During the summer of 1995, I spent three and half month camping throughout North America. In preparation for that trip, my reference guide was “Let’s Go: The Budget Guide to USA & Canada 1995”. To prepare myself for the trip, I spent months reading about all the places we might visit. I still remember a few sentences from the guide that that got my particular attention.
An author recently proclaimed Detroit “America’s first, third world city, and indeed, the city has witnessed a quarter-century of hardship… Downtown Detroit is virtually empty — boarded up businesses line the streets… without a growing job base and a shift in housing patterns, Detroit will remain in the doldrums.
That summer, we didn’t visit Detroit.
It took almost 20 years for me to finally make my way to the city in 2014 to take an architectural tour organised by Spacing Magazine. I posted about the two-day trip here and here, and it did much to dispel my fear of visiting the once vibrant city. Once the tour ended, I was under no illusions that the city wasn’t still struggling (financially, architecturally, demographically and racially), but I was less able to discount it as some scary place. It has a rich history and now I was intrigued to find a way to visit again and explore it myself.
About a year later, I attended a conference across the river in Windsor and spent much of my free time studying the skyline from the confines of my casino hotel. Luckily for me, I was more interested in exploring the region than losing money in a random slot machine.
The following year, I discovered yet another casino hotel, this time on the Detroit side of the river. Over two days I visited the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and naturally, took in a couple of Tigers games at Comerica Park. There were some tough parts to that trip such as travelling the city car-less, but overall I found myself more fascinated with all of its imperfections. I was trying to understand more and more a city shaped by the 1967 riots, suburban flight and the loss of much of the economic base of the car industry. I was also able to see some of the positive changes that are happening, such as the construction of the Woodward QLine and a slowly revitalising downtown including growing residential options. I wasn’t blind to the class and racial divide still acutely in place, but it felt as if the long decline was softening.
When I started to consider one of my two annual baseball trips, I wanted the first one to be somewhere familiar. Rather than jet off to someplace new, I chose to explore Windsor and Detroit again for three days. I stayed in Windsor and each day took the Tunnel Bus intro Detroit. I walked the downtown as I had previously, and took in a couple more Tigers games. I found the people friendly, warm and without an attitude. By the end of the trip, I found myself feeling comfortable and at home and willing to visit Detroit yearly. I hope that in my time here over the next few years, that I get to watch this troubled part of North America reclaim its future and create an urban experience that takes into account all its citizen, black and white.
P.S. When you visit, make sure to try the Coney Dog, it’s worth it.