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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.