So for those who don’t know, my name is Joey Kemeny and I worked for Century Partners this past summer. I’m a senior now at the University of Michigan majoring in business with minors in French and urban studies.
I became interested in real estate after taking an urban planning class my freshman year, realizing it would be a perfect way to merge my business interests with my newfound love of the built environment. Now that I’m a senior, I get asked what I want to do next year a lot, and I usually say real estate developer. When I tell people that, a common response is “oh, like Donald Trump?” They’re usually joking, but to me it raises a much more alarming question: what does good development, or perhaps more importantly a good developer look like?
I’m from Bloomfield Hills, an affluent suburb of Detroit, and the business school I go to is named after an extremely successful real estate developer. I’m a member of the real estate club at Michigan, where we host a number of companies that come to campus and recruit for jobs. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it really would not have been that difficult for me to find a job with a large corporation or even a smaller company doing real estate development. David actually asked me that when I interviewed at Century Partners “with all of these connections, it seems like you wouldn’t have a hard time getting a job, so why do you want to work for us?”
That question instantly brought me back to the reason why I’m doing real estate in the first place. The class that I took freshman year was from an urban planning perspective, and took a much more idealistic approach to real estate than the more direct financial approach I’ve learned from the business school. That professor emphasized the four E’s of cities: Economy, Equity, Environment and A(E)sthetics. Far too often developers only worry about the first one, and only consider the other factors when forced to by local government or residents. But approaches that focus too much on social equity or the environment can sometimes become unfeasible because they refuse to pay enough attention to economic concerns. Century Partners, as a for profit company with a mission, has been tackling these all at once. Investing directly in the communities, building wealth for longtime homeowners and residents, focusing on denser living and less car usage and saving beautiful structures in historic neighborhoods accomplishes all of these goals. It has been fantastic to see a company striving to maximize returns while not forgetting that cities are so much more than excel spreadsheets.
I came to Detroit because I wanted to learn firsthand about the issues the city is facing. I chose Century Partners because they are trying to solve these problems the right way. Detroit, for all the bad names it has been called, the crooked politicians, suburban flight and other things that have happened to it, has residents who have never left and people who are working and living there now trying to fix the problems the city currently face. They won’t always get the right answer right away; well-meaning city officials will make mistakes, developers with the best intentions might still disrupt a neighborhood, and Detroit might have problems that we aren’t even aware of yet and that we might not know how to solve. But one thing I can tell you is that the people living there now will sure as hell try.
So thanks for all the lessons, Detroit. I’ll see you again soon.