Detroit, the Motor City

Here I am, finally! In Detroit…
For more than a year I have had a dream of exploring this city.

Throughout my Amtrak travels, for every community meal I have had in the dinner wagon, I have had to explain to yet another white middle class, middle aged couple, why Detroit. Why this dangerous and empty city?

My interest derives from some of the same issues as my love for Eastern Europe. I am deeply fascinated by industrial cities in decay. Cities that no longer can survive on their main production industries. This interest is manifold. Firstly, it is visual. There is a particular rawness to half empty houses and ruined buildings. Secondly, it is sociologically fascinating to meet the people that stay, and discover their extend of hospitality. Thirdly, a place such as Detroit or the Eastern neighbourhoods in Berlin after the wall fell become attractive to artists and creative minds who seek cheap accommodation and space to unfold their ideas.

So how has Detroit lived up to my expectations, and can you even have expectations about a city such as Detroit?

As a human being I connect knew impressions to already established ideas and thoughts.

So after three days in Detroit, I have come to the conclusion that Detroit is a good mix of Berlin, Eastern Europe and Italy.

It is Berlin with its underground creative and artistic environment, which it takes much more than 3 days to become acquainted with. The city is drawing young people from around the US and the world by the new options for partaking in something that is breaking from the surface, a Detroit cultural boom.

It is Eastern Europe with it’s lost industry, with the left over buildings as proof of a time when this city was vital for the industrial America. Like much of the former Soviet Union’s industry, it is crumbling under the ghosts of the magnificent industrial past.

And then, it is Italy. Exchange the Bella Donna of a Mediterranean guy with a Hey baby, how are you from a black American guy. The similarity exists in the casual attitude that guarantees that this is said out of respect. Like in Italy it seems a customary way to greet women, making them feel special. A world far apart from the weird looks on the Minneapolis buses.

Corktown

The hostel I stay at is placed in Corktown which is the eldest residential neighbourhood in Detroit. It is supposedly also the one experiencing the most growth at present mostly due to being the base for many of the new and creative minds moving to Detroit. In the particular area of the hostel every other house is a ruin and barred up, furnitures and suitcases have been left in the street and the pedestrian path has been taken over by grass and weed. It is a ghost town, where some streets don’t even have street lights in the night. So many young homeless men sit at the street corner near the local gas station hoping for work, while so many houses around the corner stand empty in their decay.

But only a few blocks out, the houses are inhabited and well maintain and it looks like yet any other American neighbourhood.

Michigan Ave

Not so far away lies Michigan Avenue which is the main road to Chicago. This street shows the same charm as Corktown. The buildings are canvasses for colourful decorations as well as old advertisements. Several places in the proximity of Rosa Parks Blvd are famous and cosy dining places.

My first visit to this strip was at Slows Bar BQ where I had some huge pieces of delicious beef served with all sorts of sauce as well as a side dish of Mac’n Cheese. The place is overcrowded, it is lively and it seems that everyone knows everyone here. On game nights or concert dates it is not uncommon to experience two hours of waiting time.

My second meeting with the Detroit cuisine was O’blivions also on Michigan. It was late morning and the waitresses were still getting ready for the day to come when I came in. They were quite a lot of women for no customers, but I expect the place gets run over later in the day. They were talking and joking while I ate my delicious apple pie. They looked so young but as I got caught in the conversation I gathered that some of them had teenagers at home. These were the women that make out America, the hard-working full time low paid job women who still show an abundance of good humour and laughter. These are women I admire. After enjoying their talks on the sideline and after having been questioned by them as to my stay in Detroit, I ended up leaving the place with my very own O’blivion t-shirt and a promise to the waitresses that I would take a picture of myself wearing it on my return to Copenhagen.

A parking lot near Tigers Stadium

It is game night. Baseball, I think. Suddenly, Downtown Detroit is full of middle-class white people. Young couples and families, all hanging out with their big new dog-trucks on the parking lots near the stadium. They drink and have fun. They picnic or BBQ and they meet friends. Trail heading. And then they walk to the stadium. Huge groups moving as herds towards the sound of the match. When it is all over they return home to their suburbs and Detroit Downtown is left to the poor and mainly black population that has its everyday life here.

My dislike of suburban isolation has never been bigger than here in Detroit. How can this once powerful city be crumpling. Why are so many places in Downtown in shackles, dirty and alone, while people live a life of ignorance in gated suburbs. I prefer Downtown to any suburb. The hustle and the bustle and the sounds of life around you. The meeting of people and cultures. And I like Downtown Detroit. The hardened kindness of the people in the street. The lack of Starbucks and 7-Eleven. The rawness of it all. And I hope for Detroit that it will once again find its footing, not as a motor-city but as an innovative and creative city. Perhaps another Portland.

Too many pictures

I am normally pretty bad at limiting myself when taking pictures on travels, but this time I can’t choose between them either. It is not because I suddenly began taking marvellous pictures, but because I just was so amazed at everything Detroit had to offer. I’ve added a bunch of posts with photos from Detroit. If you dare to, you can check them out: Corktown, A sunny stroll down Michigan Avenue and Getting lost in Downtown Detroit.

Zofka

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