Detroit is a city of about a million people in southeastern Michigan. Founded in 1701 by the French explorer Antoine de la Moche-Cadillac, it became an important trading post. It was captured by the British in 1760 and was transferred to the new United States after the American Revolution. It was briefly held by the British during the War of 1812.

Most of Detroit's early growth came from its role as an important port on the Great Lakes. Detroit industry began to develop after the Civil War, but the emerging auto industry revolutionized the city. Ford Motor Company and General Motors, two of the largest corporations in the world, turned Detroit into the Motor City, the center of world automobile production. World War II further boosted Detroit, which became a center for the production of the tanks and planes with which the US fought the war. All the heavy industry lured many African-Americans from the South to work in the massive factories that pumped out cars. The influence of blacks in Detroit was most visible in the creation of Motown, a black-owned record studio that single-handedly created a genre of music. Motown artists such as Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder altered popular music. Detroit had serious problems with race relations in the 1960s, which exploded in a major riot in 1967. White Detroiters fled to the suburbs in large numbers, and did not return. Even Motown Records moved to Los Angeles, symbolizing the city's cultural decline. The election of the outspoken Coleman Young as the city's first black mayor in 1973 was good for the city in many ways, but also increased the gap between the city and its suburbs. The Detroit area is still among the most segregated in the US, and it has continued to decline in population. Attempts to revive the city through developments such as the Renaissance Center, Detroit Science Center, and Joe Louis Arena failed largely because the white suburbanites refused to come to downtown Detroit for any reason. After Young's retirement in 1993, Dennis Archer, the new mayor, attempted to make new connections between the city and the suburbs. His efforts, the strong economy, and a new attitude toward cities in the US have combined to bring some revival to Detroit. Detroit has also become known worldwide as a center of electronic music--although the most famous techno musicians are actually from the suburb of Belleville. Still, there are numerous signs that Detroit is making a recovery from its low point in the late 80s.

From a T-shirt: "Detroit - n. from the French detroit meaning strait - An industrial city where the weak are killed and eaten

The vast sprawling conurbation surrounding the city of Detroit itself, often referred to as 'Metro Detroit' is by far the most anonymously suburban place in the world. It is literally impossible to live without a car. The street system is an unfaltering grid spreading across the flattest land on Earth, where major streets are exactly a mile apart. Within the grid squares formed by the roads are twisting subdivisions in the newer suburbs and little boxed houses in the older ones. A universal constant is the lack of sidewalks. Lining the roads are strip malls and parking lots that stretch for miles and miles. Occasionally, in the less affluent suburbs, a gigantic rusting factory breaks this monotony.

The city itself is synonymous with urban decay, and with good reason. The population has halved since the early sixties, with an even more dramatic decline in commercial activity. Except for a heavily subsidized development in the downtown area, this city of one million people has only one movie screen. By most markers, such as infant mortality, murder rate, poverty rate, and so on, the city is among the worst in America and far behind many third world nations. In the midst of this morass of abandoned factories, burned out shells of neighborhoods, and nearly impassibly rutted roads is a high rise downtown, which is actually a facade as the art-deco era buildings are mostly empty. Two of the city's suburbs, Southfield, and Troy, actually each have more occupied office space than the city.

The center of urban life in Metro Detroit is actually across the river in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, aka 'the Tijuana of the North.' Detroit/Windsor is perhaps the only major crossing where one travels south to cross the border into Canada from the U.S.

The weather is terrible. Expect cold temperatures and steel grey skies for most of the year. During the brief, hot summer, tornado warnings are an almost weekly occurrence.

Being one of the largest metro areas in the USA, Detroit does have some of its own local flavor, enough keep a visitor amused for at least a few minutes. For instance Koney Island is the generic name for hundreds of independently owned greasy spoon diners. It is here that one can experience the surprising ethnic diversity of Metro Detroit, as you can encounter entire communities from the Middle East, Armenia, Bangladesh, Mexico, and Eastern Europe. In suburbs to the southwest, southern and Appalachian accents persist and the stars and bars can be seen flying. In other suburbs one can hear the characteristic sing-song accent of Michiganders whose roots in the state go back generations.

But enough equivocation. Metro Detroit is a case-study in what a place should not be. For this reason locals are fond of frequent vacations "up north" to the lake regions of central and northern Michigan. These places are indeed scenic, provided one has never experienced mountains, deserts, plains, or the ocean. But Detroiters swear by them, and in the summer places like Traverse City and Petoskey swell with vacationing Detroiters.


In case you ever for some reason must foray there, Metro Detroit is in the southeast corner of Michigan. Downtown is the cluster of empty high-rises located on the shore of the Detroit River. It can be seen for quite some distance due to the total absence of topography. Several major boulevards radiate inland from downtown. The one in best shape is Woodward Avenue. Surrounding downtown are many of square miles of vacant lots. When the vacant lots give way to housing one has entered the suburbs. The line of suburbs to the east, known as the 'Grosse Pointes' because they are all called Grosse Pointe (something), contain lavish homes for the auto executives.

The suburbs to the Northeast in Macomb County are working and middle class precincts with large industrial areas. Warren is actually the third largest city in Michigan. The suburbs to the northwest in Oakland County are the upper middle class belt, some with a stunning density of office parks and all with a stunning density of lavish malls. The western suburbs are again working class and industrial, and the southwestern suburbs have an almost rural feel.

Best of all, there are many freeways and thus many ways to leave. I recommend I-75 south for several hours.

Downtown Detroit is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. The layout of the town is classic, the architecture is beautiful, it has an automated train running a loop around the town for a pittance, 50 cents. There are festive little parks and squares pretty much everywhere. There is a riverfront.

The most incredibly impressive thing about downtown Detroit, however, is the complete and total lack of inhabitants. I don't have my cards with me, but one figure I've seen bandied about is that a full square mile of early to mid 1900's skyscrapers sits completely abandoned. All windows are shuttered up, boarded up, or broken. Aside from a strip of modern steel-and-glass structures along Woodward Avenue, the town is completely empty at 8 o'clock in the morning. No cars, no suited office workers rushing through intersections flapping newspapers, no visible sign that a city of close to a million is just waking up.

It is also worth noting that the only other passenger I encountered on the Detroit People Mover was a very old man who smelled of whiskey, had a snap-down flannel shirt and a foamfront baseball cap and faded jeans. He was recounting to me, in his own mumbly way, tales of a long-forgotten past. In his past, the streets were a-bustling, the people a-hustling, the town was alive and significant.

Looking out the window of the train, I could almost see it.

When thinking of Detroit, think of a bulls-eye. In the red center at Jefferson and Woodward, you can find all the greatness that was/is Detroit. Red Wings Hockey, Ford Field, Good old Tiger Stadium (before they replaced it with the corporate whore Comerica Park), Fisher Theater, the Fox Theater, Greek Town, the Renaissance Center...

Then there is the first white ring on our bulls-eye. This is a ring of blight; the part of town that you do NOT want your car to break down in; The area where they filmed the movie Eight Mile. It's an area abandoned by the white flight of the 1980s and left to the downtrodden and poor.

Beyond that ring we arrive at the suburbs. Faceless, nameless houses that appear the same no matter where you drive. Flying out of Detroit Metro, one gets the impression that the goal of society in this area is to pave the whole of the earth.

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