Detroit Still


Seems the Detroiters I was lurking with are not at all sentimental about the place but are still fiercely loyal to it in a certain way. San Franciscans seem to have no discernible sense of humor about themselves, perhaps due to absolute terror that someone might get offended and deem them “unworthy” of living here. On the other hand, it is quite acceptable for residents to make wry and sarcastic comments about Detroit without being branded traitors. A refreshing quality indeed…


A few idiosyncracies I noted:

  • Major intersections do not have left turn lanes. They have built-in U-turn zones at mid-block. An interesting experiment which really doesn’t work.
  • It’s hard to see much of Detroit’s decay from the freeways. This must be very comforting to the commuting suburban residents who rea most responsible for this decay.
  • Grosse Point is very aptly named.
  • Hamtramck, described by the Utne Reader as one of the ten coolest urban neighbrhoods in America, vaguely resembles an urban version of a trailer park. Apparently, many of the residents are not totally out of place in this environment, given the large racist skinhead presence, etc.


Scott and I spent Sunday afternoon driving around the city taking pictures and discussing what had happened. We toured Grand River Avenue, a once fashionable area of large houses, which now features neat and well-kept homes interspersed with bombed-out shells and vacant lots. Near Woodward Avenue, the headquarters of General Motors, one of the world’s largest corporations, fittingly presides over the decay. The irony is apparently not lost on GM; they’re in the process of moving to the Rennaissance Center.


We visited a large pile of rubble which had once been the Cadillac factory which employed Scott’s father and the adjacent neighborod which went to hell when the factory closed. We visited the west side and some suburbs where a midde class still exists. We played “White Castle or White Tower”, where the object is to guess which chain an abandoned white porcelain building used to belong to.



It’s a strangely emotional thing for me to drive through Detroit, a place which dramatically illustrates the end result of of racism and corpoarate greed. I realized that the Hudson’s building was in some ways a metaphor for the entire city: abandoned, neglected, and a little too big and cumbersome for real adaptive re-use. The massive and majestic train station pictured above is perhaps an even more striking metaphor. It’s a beautiful building which sits on the outskirts of downtown, completely abandoned and gutted, almost begging to be put out of its misery because it will never be restored.


I don’t mean to suggest that Detroit is begging to be destroyed. There’s still life here, despite popular opinion. Scott summed up the city very well with one single statement he kept repeating: there’s absolutely no place else like Detroit. And I’m still drawn to the place. Every minute I spend in Detroit makes me crave ten more.

From Windsor ON, downtown looks completely different. The view from the hideous new casino reveals no trace of the dark side of the faded jewel across the river. What it does reveal is just how bad the Detroit waterfront could look in a few years when the casinos open there. Casinos are a really misguided plan for revitalizing a city, methinks. Look what they did for Atlantic City, after all. Thy’re insulated environments which feed of the city and give nothing back.

Sort of like the Renaissance Center. And sort of like General Motors, its new tenant.


Time to move on. Scott had to start a new job on Monday and I had to be on my way after another morning drive through a downtown which ones had chain and people and now had one less abandoned department store across the street from the boarded-up Lerner Shop.