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In 2010, the sky’s the limit

Can a simple paper airplane lift Detroit's economy?

I was reading USA Today over the holiday break and came across a small story with the title, “Paper airplane flight sets record.” According to the article, Japanese paper airplane virtuoso Takua Toda set a world record for a hand-launched paper airplane on December 27, 2009.  Toda’s 4-inch-long plane of his own design stayed in the air for 26.1 seconds!

But Toda’s vision doesn’t stop with a record-setting paper airplane flight. He is also designing a paper airplane that can be flown in space. We’ve all made paper airplanes as children. But how many of us could ever have imagined designing one that would withstand re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere?

It’s that kind of vision that Detroiters need to usher in the New Year. Maybe something as simple as paper airplanes can really make a difference in our lives.

In September, a Grand Rapids artist released about 80,000 paper airplanes to a gawking crowd of more than 20,000. It was not only high-flying art, but a great way to lift the spirits—and the economy—of a city.

It was a Lego exhibit that got me and my family out in the cold this holiday season to venture to The Henry Ford. The Lego Exhibit did not disappoint.  While there were incredible Lego structures, the exhibit was built around interaction and imagination.  Children could dress as knights, dragons and damsels.  They could build their own castles.  What a joy to watch! 

We continued to explore and came upon “Heroes of the Sky”Wright Brothers, Amelia Earhart, Charles Lindbergh and planes, planes, planes.  While the displays were great, it was the raised voices and laughter nearby that attracted me.  As I looked around a corner I was met by the sight of adults and children – some standing, some sitting at tables, others sitting on the floor – all carefully folding pieces of paper to create their perfect paper airplane.  While directions were available, you can bet that many were just “winging it.”  Once completed, each “flight engineer” could launch their creation in a specially constructed Plexiglas flight room.  How could I resist?

I had so much fun that my vision for Detroit started to take wings. In this era of art as economic development and art as a community building tool, what could be more appropriate and accessible to all than the paper airplane? Look at how the Grand Rapids event inspired tens of thousands of people to participate in a joint event, one that created not only fun, but an economic boost.

Could we inspire regionalism through something as simple and universal as paper airplanes? Could we breach racial, ethnic, geographic and age barriers through the simple act of a Detroit Regional PAPER AIRPLANE CONTEST?

This year, let your imagination soar.