September 28, 2011

A New Renaissance City

Detroit is a forgotten city.

While it was victim to the urban decay and abandoned structures that is so often written about, it didn’t, based on appearance alone, seem all that worse than what the rest of this country looks like these days, with shuttered storefronts and high unemployment. But something feels a little more desperate in Detroit. The streets are mostly unoccupied, save for a few residents and homeless. For every shiny new structure like Ford Field or Comerica Park, there are three or four houses with collapsed porches and boarded up windows within walking distance.

The city’s various architecture gives off an air of wasted elegance, hearkening back to the city’s golden age as a bastion of the Midwest, before the rapid ascent of crime and automakers begging for government bailouts. The International Riverfront is a site to behold from Detroit and neighboring Windsor, Ontario. A short chat with Detroiters near the riverfront revealed city pride. They explained that the downtown had plenty to offer (and it does, in sections) and made a point saying, “It’s not as bad as they say it is.” But in the next breath, they warned to stay away from the outlying neighborhoods.

There’s something beautiful about a three-hundred-year-old city seeking to rise above decades of neglect. Art installations are in some storefronts. Once abandoned neighborhoods are gentrifying and home to new restaurants and shops. There’s also The Heidelberg Project, which takes abandoned houses and turns them into art projects. The heartbeat is faint, but it’s growing stronger block by block.

As the United States recovers from its financial problems, there’s hope that this city can and will follow suit. Detroiters are certainly trying. While so many seek to cling to the city’s past, it’s critical to see Detroit instead for its possibility.