On August 6th, my parents “moved out” (after spending the past week with me) and for the first time in my life, I became an independent adult. I live in my own house, by my own self, in a quiet neighborhood on the East Side of Detroit.
I’ve only been here for a little while - I spent the majority of my summer in Chicago for “Institute” training with Teach for America. However, one cannot come into a city like Detroit without preconceived notions of what it is like or in the very least, what stereotypes and assumptions need to be avoided and clarified.
Here’s a very brief and ambiguous attempt at letting you all in on a little secret about D-Town from a newcomer: It is everything people say it is, and it is so much more in the very same dimension.
Out of Money and Past Her Prime?
Because of the city’s downfall the past 40 (er..50? 60?) years, it is unique in both turmoil and beauty. Driving down the city streets with my parents left them in shock - home after home, store after store, building after building, are boarded up, in shambles, or burnt to the ground.
The national average for first-responders is about 10 minutes. Detroit sits at about 58 minutes. Process that for a minute. Because of the lack of funding, manpower, and equipment, many places that are abandoned and catch fire (or other damage) are left to become another scar on Detroit’s image.
But scars make our history beautiful.
Beauty in Ashes
In the midst of the tragedy, beauty arises. The Heidelberg Project, spearheaded by Tyree Guyton (founder and artistic director), uses “everyday, discarded objects to create a two block area full of color, symbolism, and intrigue.” It has been around for 27 years, and its motif of unique - and almost awkward - modern art still matches the classic feel of MoTown and its glorious past.
Unlike other Midwest cities (here’s looking to you Cleveland), Detroit (at least from everything I’ve read and everyone I’ve talked to) is not in denial about her current state. The defining characteristic that separates the people of my new hometown and other cities is pride, drive, and a desire to once again matter. No one wants to throw in the towel. Not one…single…person.
Sports Are Everything
In the greatest sports city in America, most bars and restaurants will always have 1 of the following blasted on their screens: The Red Wings, The Red Wings, The Tigers, The Tigers, The Pistons, and The Lions. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen anything else on T.V. here.
Want proof that The D is dominated by sportscentrism? Consider this: Detroit has hosted The Super Bowl, the most viewed sporting event (and one of the most watched TV shows of the year) two more times than New York City and Chicago. (The other cities: a combined 0).
The Detroit Free Press
Somehow, someway, the Detroit Free Press (Freep) has overcome all odds and is still one of the most awarded, highest ranked, and successful newspapers in the country. Recently, they were nominated for 7 Emmy’s. How a city that has a depopulation rate of 25% (1 person in every 22 minutes) from 2000-2010, yet still has a strong enough subscription base to grow is the perfect analogy to Detroit. Detroit hustles harder.
Detroit Hustles Harder
As I mentioned above, the people of Detroit have a mentality that reflects the overall efforts of the city: Hustle Harder.
Very rarely will a conversation about this city with any of the fine citizens who call Detroit home lead to a woeful, self-indulgent, misery-filled diatribe. Instead, they are openly reflective, honest, and positive about the next chapter. Whether it’s the young, hip, artistic movement, or the older generations of factory workers and blue-collared workers, there is a sense of realistic optimism in this city.
“We may never become the Detroit of old…but we won’t give up until tomorrow’s future is bright for the next generation.”
This city goes hard.
Tomorrow Will Be Kinder
While the city’s optimism is focussed on tomorrow, there is no reason to settle for that. Many of MoTown are instead putting all their chips on the table now. Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans, has poured his own money into the city, now owning 7.6 million square feet in property to run his Quicken Empire.
Kevyn Orr, love him or hate him, is doing his best to resurrect the city the same way he Chrysler after the 2009 fallout in the auto industry.
Blue Cross-Blue Shield has “come home” because they are “Proud to be Home in the D.”
Demystifying the UnCruel Reality
In general, Detroit is actually growing.
The Auto Industry is up 13% in sales since 2011. On top of that, the Chinese auto automakers and parts suppliers are moving into the city.
12 Fortune 500 Companies call Detroit home.
There is a 68% increase in hotel stays from 2011-2012 (which means people are actually coming to Detroit).
5 of Brand Innovators 25 Startups to Watch are located in Detroit, including 5-hour Energy.
Crime is decreasing according to the FBI.
Matthew Fier is a Teach for America corps member working at Burns Elementary in Detroit. A recent graduate from Biola University in Southern California, Fier primarily blogs about what it looks like to live on mission as a follower of Jesus. For more information click here.