So yesterday was a craptastic news day for Detroit.
If you saw/read any of the media pieces about the bankruptcy you heard the bad and saw the ugly.
I'm showcasing the good.
Yes, Detroit is not exactly Oz at the moment.
But no, it's not all bad.
It's not all blight. It's not all awful. For every photo of blight I can show you a photo of renovation. For every failure, a success. For every story of crime, I can give a link to a story of good deeds done for neighbors and very often: Strangers.
Here's a brief list of the good things about Detroit. And none of them include taking "beauty in decay" or poignant story of failure photos of old buildings or rusty fences.
I understand if you don't want to (or can't) visit Detroit. I realize it's never been high on anyone's travel bucket list. But. Don't write it off, either. I'm including links. Take a few minutes to see what Detroit really is - beyond the sad photos and dismal media presentations.
The Detroit Institute of Arts
. Just off the top of my head, taking a memory walk through the museum there
are works by: Rembrandt. Van Gogh. Pisano. Gauguin. Rodin. Caravaggio.
Picasso. Matisse. Ernst. And of course the Diego Rivera murals
. The building itself is lovely. To say the DIA is a jewel is a trite understatement. There's talk of selling off the family silver, meaning selling some of the artistic treasures in the DIA in the bankruptcy proceedings. Obviously I hope that doesn't happen. I'm hoping there's some protection because the DIA and many of the artworks were endowed and bequeathed, not purchased. The belong in Detroit, for Detroit and the people who travel to Detroit to see them.
Do people flock
to Detroit because of the DIA? No. But. People do
visit the DIA from all over the world because of some of the rarities and treasures it holds.
And local kids have a great opportunity to see and be inspired by art. There's a rallying cry from some sympathetic people (whom I suspect have never been to Detroit or Michigan) that the DIA is the only chance metro Detroiters have to see anything beautiful. While I appreciate the support for the DIA, that's not a true statement. There's plenty of beauty in and around Detroit, outside the confines of the DIA.
But. The DIA is
special. My first encounter with "real" art was at the DIA. My parents took me there frequently. When I was still in a stroller they noticed I was happily looking at all the paintings, they could roll me around the DIA all day and I was content and happy. After that they deemed the DIA my "happy place" and took me there often. My first recollection of being moved by a painting was when I was around 6 or 7 and a Van Gogh
grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go. Naturally Van Gogh's color palette and technique sucked me in, as they do most children, but something about the scene - ladies in small boats - captured my imagination. Of course other Van Goghs are more storied, more illustrious, more meritorious, but this one remains my favorite. You never forgot your first love and all that. Losing any of the works in the DIA is to yank the experience of discovering and being moved by art from someone, maybe a child, maybe an adult.
Of course I'm passionate about art. Consequently, I feel like a protective mother about the DIA, so my perspective is biased. But from a marketing perspective, keeping the DIA intact makes good financial sense. No, it doesn't generate the crowds and revenue sports teams bring into the city and metro area, but, it has always, and continues, to draw a steady and loyal art crowd. If Detroit is going to bounce back it needs to attract people with money to invest and a desire to be there. Sure, the Red Wings and the Tigers make for a fun night out, and Greektown is a great place to eat, and all the concert venues offer a great variety of live entertainment. Those are all great marketing features. But throw in a world renowned collection of art and you have marketing gold. Take away the DIA and you take away the marketing segment of the population that needs more than sports teams and flaming cheese to get them to invest their time and money in Detroit.
Okay. I'm not a big fan of casinos and I was never crazy about the idea
of a casino in Detroit, especially in Greektown. Building casinos in
places other than Las Vegas or Atlantic City always reminds me of the
monorail episode of the Simpsons. (And yes, Detroit has a monorail, go
ahead, make the jokes.) A few people make money developing and building
the casino and then leave town, leaving the residents and local
authorities to handle the repercussions of, well, having a large
gambling facility on their hands. If casinos are your
thing, great. But don't discount/discredit Greektown because of the
casino. Greektown was Greektown long, long, long before the casino. I'm a
huge fan of the Parthenon, but close your eyes and walk into any
restaurant in Greektown and you're going to have an authentic, fantastic
Greek meal complete with hospitality unrivaled. Perhaps you think you
don't like Greek food. I hear ya. All that veal and squid and names 10
syllables long. And one bad Greek food experience can taint your view of
Greek food for life. Believe me, I get it. But. Unless you've been to Greece or Detroit, you
probably haven't had "real" Greek food. My experience has always been
that if you tell your server that you have food issues, like if you're
vegetarian or allergic to shellfish or squeamish around food that's still bleeding, they'll help you navigate your way
around the menu and help you find something you'll love. The owner of
one of my favorite Detroit Greek restaurants calls me "one of those
kooky no meat people," said in a thick Greek accent, but he always
greets me with a smile and a hug and makes sure the kitchen gets my
order right - and meatless. This is typical of Greek-owned restaurants
in metro Detroit. Whether it's a fancier place or a diner, you'll be treated like family and making sure you feel welcome and enjoy a good meal is a point of pride for them.
. History arts and crafts era pottery. Custom tile for your current-day home. 'Nuff said.
. You may think you've been to a good farmer's market or two. You may think when you visited Seattle's Pike Place Market you experienced the penultimate city market. Wrong. Not to dis your local farmer's market or Pike Place, but lemme tell ya, unless you've been to Eastern Market you don't know what a market really is. This place is steeped in history but that's not what makes it great. What makes it great are the generations of family vendors and shoppers. It's part farmer's market, part bazaar, part joyful weirdness that can only be understood in person. Everyone has their favorite stops in the market, most people have a routine to their visit, a tried-and-true route they take through the market which usually involves eating and taking home food to eat later. And flowers. I triple dog dare you to go to Eastern Market and leave without buying flowers. Just go, you'll love it.
- I recently took my mother for a drive along the shoreline drive of the island and it's as lovely as it ever was. Sure, it could use some TLC, but it's still lovely. If you think Detroit, even in its heyday was all factories and cement, take a drive to Belle Isle and you'll realize a) the skyline of Detroit is pretty and b) this Belle Isle place is appropriately named.
When I see the media snaps of burned out houses and decaying neighborhoods in Detroit, I always think, "Yes, that's a sad fact of Detroit. But why don't they show the positive neighborhoods in Detroit, too?" What's that, you say you didn't know there are positive neighborhoods in Detroit? You thought it was all urban blight and crime and decay? Nope. Here are two of my favorite Detroit neighborhoods.
. My parents had friends who lived in Sherwood Forest Manor
so I often visited this incredible neighborhood when I was a kid. I loved visiting there
because it felt like we were going to a storybook land where everyone
lived in cute castles nestled in friendly forests. You expect a fawn to step out of the woods and break into song with a chorus of bluebirds and chipmunks. And if they did, it
wouldn't seem weird. That's the sort of thing that seems perfectly in place in Sherwood Forest. My parents looked at a house that went on the market when I was a kid and I prayed for several weeks straight that they would buy it so we could live there. I wanted to live in that magical kingdom. I was filled with fanciful imaginings about living there for the few weeks my parents debated moving. When they decided not to buy the house and move I was heartbroken. A little piece of my Belief died because God and Jesus didn't hear or didn't answer my prayers. It's possible deep in my psyche I'm still harboring some resentment about that.
. My grand
parents had friends who lived in Palmer Woods, and my mother took my grandparents to visit their friends a few times, which meant I went, too. Incredible residential architecture. Take a drive around the area to see architecture that will make you think, "Wow, people actually live
in those houses? They look like museums or libraries or colleges." It's a great neighborhood with a long history of community pride and involvement.
The Thanksgiving Day Parade. Yes, the Macy's parade in New York is a big deal. But Detroit's Thanksgiving Day Parade has marched through downtown Detroit for 86 years and is always an impressive show.
Michigan is a creative wellspring. People try to dissect why. They detail historic and social confluences. They try to explain how and why it happens. But the reality is that it just is
. Maybe there is
something in the water or air or soil. Maybe there is a unique cultural, societal and environmental alchemy in Southeast Michigan. It helps if you were born there, but a few transplants have done well for themselves, too.
Music! I know. You're rolling your eyes and saying, "Duh. Motown blah blah blah. MC5 blah blah blah. Alice Cooper blah blah blah. Mitch Ryder blah blah blah. Bob Seger blah blah blah. Iggy Pop blah blah blah. That was all 40 years ago. What has Detroit done for us lately?" Okay, fair enough. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Jack White. Eminem. Kid Rock. Von Bondies. The Dirt Bombs. The Gories. The Go. Electric Six. The Detroit Cobras. A bunch of hip hoppers. A bunch of rappers. Renowned opera singers (and a great opera venue
). Even a few country artists. (The "Downtown Hoedown" is an annual country music fest that draws big names and big crowds.) So. Touché to the notion that the Detroit music scene died 40 years ago.
And with that great music you need great venues:
St. Andrews Hall
- one of the classic '80s - '90s alt/indie venues.
- Where else can you catch an indie rock band on one night and attend your snobby cousin's black tie wedding reception the next night? Okay, maybe you can do that at a lot of places, but none are as gorgeous and storied as Detroit's Masonic Temple, locally known as just "The Masonic." Oh. And. It also happens to be the largest Masonic Temple in the world
The Fox Theatre
- The Fox embodies the Detroit story. It was originally a freakishly over the top, gilt, almost scary showpiece built in the '20s, a shrine to entertainment and optimism. Ornate doesn't even begin to describe it. It declined and decayed over the years, but never fully closed until 1988 when the Ilitches (of Little Caesars Pizza and Red Wings Ilitches) funded a full restoration. It is one of those places you have to see to believe, no photo can do it justice. You gotta see it in person.
Technically not in Detroit city limits, but...
DTE (Pine Knob)
- an outdoor music venue that boasts great acoustics.
Maybe they're just being polite, but I have read a lot of musicians list
Pine Knob (DTE) as one of their favorite places to play.
Royal Oak Music Theater
- The mere fact that it's in Royal Oak makes it worth the trip. This large '20s era venue seems so unexpected and yet totally at home in Royal Oak. Great place for a live show.
Tons of small clubs and bars
all over the metro area that staunchly and proudly support local live music.
Michiganders, especially Detroiters, know how to spin a ripping yarn. Jeffrey Eugenides. Nelson Algren. Robert Frost. Mitch Albom hit his stride in Detroit. The list of Pulitzer winners boasts numerous Michiganders and people who won while living/working in and around Detroit. Children's writers are well represented, too, with many Newbery awards given to Detroit writers. And all those songwriters - yes, Motown - but Michigan songwriters have a special way of telling a story in their songs. Bob Seger, for instance, is a musician but his songs are engaging (and enduring) because of the stories that unfold in his songs. It's just something about Michigan, metro Detroit, that imbues residents with a gift of compelling stories.
Wanna make a smash hit movie? You'll want to talk to someone from metro Detroit. Jerry Bruckheimer, the Raimi brothers, and oh yeah, Francis Ford Coppola are native metro Detroiters. Need someone to act in your movie? The list of actors from metro Detroit is staggering.
Some of your favorite foods may have roots in Southeast Michigan.
Better Made potato chips
Garden Fresh salsa
Faygo Pop (Redpop! Rock and Rye! Frosh!)
Jiffy pancake and cake mixes
Coney Island hot dogs (Coneys, as they're called locally)
...and of course: Vernor's!
Sports teams. Red Wings. Tigers. I don't follow football or basketball, but the Pistons have a solid legacy and loyal following. The Lions, well, they play football. A lot of teams have legendarily loyal fans. But Detroit fans aren't just loyal, they are fans of the teams. They get behind the players, even when then arrive from rival teams. When Chris Chelios came to the Wings from the arch nemesis Blackhawks, Red Wings fans didn't hold it against him. They took pity on him because he was a great player on a losing team. They embraced him and thought it was a great for him to have an opportunity to play on a Cup winning team. Detroit sports fans love the sport and the team first and foremost. They know
their favorite sports.The players come and go, but Detroit sports fans are not fickle, they love their sports and their teams.
Red Wings. Do I really need to say anything about the Red Wings? Don't we all know that the Red Wings are
, and always have been, hockey? Yes. We all know this.
Joe Louis Arena - Home of the Red Wings. Venue for a lot of enormous concerts. I'm not a fan of arena concerts, but I did succumb to a few huge shows at the Joe when I was in high school. I'd rather see a hockey game there than a concert. The acoustics are not great - it's a cavernous arena - and you are truly at risk in the nose bleed seats. But. If you're a hockey fan, there's no place like Joe Louis Arena when the Red Wings take the ice. It's magical. Well. Okay. Maybe not magical. But pretty darned cool.
. Admit it. They're a great team. Even in bad years they're a great team. Even if your team loyalty prohibits you from admitting this, you at least have to admit the mere name "Tigers" is the best name for a baseball team - in both leagues. I mean come on, what's a Met? White Sox, Red Sox? You do know those are derived from team names that had the word "stocking" in it, right? (Sure, Red Wings are named after a workboot company, and yes, it's kind of silly to think of red wings, but, it's hockey. Hockey team names are all kinda weird. And I'd rather be named after an industrial strength, steel toed workboot than a stocking
(original, Trumbull and Michigan Ave.). An original, old school baseball park. Unfortunately you can no longer experience a game in at Tiger Stadium, and that's a shame for any baseball fan. Yes, I'm fortunate that my childhood summers were punctuated with games at Tiger Stadium. Yes, this makes my opinion biased by nostalgia. But. There are reasons why it's on the National Register of Historic Places. It embodied everything baseball is supposed to be. It looked, smelled and felt like baseball. My dad, like all dads, had a favorite parking lot for Tigers games. As we walked from the car to the stadium I always saw license plates from states all over the country. My dad said, "That's because everyone loves to see a game at Tiger Stadium." He was right.
. I vowed to hate Comerica Park. I steadfastly (stubbornly) refused to step foot in it. The Tigers belong at Michigan and Trumbull, I adamantly remarked, hands on hips, brow furrowed. "Corporate stadiums are lame, generic, McBaseball stadiums. It's selling out, giving homage to corporate greed and that is soooooo not Detroit," I ranted, shaking an angry fist to the Heavens, "people will not come from every state in the lower 48 to see at game at 'Comerica.'" (sarcastic air quotes punctuating Comerica.) I knew my dad was going to games there, but I refused to go with him. Finally I broke down, my love of baseball and loyalty to the Tigers wearing down my resolve. You know what? It's a nice place to see a baseball game. It's not the same as the old school fields, but it is nice. There's plenty of homage to the original Tiger Stadium, which is a sad reminder, but at least some attempts were made to acknowledge the old stadium and preserve its memory. I'm still not "happy" about all of this, but, I admit, it's a good venue for a baseball game.
The best thing about Detroit? The people. I know, I know, it's a horrible cliché, but it's true. Hardworking, diverse, okay, sometimes a little quirky, but generally nice people. Yes. I know the crime stats. Nice people don't commit homicide. I know this. But. Apart from the bad apples, people in metro Detroit are friendly and generous. Sometimes a little rough around the edges, sometimes a bit unusual, I've met some true characters in and around Detroit, but nice people, people who hate the crime stats and resent being marginalized and dismissed as an evil doer or thug because they're from metro Detroit. Everyone I know from metro Detroit resents and hates that people assume they have a gun, do crack and collect welfare simply because they're from metro Detroit. (Thank you, media, for focusing on the negative and not the positive and creating erroneous stereotypes.)
I firmly believe the root of the crime issues in Detroit is poverty. Poverty leads to desperation and malaise. Opportunities for decent paying jobs, companies willing to give people a break and a chance...that would do a lot to lower the crime stats.
Detroit Dog Rescue
, Project A.R.T.
, Mosaic Youth Theatre
are just a few examples of Detroiters helping others. These programs embody the spirit of generosity and compassion that is typical of the people from metro Detroit.
Of course I'm worried about Detroit. The bankruptcy was not unexpected, but it still stings. What hurts more, though, are the