Is Detroit on the rebound? The answer is a definitive “oh, yeah!” (though it won’t happen overnight). Artists won’t let it die. Not a chance.
In an interview with The Economist, author Jeffrey Eugenides was asked why he writes so much about death and suicide. He said, “I think the suicides in [The Virgin Suicides] came from the idea of growing up in Detroit. If you grow up in a city like that you feel everything is perishing, evanescent and going away very quickly. The suicides … represented the dying of my home town. [I was writing about] the brevity of life, or the impermanence of all things.”
I visited Detroit this past summer to see my college roommate Laura Es Mi Amiga, Laura’s family, and Mary (Mi Amiga Tambien), another college roommate. Laura lives in a suburb called Shelby Township, and we spent some time in the city. There we saw a virtually nonexistent tourism infrastructure. Empty streets. Vast open street parking. Sparsely populated restaurants and bars. Fab architecture, much of it crumbling. Broken windows. Graffiti.
To be honest, it’s a photographer’s dream.
Laura has since told me that Detroit is at times packed with “Lions tailgaters and Kid Rock concertgoers and Tigers fans, Thanksgiving parade watchers and Detroit marathon runners and people hoping to catch a glimpse of Barack Obama, bike riders and Jazz Festival attendees and Turkey Trot racers. The downtown square, Campus Martius, is lit up for the holidays with a lovely Christmas tree & an ice skating rink – it’s just beautiful.”
“And then there are weekends when there’s nothing,” Laura adds, “like when we were there.”
So is Detroit on the rebound, or is it only periodically alive and kicking? Well, a city this cool can’t just up and die. I won’t let it. Mi amiga Laura won’t let it. And hopefully you won’t let it either.
I’m confident that artists—those people with the fourth-happiest jobs in the land—won’t let Detroit die. Not a chance.
On November 13, Andrew Bender wrote an article called Detroit Evolving into a Haven for Artists in the Los Angeles Times. Bender says, “Many Americans—even many Michiganders—see Detroit as a place to be feared: impoverished, decimated and down-and-out depressing. Sure enough, my drive into the city center took me past what a friend calls ‘desolation porn’: eerie shells of onetime factories, warehouses, shops and office buildings, and block after block of overgrown lots that used to be comfortable working-class neighborhoods.”
“Yet Detroit is evolving, not unlike late 1990s downtown Los Angeles,” Bender continues. “Cheap rents and an urban pioneering spirit are attracting young artists, and new restaurants, nightspots and even urban farms are serving this growing community and its hipster fans. It’s still the early days, but change is palpable, even to the casual visitor.”
Hey, artists, listen up—in the article Bender describes one woman who’s paying $800 a month for a 2,500-square-foot studio with a kitchen and Jacuzzi. That’s right. A Jacuzzi. So what if Detroit winters are rough. Just hop in your hot tub and don’t give it another thought. Think of it this way: Space is cheap, and the city’s rebirth will be good for your artistic soul.
And I’m just scratching the surface here. Check out 99 more reasons why Detroit rocks.
“The city’s on the rebound,” Laura Es Mi Amiga says, “but it’s going to take some time to really come back.”
All signs point to a Detroit on the rebound and the gradual reemergence of a vibrant city center, one where artists can afford to live, as well as find creative inspiration in desolation, destruction, hope, rebuilding, and rebirth. And that? Sounds pretty awesome to me.