I’m from Detroit, so I know all about how scared people are to actually cross into the city limits. Sure they’ll go for a baseball game at Comerica Park or a wild night at the casinos. But when these gigs are up, everyone high-tails it out of the city and back into the suburbs, where the roads are free from potholes and the grass is actually green. With good reason, people have negative views of the city. Even I have had my share of bad experience here. Earlier this year when I was going door to door for a voter project, I found myself in what appeared to be the doorway of a crackhouse.
On the outside it looked like an innocent old apartment building, I even saw people coming and going from it. However, as I approached Apartment No. 115 I noticed that the door was ajar, and as I peeked inside I realized that no one could have lived here. The walls were covered in black soot and the floors were covered in chips of concrete that complemented the large holes in the wall. Fascinated and overly curious, I gathered up the nerve to walk further into the building. I creaked my way up the stairs and glanced through a doorway. After catching a glance of torn- out porno pages and an opened condom wrapper, I was finally convinced that for the sake of my own safety it was time to leave.
This was an abandoned apartment building within sight of children of the community, with open doors, welcoming kids just as curious as I was. But worst of all, there was traffic. Men wearing hoodies nervously glanced over at me in my November 2 T-shirt as they approached the building. Later, I’d see another approach, then another. This traffic led me to believe that I was too close to a drughouse for comfort.
With experiences such as this it’s sometimes difficult to find something positive to say about the city. However, I really don’t want to be responsible for perpetuating the negative image of the city, so when my editor told me to write something about Detroit, I needed to find something positive to write about. Determined, I decided to take a cruise through the city. And there’s no better street in the city to coast down than Woodward Avenue, the border separating the city’s east and west sides and home to the summer’s annul Dream Cruise.
I began my voyage at the city’s northernmost boundary, headed south from 8 Mile and Woodward, heading south toward the heart of the city. Nearly 10 miles away, shadows of downtown skyscrapers decorated the distant horizon. Landmarks, such as the famous Renaissance Center, guided me for the entirety of my trip as I navigated south through the trenches of Detroit.
As I travelled, I saw neighborhoods that reminded me of my experience at the crackhouse. Complete with empty lots and cars propped up on cement blocks, these neighbohoods projected the negative image that I was trying to escape. Further down the avenue I found a hidden the breath of fresh air that I was looking for, a beautiful gated community filled with large Victorian style homes. Known as the New Boston area, this premier neighborhood is filled with pillared porches and elaborate landscaping. But a mile or so down my romantic date with pillars and gates ended with an abandoned library. A sign revealed it was once McGregor Library, a big wooden board covered the front door reading “ R.I.P. Snoop” in red spray paint. Unable to escape the depressing sights of the city, I noticed how similar its architecture was to Angell Hall. It was if it were Angell’s little sibling, deserving its own little Fishbowl, filled with students checking their e-mail and looking to get ahead in life. Instead, the McGregor library stood there, vacant and lonely.
Deeper within the city, I found a cluster of cultural institutions, among them the Detroit Historical Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts. Walking through the DHM, I was amazed when I looked up and saw a moving assembly line place the body of an old Cadillac onto its frame. Touring more, I found myself walking along the streets of early Detroit, complete with cobblestones and the nickel-and-dime candy store. I left the museum convinced that the city has natural beauty that desperately needs rejuvenation.
Conversing with Pam Marcil, public relations manager at the DIA, I felt relieved to know that the city is currently taking steps toward renovations. The DIA is undergoing changes to attract more people into the city. “Detroit has been known as an industrial city, but what attracts people to the city are the cultural institutions,” Marcil explained. By changing the layout of the museum, the DIA feels that it can attract a diverse crowd especially younger people. Watching these developments sheds a new light on the museum and the city.
The changes at the art institute are reflective of the city’s goal of attracting more people through a revival process and disposing of the negative image that Detroit has adopted over the decades. Her voice overflowing with optimism, Marcil admitted, “It’s the first time that I feel hopeful that things are going to change.”
By the time I completed my journey ending at Hart Plaza I began to rehash everything that I had seen on this one road. This adventure to the heart of Detroit was like a dagger to my own. So many of the city’s treasures are concealed, hidden by abandoned buildings and poverty.