Detroit is awesome these days. Living in Michigan you hear it all the time. The city is back, the city is coming back, the city’s on the rise, etc. etc. There is tons of excitement, and tons of anticipation for how much potential it has to improve even more.
Now, I want to be optimistic in this article. However, obvious to the more scrupulous, Detroit’s resurgence has been, in some substantial part, due to state and federal money in some form or another. Actually, let me phrase that differently. There has been a significant amount of local, state and federal money, whether in the form of grants, blight aid or partial funding of projects like the M1 Rail and Little Caesar’s Arena, thrown at Detroit over the past decade and beyond.
The extent to which that aid has helped has helped the city is definitely debatable.
Detroit, like all major cities, is intimately involved with the state. That being true, any improvement that Detroit gained with state dollars necessarily was at the expense of another part of the State or country. This is basic economics. If you forcibly expropriate money from individuals in one area to improve another, there no net gain at best, and in probability a net loss because individuals know best how they like to spend their own money. Not the state.
With my libertarian and anarcho-capitalist friends hopefully appeased by that long caveat, I have to say that after living in Detroit for 3 months, the difference in the city is striking. And contrary to popular belief, it is in no way only limited to Downtown. You see differing levels of revival in Midtown, Corktown, Eastern Market, Lafayette Park, New Center–all along with Downtown.
There’s been people and life in all these areas throughout Detroit’s decline. I’m not denying that. But for a city which, about a decade ago, had to put up faux store fronts so Downtown didn’t look like a ghost town when it hosted Super Bowl XL, the transformation would be difficult imagine if it weren’t happening.
Now Detroit has a downtown where it’s difficult to find housing, and in which you can barely go down a street without running into construction. There are young people everywhere. New restaurants, bars and coffee places pop up endlessly. You walk around and you can’t but help feel the excitement and a twinge of pride.
This is especially true for people who grew up in Southeast Michigan. People like me.
When I was a kid, Detroit was a place you went for a sports game or concert and that high tailed it out of. It was a place where White Flight was at its most evident. Once a city of 1.8 million residents in 1950 (US Census Bureau), the population has dropped to under 700,000. And you could feel it.
My dad works for General Motors, headquartered in Downtown. For that reason, I came down to Detroit probably more often than a lot of people I knew. It didn’t seem like a real city. To me, it bore little resemblance to other major cities I saw on TV and in movies. There weren’t boulevards and avenues filled with restaurants and shopping districts. There was never a pull or desire to get to the city as there might be for people who live in the suburbs or New York or Chicago.
If you had asked me when I graduated high school in 2011 if I thought I’d ever live in Detroit, I would laughed and made some joke about the murder rate. Detroit was the butt of every joke–and the suburbanites around the periphery of the city were probably among the worst offenders.
That is why I think it is a unique experience and perspective for those who now live in the city, but who grew up in the suburbs. More than a few people at my company live in Detroit. But most are not from Michigan. To see what the city has become, and is becoming, cannot possibly weigh on them as much as it does on people who grew being afraid of Detroit.
They hear that the city is coming back. But for them, the people, the stores, the restaurants, the bars, the pride–these things have likely existed for the extent of their time living in Michigan.
People get confused when I use the phrase “…like a real city.” They’ll reply, “of course, because it is a real city.” They don’t understand that people growing up in the suburbs in Southeast Michigan, it didn’t feel like a real city. Of course there were people here. But the pull was always out. Metro Detroit pushed further and further west and north as more and more people, black and white, fled the city.
But now the situation has changed. I believe there is still a net loss in population each year, but I imagine that won’t be true for long. You walk around and see the life, growth, hope, and drive and you have to marvel at it.
This is how a real city should feel.