What do you think of when someone says "Detroit"? I bet some images come to mind of cars, violent crime, and vacant buildings. Some people see Motown as Ghostown. And to some extent, they are absolutely correct. Inside Detroit's city limits you can fit Boston, Manhattan, and San Francisco and still have room to spare. (Don't believe me? Look below. ) With all of that space available, we only have a population of about 700,000. 2010 marks the first time in history when there are more people living in Detroit's suburbs than in the city itself.
When people visit the city, they sometimes ask me, "What is the good area of Detroit?" I would encourage such people to think of the city as more of an archipelago. There are good areas in different parts of the city, but often they are separated by underused land or decidedly rough neighborhoods. For example, I live less than a mile from one of the richest neighborhoods in Detroit: Palmer Woods. If you were to take a drive through it's streets, you'd see mansion-caliber homes available for a fraction of what they would be worth anywhere else in the United States. You can go for a run through there and feel the super high-class vibe.
Now if you were to go a little over a mile away, you could be running through the streets of Highland Park (a city within the city limits of Detroit.) If you've never heard of Highland Park, I can best explain it like this: most people who live elsewhere in the United States are afraid to go to Detroit... most people who live in Detroit are afraid to go to Highland Park. If you ever wanted to feel like you were "on the edge" of something, try taking a DDOT bus through that section of town. As you pass through that part of town, you will feel like a different person.
But if you keep riding that bus down Woodward, you will also pass through my favorite part of the city: Midtown, the home of the Detroit Institute of the Arts, Wayne State's campus, some of the best bars and restaurants in the city (another post to follow on thoughts on those places), and the Main Library. If I live in the city, I will live in Midtown, because it is easily the youngest, hippest, and more innovative place in the city. But it is no Ann Arbor.
If you keep following that bus, you will hit downtown, a place with some really cool festivals, the Detroit Tigers, and some awesome restaurants. The Riverwalk along the Detroit River is fast becoming a great attraction as well. But while riding through the heart of Detroit, you will notice the lack of foot and auto traffic. The streets echo with the shadows of generations of Americans before us, and hold a small promise that tomorrow could be better than today.
What I'm basically trying to suggest is that Detroit City isn't what you might have initially conceived it to be. If you actually take some time to explore what it has to offer, this place is a veritable gold mine of opportunity (and challenges). There are major problems to be tackled, which I will cover in a later post, but I would encourage everyone to approach Detroit with an open mind and fresh ideas. I could have gone anywhere in the world... Boston, Chicago, etc... but you will never find another city that needs innovative and dedicated people as much as Detroit. If you are looking to "make a difference" with your life, I can't think of a better place.