Why do I love Detroit? If I had thought about answering this question a few weeks ago, it would have been easy. However, things happened recently that changed the way I look at Detroit since moving back here last year. I am still exceedingly happy that my husband and I made the decision to start putting down some roots in our home state, near a city that is growing and changing for the better each day. I’m thrilled to always have a new hot spot on my radar for eating, grabbing cocktails, shopping, touring, and exploring. And the thought of Detroit being a better city for my future children to grow up in makes my heart swell. However, I realized two Sundays ago that the Detroit we are all so anxious for isn’t here yet and it would be naive and unfair of us all to assume that it is. I think that we can all be too hopeful too soon and expect positive change to happen without feeling any of its growing pains.
We live off Woodward Avenue so when we drive downtown I usually suggest that we take Woodward the whole way (versus the much quicker expressway). I prefer to take Woodward because I don’t want to bypass (literally and figuratively) Detroit. I want to see it. All of it. And let me tell you, Detroit has a long way to go before it can be called a comeback city. When I pass Ferndale, 8 mile, Highland Park, and Midtown on our way to the downtown core we see real Detroiters doing life in a not-so-glamorous space. These people are not visitors or spectators, they are real contributors and members of their community — good, bad, and ugly. For the past few months, I would momentarily forget that I am still just a visitor. I live, work, and (for the most part) play in a safe and homogeneous suburb of Detroit. I don’t wear “Bitch please, I’m from Detroit” or “Detroit vs Everybody” t-shirts, because I’m not trying to convince people that I’m made from anything other than super-white suburbia. I am very well aware that even though I grew up and live 5 miles from the border of Detroit, I will never truly be a Detroiter until I live in the city limits and deal with what every other Detroiter deals with on a daily basis. Similarly, I cannot declare that Detroit has changed until those people who never left it tell me that they can feel and see those improvements.
Two Sundays ago we parked our car on a side street just 1 block from the Detroit Institute of Arts like we would on any visit. We locked our doors and had nothing shiny or valuable inside. Yet, when we came back to our car we saw the registration, insurance, and other glove compartment items thrown on the floor of the passenger seat. In the mid-afternoon, on a Sunday, off of Woodward, our car was broken into without even the smallest sign of damage. I can’t blame whoever did it. Desperate people do desperate things. I took this as a lesson. Crime happens in big cities, small towns, when you least expect it, or when you’re totally on guard. I won’t blame Detroit for what happened, and it could have been much worse. I love Detroit and I’m hopeful that the crime rate goes down and the employment rate goes up, but it’s just not there yet and I think too many of my fellow Michigander Millenniums (myself included) are impatient to see progress in our city and think that the presence of Warby Parker, Shake Shack, and trendy restaurants means that Detroit is a new city. Stores, casinos, and restaurants are a great reason to come downtown but look around the next time you go to Shinola or Jolly Pumpkin in the Cass Corridor…who’s there? Hip families and young couples just visiting for the day. That isn’t the rebuilding of Detroit in and of itself. We need to be open to looking and going to areas in Detroit that are forgotten and out of our comfort zone. The more we support local businesses and local business owners, the more we get to know each other and the city that we call home. I want to spend time in Detroit — all of it — and share that with my friends, family, and all of you.
I saw a sign months ago that said, “Detroit isn’t Brooklyn.” I laughed out loud and pointed it out to my husband. It’s true, Detroit isn’t Brooklyn. It isn’t comparable to any other city and neither are its people. As a former New Yorker, I saw areas of Brooklyn change in a short period of time and lose their unique identities. I appreciate a city with grit, history, and honesty. I don’t want a sanitized, hipsterific Detroit that fits into a mold. What I do want is safety and real progress for everyone…not just those of us who visit on the weekends. Now when I think about why I love Detroit…the answer is because I can be part of it in a real way. Detroit is growing and rebuilding and we are all encouraged to help it get there. We’re all rooting for you, Detroit.