a human scale.”
While some have levied criticism against his idea and have questioned why he would choose to open a bicycle factory in Detroit, Pashak has explained that such questions are based on misguided assessments of the situation.
“I think people have it backwards … it’s not about selling the bikes in Detroit, it’s about making them in Detroit and then selling them all around [the globe],” he conceded. “The idea is to create jobs in Detroit, not to make a bike for Detroiters … I hope that Detroiters buy in and that they like it … cycling is a great way for people to save money in Detroit.”
Pashak partnered with Walkerville based City Cyclery to celebrate the launch of Detroit Bike’s entrance into the Canadian market by holding a launch party at The Willistead Restaurant.
Stephen Hargreaves is a co owner of City Cyclery who helped plan the launch event and he explained that it was “super exciting” to know that bikes are being made ‘locally’.
“To me and the other two owners at the Cyclery, we’re very much invested in Detroit and Windsor as a connected community and it’s a huge deal for us to be involved in Detroit manufacturing,” said Hargreaves. “Detroit Bikes are the only bicycle being made in Detroit at this volume and at this price point … I think it really embodies the spirit of Detroit.”
Hargreaves explained that the “cool thing” that is happening in Detroit and “under the radar of the media” is that the city’s rebirth is being caused by the core residents themselves and that it’s “happening in a big way.”
According to Hargreaves, The City Cyclery is aiming to help revitalize the City of Windsor by challenging the perceptions of how people are supposed to travel throughout the community.
“Whether it’s taking buses, commuting collectively and carpooling or it’s cycling, we want to be a part of changing how people use the city and scaling down from the suburbs and moving back into the core,” he said. “If people are on bikes, it encourages more independent business in the [core] city limits, from Walkerville to Sandwich and in between.”
Pashak employs twenty-five in downtown Detroit and is part of a group of entrepreneurs helping to dramatically change the fate of the ailed municipality.
“If every one person employed twenty-five others, we’d have no jobs shortage, so hopefully I’m doing my part,” Pashak noted.
“This is a great launch point for Canada,” Pashak said referencing the Windsor launch. “Detroit is a great shipping port … part of that is because of the great access to Canada and for me, Canada is going to be a big point of Detroit Bikes. Canadian cities are well geared for cycling … I think we’re going to sell a lot of bikes in Canada and Windsor is a great starting point.”
“I’d like to see more people like Zak in Windsor, but Detroit needs Zak more than Windsor does,” Hargreaves commented. “It’d be great to see more people like Zak on both sides of the border helping to affect change.”
Jonathon Liedtke is the Features & Opinion Editor for the University of Windsor Lance Campus/Community Newspaper and a reporter for ourWindsor.ca. As a founding member and current Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Committee, he is committed to representing, connecting, engaging with and advocating for local youth. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.