Ode to Detroit, My Hometown

I was born and raised in the Detroit area. I am not old enough to remember Detroit’s heyday, but between stories told by my parents and grandparents, I have a pretty good image in my head of what those days were like. 
Growing up, we hardly ever ventured into Detroit, except on field trips an sporting events. One of my favorite field trips growing up was to Fort Wayne, the historic beginning point of Detroit. 
I loved Tiger Stadium, and was a frequent visitor there, especially once first my friends, than I, got our driver’s licences. 

During high school, the Greektown area began to see the beginnings of it’s revitalization. It was one of our favorite excursions to head downtown, for dinner at Pizza Papalis, the to spend a few hours wondering around Trappers’ Alley. 
In all of those excursions, we were both saddened and amazed at the condition of the city outside the small areas of prosperous commerce. The drive to Fort Wayne went through an especially bad neighborhood, and this was even scary for kids growing up in the suburbs whose urban exposure was limited to what we read and saw on television. 
I had a friends in high school who lived in Detroit, the actual city, as opposed to the Detroit-area, in which I would tell people I was from. One friend in particular, Jon, was always proud of Detroit, and the first to champion it when people bad-mouthed it, which became the trendy thing to do. Jon was one of the smartest guys I knew in high school, and while I too often joined in the Detroit bashing, I figured there had to be something to the esteem in which he held Detroit.

Then I went away to the Chicago area for college, and was amazed to see what a vibrant downtown was like. I had been on the people mover in Detroit, but I could not believe the first time I rode the ‘El’ from the suburbs to the loop in Chicago. I marveled at the idea of being able to go into the city for arts and culture and not being afraid. Growing up in Detroit, all we heard about was the crime rate in the city (Detroit was the US murder capital in the 1980s). In Chicago, we knew there were some scary areas, as the ‘El’ passed through a few, but the people in Chicago were not obsessed with the crime rate and the decline of certain areas. They celebrated their city. This made me even more ashamed being from Detroit. 

I can not explain how much I miss Tiger Stadium

As my last paper for a geography class in college, I wrote a long paper on why Detroit had developed differently than most of the other cities in the Midwest. While helping me understand the economic and social factors that had lead to the decline of a once prosperous city, it did not make me any less embarrassed to be from there. In fact, after college, when asked where I was from, I would tell people “halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor”, just so people wouldn’t associate me with Detroit. 

The Motown Museum

Upon finally moving back to the Detroit area in 2007, my friend Ken and I embarked on a series of short excursions to find the cool things Detroit had to offer. Out first day trip was to the Motown Museum and to the Boston Edison neighborhood. The Motown Museum was cool, but in one of Detroit’s many transitional neighborhoods. The real surprise of that day was Boston Edison, and it’s gorgeous historic old mansions, one of the few and spread out signs of Detroit’s golden age. 

Since starting On My Feet or In My Mind in January of 2011, I have long considered making posts on Detroit a regular feature, both to try and convince people that while Detroit is not a top tourist destination, it is not wholly without redeeming value, as the national media would have you believe. I figured the idea of being a tourist in my hometown fit within the parameters of a travel blog. (And, heck, it was my blog so I could really do what ever I wanted…) 

I have done a few posts on the Detroit area, and some have done pretty well, especially the post on Our Cruise on the Detroit Princess Riverboat in the summer of 2011. 
Over the past couple months, I have been talking to more people about the city, and there is a general optimism about the future of Detroit. I’m not going to stretch credibility and say Detroit is close to breaking out as a top American tourist destination, but there are more reason to be optimistic about the direction than there has been in many years. There are many obstacles, including the city government’s current financial crisis, but Detroit continues to endure despite these trials and tribulations. There is now momentum toward the rebuilding of this city’s image. Just last month, National Geographic Traveler Magazine featured Detroit, something that would have been unheard of for any reputable travel publication during the last 20 years. 

Sun setting over Belle Isle

It’s taken a long time, but I’m proud to call Detroit my hometown. Through all the struggles, the city and the area endure, because Detroiters are a hard-working people who labor once was the backbone of the mighty American Auto industry. With that determination, it is possible to see Detroit rise from the ashes.

I’ve purchased the domain name, detroitontherise.com, and I intend to start building a site to promote events and tourism in Detroit and Southeastern Michigan. I certainly have no intention of giving up this blog (I’m finally starting to develop a loyal readership, which I am so appreciative of and honored by), but I hope to use the Detroit on the Rise site, as a group effort with many of the people I meet who are as passionate (in most cases, more passionate) about focusing on Detroit’s positives and not the negatives that pervade both local and national media. With my month-long trip to New Zealand coming in May, it seems unlikely that the site will debut anytime before late this summer, as I will need to design it and work on content as well.

If you are from Detroit and you are interested in helping with this project, please e-mail me at eriksmitdotcom@gmail.com.

10 Responses to “Ode to Detroit, My Hometown”

  1. eriksmithdotcom says:

    I would hope all cities have redeeming qualities- if they don't than why would people live in them, right? Flint, Michigan is about an hour and a half north of Detroit, and is a prime example of what happens to a city when people completely give up on it- today, Flint stands almost abandoned, and it's crime statistics would be worse if anyone lived there. The fact that Detroit still exists and thrives in places is an honorable thing.
    I hope you will learn more from the new project, now all I have to do is get it up and running!

  2. eriksmithdotcom says:

    Thanks, Susan. I am enjoying your blog as well, so glad to have discovered it thanks to Amanda's piece of A Dangerous Business. 
    There is potential here, but I'm also not naive about how far we have to go to realize it, but you have to start somewhere, right?

  3. eriksmithdotcom says:

    Glad to hear you'll be back in the area in May- I leave May 10th for a month in New Zealand, but if you are in town before that,, give me a shout on Twitter.
    I'd love for you to contribute to the new website if you are interested- I hope that  I can make this a group project. 

  4. eriksmithdotcom says:

    With what people read and hear, you can't blame them, but rebirth has to start somewhere, and the more positive things we can put out there to offset all the negative is that start.

  5. That sounds like a great project, Erik.  I definitely have way too many misconceptions about Detroit (growing up in the PNW all I ever heard about it was the outdated crime statistic), so it would be great to learn more.  In my opinion, all cities have their redeeming qualities!

  6. Susan Shain says:

    This is great, Erik! I visited Detroit often during my years at U of M and always am trying to encourage people not to write it off. I had many fun days and nights there. It has great potential, and I am looking forward to your new site! 

  7. Kate says:

    Go Erik! I was raised IN Detroit. (6 Mile and Livernois), and I returned to live near Wayne State University for 8 years when it was the Murder Capital. Maybe there's something about loving the underdog, but those years in Detroit (and I'm not saying they weren't hard.) taught me an incredible amount about poverty and the human spirit–and about things not being as scary as one is led to believe. I'm staying in New York City right now, and it pales by comparison on the scary index. I'm proud to be from Detroit, and I'm glad it seems to be improving. (And most people from AnnArbor like to distance themselves from BOTH Detroit and Ypsilanti. Because their bubble is so nice, you know.) I'll help with Detroit on the rise! I'm taking my granddaughter to Greenfiele Village in May. Does that count?

  8. Kris Koeller says:

    Interesting piece from a personal perspective. So many people have written Detroit off already.

  9. eriksmithdotcom says:

    Thanks, Deej- It has to start with the breaking down of the national perception that there is nothing good about Detroit, which couldn't be further from the truth. This project will be a labor of love and probably take years.

  10. Good for you Erik…Detroit on the Rise sounds like a great way to give back to your home town, or make amends for not calling it such all those years:) I've gone through the Detroit area twice, and it really is a sad story…Hopefully things will continue to turn for the city and it will be celebrated once again..

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