Detroit, former land of milk and honey for the auto industry, now has a bad reputation. When we shared our plans of visiting Detroit, many people made a face like they ate something foul and asked, “why Detroit?” Thoughts of urban decay, high crime, unemployment, and desolation turn many folks away. Yet, what is growing there attracts us to visit and strongly consider Mo-town as a city we may want to live in.
Urban farms spawn on acres and acres of open space and uncared for real estate. Condemned abandoned buildings are regularly razed to the ground, creating a vacuum for the earth and community to reclaim with plants, animals and artistic expression. In fact, the city government allows anyone to adopt and plant on city-owned abandoned lots (at least temporarily until the lot is sold, or other more lucrative use). Planned and unplanned pocket parks dominate the landscape in many neighborhoods. Interestingly enough one real estate agent we met with saw neighborhoods with “a lot of green” as negative, meaning a neighborhood was in decline. We saw many organizations, stores, and farmers markets that support local agriculture. We noticed groups of concerned citizens banding together and creating changes in their neighborhoods for the common good. This continual grassroots organization inspires us for social change.
Many small farms cluster in the vacant land of Brightmoor for market and for family livelyhood.
Brightmoor lies at the northwestern border of Detroit. The expansive borders of Detroit historically have largely been neglected or ignored by investors, and are food deserts. Often a convenience store may be the only place to purchase. Food security and racism are big problems here. The need for healthy food drive many forces behind urban farms. This small area of Brightmoor has gotten lots of attention in the media because of how the farms and neighborhood residents have changed the community. Yet, just a few blocks away still in Brightmoor, we see evidence of devastation. Arson in Detroit peaked in 1984 with over 800 homes set aflame in just three days. Today, arson is far less of a problem, but one evident in almost every neighborhood. The city can’t keep up with costs of demolition.
All over Detroit we see beautifully crafted homes, churches, and other historical buildings next to crumpled decaying structures, graffiti and street art. We eat at a nice restaurant and just a few windows down we see
Downtown and areas close to downtown are thriving economically. Corktown and Midtown are experiencing a cultural renaissance of tasty local restaurants, boutique stores and art with Wayne State and Detroit Institute of Art (DIA to locals) as anchors. Detroit attracts many young professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, and farmers with a low cost of living. City lots may sell for as little as $500, and stripped mansions for $40,000. We gaze at an 11-unit apartment building with, neighboring empty lot, and neo-classical marble lobby for $200,000. We eat amazing BBQ with fixins at Slows BBQ, and delicious crepes at Good Girls Go to Paris Creperie.
Mags gets a fantastic massage from the Elbowqueen.com, and wanders DIA gawking at five massive murals of Detroit Industry, while Stu relaxes in the stone vaults of Detroit Public Library.
We love seeing street art, from colorful expression,
to social satire,
pride in heritage,
We go to Sunday service at the Unitarian Universalist church, followed by a group visit to the free grand re-opening of the Detroit Historical Museum. We go to a Pistons game, and explore the city in a rented car. We attend a post-auction meeting, hosted by whydontweownthis.com . Over 200 Detroiters gather to discuss the city’s assets and how best to serve the populations.
Of course we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to volunteer at Earthworks Urban Farm, which feeds hungry people through Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Many farms do not primarily seek a profit, they feed, empower and educate. However, it is possible to make a living as a farmer. The gigantic Eastern Market complex sells goods all year round. I was impressed that Earthworks farms all year round, even in the frozen winter under plastic hoops and greenhouses.
We meet up with local Detroiter Couchsurfers, Sue and Paul, for dinner and a tour of the city with history through their lifetimes. Sue takes us to the Dequinder Cut, formerly a railway, later known for drug use and prostitution, now a lovely park trail heading to downtown.
Detroit gives us so much to think about. We were very impressed with the kindness and can-do-attitudes of Detroiters. Even in run-down neighborhoods people wave and say hi. Most folks we spoke with wanted us to live there. Most small businesses and restaurants are doing very well. Locals are eager to support local business, even in the same line of business. As one local said, “Competition? There really is no competition. Detroit has unmet needs in practically every field. We are loyal to folks who are providing needed services.”
Do we want to move to Detroit and be a part of the urban renaissance? Stay tuned as we travel to our remaining cities and choose in the next few weeks!
Many more photos here