Moving to Detroit

I was born in 1977. My parents and I lived here until I was three years old:

My original home in Detroit, Michigan

Well, there WAS a house here

It was awesome, and I still remember some of its features. I also remember the little old lady two doors down who made blueberry pies and the nice old man next door who used to hand me pennies through the fence.

Most of all I remember the train yard. It was just a few doors down. My dad used to wheel me out there park my stroller on the corner and let me watch the trains switching and staging. From as far back as I can recall, the sound of diesel rumbling, signal bells, and train horns has been a huge comfort to me. I love trains.

My parents decided that the neighborhood was getting bad, and in 1980 they moved us all to Center Line, Michigan. That’s where I grew up and I’ve lived in the suburbs ever since.

It wasn’t a bad upbringing. The suburbs are nice enough. I had a few friends and I could ride my bike a half mile to a place where a lot more kids my age lived. Luckily, I lived around a lot of old Polish people, and there was something of a “neighborhood” feel to the place.

But as I got older, the suburbs got less and less personal. All the old mom-and-pop businesses got replaced with Rite-Aids and CVSes, all the family-owned diners got replaced with chain restaurants, and eventually the big box stores like Home Depot, Super KMart, Meijer, and Wal-Mart moved in; they wiped out giant swaths of land to lay down massive parking lots (which never, in my entire life, have I ever seen even close to being filled to capacity) and take away all the business from independent stores with their convenience and lower prices.

All sense of place, and of character, were slowly being erased by the sterile sameness of it all. I’ve traveled all over the US, and most small- to mid-sized cities are exactly the same. You can’t tell if you’re in Macomb Township, Michigan or Woodbury, Minnesota. It’s as if a gigantic, strip-mall sized rubber stamp has been slowly plodding its way from East to West across our beautiful, bountiful nation.

A strip mall in some city, USA

Three guesses. You can’t possibly figure out which state this is in.

I got lucky enough to get a job in Detroit in 1991. My dad got me a job at Randazzo’s Fruit Market at Outer Drive by 7 Mile Road. As a scrappy 14-year-old white kid from the ‘burbs, I got a massive (and hilarious) dose of education that summer. After that, I worked at a Kinko’s at 7 Mile and Mack. Then I went to the Wayne State Kinko’s on Woodward and Warren. From there, it was on to the Renaissance Center Kinko’s in Downtown Detroit. Then I worked for two years in Highland Park at a militant newspaper run by what were likely former Black Panthers. From there I went on to Greektown to work at a dotcom-era startup in the Boydell Building (before the casinos!). When I left that job to start my own company, it was only natural that I end up in Detroit, having spent most of my adult working life in the city.

From 2001-2003 my office was in Detroit’s East side, at Harper and Whittier. It wasn’t a great area. We got robbed twice; when the great Northeastern blackout of 2003 came and wiped us out for a couple of days, that was our prompt to move into the suburbs (despite what Mayor Archer’s office said, there was looting in our neighborhood). That was the end of my professional career in Detroit. We moved our office all the way out to Madison Heights, but it just wasn’t the same.

Since then, social media has entered my life. With it, I have made many new professional connections, many in Detroit. I’ve been to many events in Detroit like Ignite Detroit and StartupWeekend Detroit, and watched this tide of social media sweep over the city, bringing with it a message of hope, recovery, and excitement. Suddenly, the creatives and entrepreneurs were talking Detroit. Things were changing. Attitudes were shifting. People were realizing it wasn’t a nightmare of carjackings and shootings. People began to see that the media had been… well, I won’t say “lying”, but misunderstanding and heavily misrepresenting how bad things had gotten.

I live in Warren, now. The real estate bust left my neighborhood’s home prices absolutely devastated. I bought my house for close to $150,000 in 2004. It’s worth about half that now. Most of the homes on my street were foreclosed and then re-bought by different people. It seems like foreclosure was really the only option for many people here. It sort of seems that way for me, too. My house payments are absurdly out of line for what this house is worth; and besides that, I don’t feel like I’m investing any more. I’m simply paying exceptionally high rent to live in a city that continues to fill up vacant buildings with liquor stores, check cashing places, and corporate chains.

I’ve been feeling the siren call of my hometown Detroit for some time now; but finally everything started to click together as more and more people started talking about Woodbridge and Midtown, Boston Edison and Indian Village. Jobs. Investment. New companies. Neighborhoods. Families. Color. Culture. It’s what I want for myself, my kids, and my life.

My roommate, best friend, and business partner Matt “Lincoln” Russell shares my love for the City. He and I have been talking about it for a few months now. We brought it up to my lady love, Nicole. At first, she was a little hesitant. Then we visited Eastern Market, walked the riverfront, visited downtown, and felt the vibrant energy. We took a drive through Woodbridge and saw the beautiful homes, the neighbors all outside hanging out, cooking, and talking. We saw the hundreds of participants of Critical Mass. We visited Neighborhood Noodle. We hung out in Mexicantown. I slowly introduced her to the city I know and love. Finally we all discussed it and started driving around Woodbridge and Midtown looking for actual homes.

A home in Boston-Edison

This house was $38,000. Seriously.

That was the big step. Once we drove to Woodbridge, got out of the car, and started walking around looking at potential homes, it was almost a sealed deal. We looked at homes all over the area and Boston-Edison as well. So many stunningly gorgeous places, just waiting to be restored to glory. The possibilities are endless.

We talked it over and decided to launch this site both as a journal for our adventures and eventually to serve as a community site for those who also love Detroit as we mean to. If you want to move into Detroit, or are just, you know, “into” Detroit, we plan on helping you all find an online home to discuss this great city. We do, after all, have some experience launching successful communities.

There is a feeling in the air. There are so many people who articulate it better than I do, who bring us hope and good news about Detroit. The feeling says, “It’s time.” I believe, with all my heart, that Detroit is truly capable of being the renaissance city for the 21st century in America. We are starting over and building an absolutely stunning future, while not ever forgetting our past.

It’s time to move back home. It’s time to move back to where I belong. For years, whenever I travel, I always tell people I’m proudly from Detroit. It’s time to make that a reality. Are you coming with us?