George Takei isn’t foreign to the alien kind. As Sulu on the original “Star Trek,” he fended them off. Now, Takei’s taking on a different kind of outsider – the Motor City – and he’s glad to see a new generation of human inhabitants safeguarding it.
“Detroit is the urban basket case of America,” Takei told me in our recent chat to promote his documentary, “To Be Takei.” “There are people like you who really believe in the importance of not losing Woodward Avenue and its great public monuments. Like the Roman ruins, I see evidence of a once great city.”
Dropping area lingo like “Michigander” (impressive, Sulu!) and even mentioning the Renaissance Center, the actor’s no stranger to the city. In 2012, his inimitable speaking voice accompanied the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for “A Sci-Fi Spectacular.”
Takei recalls his many visits to the Motor City, particularly time spent at the RenCen: “If they want to revitalize that area,” he thought at the time, “they made the absolute wrong decision. Here’s a beautiful complex, and then you put Fort Detroit around it – the utilities were built into a wall surrounding the complex – and so if the savages are on the other side, you wanna be on the inside, and you can’t get the ripple effect of revitalization. There should have been retail pedestrian life so that the investment being made in that Ren complex would ripple out to the rest of the city. But when you build a fortress wall around it, that’s not gonna help at all.
“You know,” he continues, reflecting on the city as a whole, “there have been so many wrong decisions made.”
Though he’s aware Detroit filed for bankruptcy in July 2013, the actor says he’s hopeful the area can seek out new life. Takei is already observing change, and he specifically notes business entrepreneur Dan Gilbert, who’s purchased downtown establishments in an effort to help the city live long and prosper.
“Trying to get young people to live in the city and bring 24-hour life to Detroit – I think it’s fantastic,” he says. “And you’re one of them. Congratulations, and thank you to you. I’m hopeful and I appreciate people like you putting up the good fight there. I think now that you’ve reached nadir, it’s gonna be all uphill. The real pioneers, the early pioneers who are starting to revive Detroit – more power to you!”
You hear that Detroit? The power of Sulu is within you.