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.