Earlier this summer I was scrolling through Jezebel and saw an ad tucked up in the right hand corner for a video sponsored by Palladium Boots. It caught my eye because it was titled “Detroit Lives“. I spent every other weekend and every summer for 16 years in Detroit and I’m not talking about Grosse Pointe. My dad lived right on Jefferson across from the United Auto Workers Union Headquarters because he was a Senior Consultant (read negotiator) for the UAW and believed in solidarity. I have a big soft spot for underdog cities especially hardened blue-collar ones like Cleveland and Detroit.
On to the point of this video. ”Detroit Lives” shows the side of Detroit not getting any media coverage: there’s an incredible influx of young entrepreneurs transforming the city’s abandoned buildings into artistic venues/studios and cultivating burnt out homes and communities into urban farming plots.
Detroit has suffered but it is also a resilient city and for developers, quite the blank canvas. Detroit is many things, but at its heart is its true identity — the Motor City, Motown. I recently returned this Christmas to Detroit with my brother to memorialize our father who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease six years ago and revisit the city after a 3 year absence. We found the city a lot emptier than we remembered and homes right off Jefferson had gaping black holes blown through their roofs. It was incredibly upsetting but then we visited Tom’s Oyster Bar where nothing has changed, not even my favorite Seafood Chowder and the Detroit Institute of Art. Even in a recession in a depressed city, the DIA (an institution we spent a lot of time at) underwent a $157 million renovation and addition.
Our last stop before returning home to Ohio, was a tour of the River Rouge Plant. Ford had completely redone their visitor center and it was clear that its leaders had been paying attention to the world around them. The roof of the plant had been carpeted with a certain type of plant that could withstand incredible amounts of water that was then filtered to be used for all the water needs in the plant. It was and is an impressive sight to behold such vertically integrated industry laid out beyond you. Every male on my father’s side of the family, including my brother, has worked in auto plants and so I felt incredibly connected to the site and American history.
The Detroit Auto Industry has really been making the news lately and Ford has been reporting substantial earnings as opposed to the fiasco of the bailout a couple years ago. And if anyone’s been paying attention to every American automakers’ ads on TV, the industry has been dedicating itself to smart marketing strategies. The ones that come to mind are the 2011 Dodge Charger, the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee and of course, the Chrysler “Imported from Detroit” commercials. As a nation, I really feel we ought to be rooting for our own cities no matter what the state boundary lines may be instead of condemning them. Seems downright anti-patriotic to me. Just some food for thought.