Detroit — Picking Up the Pieces
If you listen to the news, Detroit is a city that has fallen. What they won't tell you much about is how exciting it is to be in a city whose residents are picking it back up, piece by piece.
Detroit has had it pretty rough. The fourth largest city in the USA, Motor City got it's name because it was home to Ford, GM and several other large car manufacturers. These days, much of the industry that supported Detroit's community has been outsourced, taking away a vital source of jobs in the community. Less jobs means less people -- the city has lost more than half of it's population. Giant mansions sit empty, all over the neighborhoods:
Downtown is littered with abandoned factories, houses, storefronts, beautiful but crumbling theatres, and even an abandoned railway station. Crime is rampant, too; house arson is common. There are empty lots on nearly every block.
As the name implies, Motor City was built for cars; the roads are wide and accommodating -- and mostly empty. On a Saturday night you can drive straight into downtown, and many times you'll be the only car on the road. It is almost like a glimpse of a post-apocalpytic industrial wasteland, but only if you're not looking very hard.
What's so amazing about Detroit? The people who have stayed. Detroit's new generation is one of artists, musicians, and young entrepreneurs who are focused on re-building their community from the rubble. Because of the low cost of purchasing real estate (I spoke with someone who recently bought a house for $3,000) young people can afford to purchase and renovate their homes.
Small business owners can also afford to open up shops in the downtown area, and the community embraces those businesses as heroes -- they are well supported. In many thriving cities, you need to be wealthy to make a mark -- in Detroit, you just need to be willing to get your hands a little dirty.
There is a thriving music and art scene, which should come as no surprise, since the city is the birthplace of Motown and the hometown of such legends as Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Anita Baker, Aretha Franklin, Aaliyah and Eminem. Public art is everywhere, from murals to huge installations inside of abandoned houses to this statue of Joe Lewis' fist, which is hilariously pointed at Canada:
Because American history is so short, we tend to forget that cities have life cycles -- just like Rome, Detroit has fallen. Much like the urban farming plots sprouting up all over downtown in abandoned lots, though, something exciting is growing quickly out of the rubble of this city. Every beautiful, big old house being renovated is another hand raised in agreement.
While visiting, I watched a video documentary by Johnny Knoxville about the city called 'Detroit Lives.' All three parts can be found on YouTube, and here's part one:
If you need one more reason to go: ICP is from Detroit, so there's tons of Faygo to choose from, while visiting.