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Last February, I signed up for a work conference that was to be held this past week. Admittedly, part of the reason I signed up was because it was in downtown Detroit at the Cobo Center. I get weirdly excited anytime I have a reason to hang out downtown or in midtown. I have a strong attachment to the city where I was born, in a small hospital on Tuxedo Street, and it’s such a treat to explore.

I live about 15-20 minutes from the heart of downtown, depending on the traffic and I don’t get there nearly enough. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I love big cities and Detroit, while not as big as some, is no exception. They’re so busy, the energy is so high, and there’s always something going on. I can’t explain it, but I love it. I love the country, too, but for different reasons and I’m ready to leave after a few days, but I haven’t gotten tired of being in a big city yet.

There’s so much history, the architecture of the older buildings is so beautiful. Detroit has a wonderful collection of skyscrapers and other buildings that have gorgeous Art Deco designs and decorations that mix in with the modern, like the Fisher Building and the Fox Theatre. And construction isn’t finished! A new skyscraper is going up on the site of the old Hudson’s building in addition to the new (delayed) construction that’s going up in the midtown area next to the new Little Caesar’s Arena, better known as the LCA, where the Red Wings and The Pistons play, just down the street, literally, from the Tigers’ Comerica Park and the Lions’ Ford Field. And let’s not forget the beautiful Detroit Riverwalk where you can watch freighters and pleasure boats pass between you and Windsor, Canada on the other side. Couple that with dozens of restaurants and cool bars and you’ll never run out of things to do.

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A view of the Detroit River and Windsor from Detroit’s Cobo Center.

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Honoring Detroit as part of the Underground Railroad in Hart Plaza.

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Assorted skyscrapers

 

I didn’t always feel this way. There was a time when I bought into the ideology that Detroit was a terrible place, nothing but blight and run by corruption, a virtual hellhole. Like many ideologies that people buy into, this one was false and fear-based. I was taught those things and believed them because I was afraid of things I had heard, not because they had merit. Now, the blight and corruption do exist, especially in some of the neglected neighborhoods, but Detroit with all of her imperfections, is beautiful. I learned that by actually going there and doing things, not staying secluded in the suburbs.

I don’t mean to downplay the bad things; I’ve seen some of Detroit’s problems firsthand. I once dated a guy who lived in southwest Detroit, in one of those gorgeous old houses with a huge front porch. One lovely summer night, not long after we began dating, we were sitting out on the porch when I thought I heard fireworks. His dad stood up and said, “Honey, those aren’t fireworks and it’s time to go inside.” I’ve stood next to a crazed addict in a rage at a corner store while trying to buy coffee creamer for intermission at the Hilberry Theatre and have been yelled at by a prostitute who thought I was elbowing in on her territory when my car broke down in Delray. (Once she realized that my car broke down, however, she made sure to get me somewhere safe, then asked me for money, which I gave.) I’ve been lost driving in neighborhoods full of burned out and abandoned buildings where it would be foolish to roll the windows down and avoided rats as big as small cats. I used to teach Detroit students at a charter school and some of those kids had seen and experienced things that no child should. I see the stories on the news every night of violence and theft, of shootings and murder and rape and I pray. Detroit definitely has it’s troubles, there’s no denying that.

But I also see the wonderful things: the activists, the Detroit men who band together to mentor children with absent fathers and to protect women who walk alone, the Angel Night volunteers who have put a serious dent in the number of arson fires that used to be so prevalent the night before Halloween, the absolute talent that is fostered and nurtured in schools like Cass Tech, where students thrive in spite of drug deals going on just a block away. I see the crowds that gather for clean-up days, cutting grass, hauling old tires and abandoned appliances away, revitalizing playgrounds. I see the initiative to fix and install streetlights to help deter crime, the abandoned houses being either restored or torn down. I see the missions in full force, like Focus Hope, Gleaners, and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen who help thousands of people every year. I see growth and I see hope.

Of course, Detroit has it’s issues. What big city doesn’t? Detroit has had to come back from the white flight in the 1950s and 60s, the riots of 1967, racism and extreme political corruption, as recently as when Kwame Kilpatrick was mayor in the early 2000s, but Detroit bounces back. It rebuilds, it changes, and it thrives in spite of it all. The city’s heart continues to beat strongly, no matter how many hits it takes.

I took time this week to just stand at the river and watch, letting it soak into my bones, reflecting on how much it has changed in the last 318 years since Cadillac landed on these shores. I always feel my best when I’m near water. It gives me peace. I took advantage of the long lunch times to walk the streets, joining the downtown bustle of working people hurrying to and fro, absorbing the energy. I gave 75 cents to a man who wanted to get home to Inkster. (It’s all I had on me.) I watched families push strollers down the Riverwalk and saw the same philosophical homeless man sitting outside of the parking garage three days in a row, his spot, and took it all in.

It was sad when the conference was over yesterday afternoon, not because of the conference itself (although it was a really good one), but because I wouldn’t get to be in the midst of that every day. I did make a promise to myself, however, that I would get down there more, for no other reason than I want to be there, in the city. My city. I am a Metro Detroiter and proud of it.

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The Ambassador Bridge to Canada, taken from the Riverwalk.

 

 

 

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