Illustration by Detroit’s own Stephen Schudlich
Chicago’s smaller cousin to the northeast has been suffering a fair bit these recent years, becoming something of a punching bag for out-of-town media, politicians and comedians. But from its depths, something special is underway. Detroit is reimagining itself, and starting to live up to its “renaissance city” moniker. We started taking notice of this during the great recession, when artists from all over the world started moving to Detroit, lured by its bargain real estate and urban grit. Like Berlin a half generation or so ago, it’s becoming a creative mecca, and with that seeing new life in its culture, a rethinking of its design and built environment, and new vigor in its entrepreneurial spirit. The future of Detroit seems unbound from its one-industry past. To coin an overused ad slogan from its automotive legacy, this ain’t your father’s Detroit.
In the spirit of our annual summer road-trip editions, several of our writers and editors—some Motor City expats, others Chicago through and through—visited and explored. At the same time, we connected with writers, artists and designers with boots on the ground, who added a native’s insight. What better way to celebrate our nation’s birthday than with a deep meditation on one great American city? And in doing so, gain some insight into our own city, and ourselves? Continue reading
Photo: David Kukier
By David Kukier
My earliest memories take place on Detroit’s west side, in the 1980s still a patchwork of working- and middle-class neighborhoods anchored by churches, bars and multigenerational businesses. I would return as a resident in 2003 to a vastly different landscape: holdouts, areas sustained by the sheer tenacity of residents and a strange sense of freedom created by so much disinvestment and mismanagement.
In the real estate boom of 2006, Detroit’s core neighborhoods would suddenly enjoy a renaissance of those drawn back to urban life and a market buoyed by rising demand. And I would move again, from a century-old hodgepodge of artists, eccentrics and a fellow tenant who once welcomed my arrival by vaguely threatening me with a knife while trimming roses, cautioning me to ignore the cocaine-induced violence that his apartment played host to on Saturdays. I settled in the low-rent district of a shabby but workable immigrant enclave, where the process would repeat itself again a decade later, the standard Craigslist banner screaming, “Tired of outrageous Midtown rents? Move here!”
Recession slightly slowed development downtown and along the Woodward corridor, but its effect in the neighborhoods was devastating. Suddenly anyone still working at all could afford to flee failing schools and the constant specter of crime for the relative peace of the suburbs. Mortgage scams imploded and neighborhoods I drove through daily started to disappear as owners and tenants walked, and scrappers, firebugs and the elements moved through. Continue reading
Edited by Ryan Standfest.( Click to enlarge.)
Dequindre Cut/Photo: Andrew Jameson
By F. Philip Barash
I greeted the millennium from a former laundry factory near the old Tiger Stadium. It had been indifferently converted to lofts and managed with the lightest of touches. On game days, the neighborhood did brisk trade in beer and parking. Otherwise, it felt as if the rapture had happened and only we few were left behind to indulge in sin. The whole city felt like that, and you sensed that if you stuck around Detroit long enough, you’d know every last sinner by his Christian name.
The loft, which I shared with a roommate who was always either between jobs or girlfriends, served as a headquarters for a constellation of friends and acquaintances who, although not yet out of their teenage years, had been thrust into worldly knowledge by the very fact that they were daily immersed in Detroit, a fact we all carried with us like a dark and tattered halo. The first night in the loft, as we were unpacking records and blasting jazz, a neighbor came by to tell us to knock it off. We discovered later that he was the great Detroit DJ Stacey Pullen. Our other next-door neighbor was a woman approaching middle age and possessed of the calm and poise of a spiritual guru; she ran a porno studio from her two-story loft. It was decorated with floor-to-ceiling fabric panels that seemed to never cease billowing, a few leather settees, and not much else. On weekends, when her young daughter visited, the space would fill with the smell of baking. Once, they left a platter of fresh cookies at our door.
A neighbor down the hall was imbued with an intense, Mephistophelian, charm; slight, dressed well but without flash, and invariably polite, he traveled flanked by a pair of Rottweilers. Because he was a well-known drug dealer, the unit he shared with his dogs and lieutenants was not infrequently raided by the cops. He always knew when a raid was coming and was exceedingly apologetic when he informed us of them. “I hate to be presumptuous,” he’d tell me after knocking on the door, “but I’m expecting a visit and wonder if you might spare room in your refrigerator for”—and here he would enunciate especially clearly—“a volume of acid.” He handed over a pickle jar filled with pure liquid LSD and invited us to use as much as we might want, and so we praised him as a good neighbor and stayed awake for days. Continue reading
Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick
By Tony Fitzpatrick
Every once in a while a book sneaks up and surprises you. What fascinates me the most about Helen Macdonald’s exquisite “H is for Hawk” is what it is not. It is an intimate, fierce memoir of furious loss, falconry, as well as a meditation on the lonely legacy of Arthurian novelist T.H. White; it is also a love letter to the English countryside which she renders in lyrically brackish beauty when describing the winter “hawking.”
What it isn’t? It isn’t like anything I’ve ever read—and this is a good thing. It’s a serious book about how you negotiate life when tragedy and death blindside you and leave you alone in the world.
The book is written in a language so rich one must read it slowly to savor the story and its telling, which unfolds after the passing of Helen’s father—a news photographer, a watcher and a transcriber of the mysteries of planes that fly over. He casts an immense shadow over this story and his daughter’s grief is enormous.
She decides to lose herself in the training of a goshawk. An experienced falconer; she endeavors to tame and train the most contrary and fierce of hunting hawks. Even experienced falconers—good ones—approach the idea of flying goshawks with great pause. Continue reading