In future issues of thedetroiter.com we will profile people who've made their homes and careers in the city. In this month's year-end issue thedetroiter.com editors Nick and John, a relative newcomer and longtime Detroiter respectively, discuss their own relationship to the city they call home.
Nick John
I recently took up residence in Detroit. For over a decade I frequented the city to visit my brother and for the last three years I've been a graduate student at Wayne State University while taking part in an increasing number of local happenings. So I am certainly no stranger to the city.

I'd been enjoying the positive aspects of Detroit for years - from art openings to the intellectual offerings of the university community. Why then did it take me so long to move here? There's the matter of convenience and staying where you are - inertia is no weak force. Undeniably though, there was an element of fear, or at least risk, that kept me from hanging my hat in Detroit. I grew up in a town reminiscent of Smallville, so moving to Gotham brings with it some difficult adjustments.

There are some unfavorable trades I made in moving here. Whether having to place a club on my car to increase the odds of still having transportation the next morning, being confronted by a homeless person, or just walking on my own at night, for all this city has to offer, it has more than its share of drawbacks. I could however, have remained sheltered and isolated from these things, and besides the few dollars I added to the city for parking fees, contribute nothing to the community I was becoming active in. If we are lucky, we have the opportunity to live in a place that we feel good about and feel that we can bring something to it to make it even better.

My relationship with this city changed the day I became a resident. Detroit is no longer something removed from me, something I can talk about, complain about and then forget about when I leave. All the sights, sounds and smells I've witnessed for years have a new significance - they're now a very real part of my home and my investment in the city is compounded. Any time and energy I spend making my piece of it a better place affect, if only in some small way, the city as a whole.

As a resident I still have complaints with this city: The difference now is that this is like having a leaky faucet in my own kitchen - I can't ignore it and it won't stop unless I do something about it. The health of a city is a function of its inhabitants - our homes influence us as we influence them. I am now a part of this city, as it is a part of me. I am a Detroiter.






When I moved here in 1990 with a group of mostly out of town rock musicians, Detroit offered exactly what we wanted from a city - cheap rent in an industrial neighborhood that tolerated lots of noise and provided easy access to clubs and bars. Motown was Detroit Rock City and, as Nick says, dark Gotham - and that's what made it great.

We didn't need great restaurants, just the Plaka - a 24/7 Coney island in the heart of Greektown, whose owners didn't care how long you stayed, how much coffee you drank for free or how many cigarettes your party smoked. For guys that ate dinner at 5 a.m. and got up at noon, it was heaven.

Not far away was an after hours bar where bands could get a drink after their shows, alongside late shift workers, all-night partiers and the occasional off-duty cop. If there was a paucity of downtown amenities - grocery stores, major retail - midnight forays to a suburban Meijer took care of our basic needs and added to the sense of Pioneering we wore like a badge of honor.

Driving home, on Detroit's often unlit streets, charging through the billows of steam that still rise up from the city's manholes, we took pride in living in a city that looked like a post-apocalyptic no-man's land - a place that boasted it killed and ate its weak on tourist t-shirts.

Over the years, more restaurants opened, which was cool - but I found myself grocery shopping in Royal Oak - in the daytime - and wondering why there weren't equally good grocery stores in a city of 1million residents. And why was I doing all my Christmas shopping - heck almost all my shopping period - 15-20 miles away from home and only rarely in the city I lived?

What I was looking for was a mix of suburban convenience and urban excitement and diversity - something one experiences on nearly every block in Chicago, or in Manhattan or Brooklyn, or San Francisco, but is still surprised to find in Detroit. (In how many other cities is the opening of another CVS something to celebrate?).

But if I was commuting to stores, Detroit still gave me Eastern Market on Saturdays, proximity to clubs (though by the mid-90s Pontiac was becoming the area's nightclub Mecca) and the general pro-artist/musician atmosphere - which is to say no one gets into your business - and living in the city continued to seem like the right choice.

Today, as the downtown shows signs of a true resurgence-from the Casinos and Stadiums, to the theater district and its growing restaurant population, to the recent restoration victories such as the announced 2006 Book-Cadillac reopening - I find my needs have changed again. 

For one thing, I no longer make music loud enough to necessitate a visit from the suburban cops, so the city has lost a particular advantage it once held for me. And with the birth of my son last month, I have new questions for Detroit. Will it have useable parks, quality public schools and safe streets (or even working streetlights)? Can it provide ample recreation for a family (Comerica Park sits where the downtown YMCA used to be). Will the city's racial tensions ease in the years to come? 

I know my child will visit Detroit's Cultural Center on a regular basis, eat in Greektown and Mexican Town, explore John King Books and fly kites on Belle Isle. We'll surely catch games at Comerica Park and Ford Field and go to shows at Detroit theaters.

But will we do these things as visitors from the suburbs or as residents of the city? Will Detroit look to the needs of its neighborhoods and make families a priority, or continue to think of development in strictly commercial terms?

I look forward to sharing my search for answers to those questions - alongside other stories from the city - in future issues of this webzine. I do believe there's more reason for optimism about this city than there has been in decades. But then again, I am a Detroiter.

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