On hipsters in Detroit

Hipsters take over Detroit

“Hipsters go home” was the comment on Reddit in /r/Detroit in response to an article on Huffington Post entitled “Detroit: From Ruin Porn to Cool Again“.

This is a common theme in discussions on Reddit and in other online forums. A few times a month, someone comes in to the Detroit subreddit asking about the city (I’m moving to Detroit, what’s good?) and living there (Is Detroit really as bad as they say?). Almost inevitably, there will be someone mentioning the “hipsters” and how they’re bad/good/awesome/terrible for the city.

There seems to be an undercurrent of loathing for these hipsters that are somehow ruining everything that was ever cool about Detroit. I can’t tell if it’s bitterness that suburban kids who used to party in the city couldn’t make a go of it, or if it’s somehow racially motivated (there are black hipsters too!), or if it’s just the general attitude that comes with any revival or change movement. There’s a lot of resentment, regardless. Some of it takes the flavor of “We’re doing just fine without you, stay out” while others seem to be of the mindset that hipsters are only here for the short-term, and once they realize how gritty the city actually is, they’ll bail to fairer shores.

The thing that’s been bothering me the most is that lately it seems that if you’re white and you move into the city, you’re somehow suddenly “fake” and part of some annoying hipster movement that is ignorant at best and exploitative and disingenuous at worst.

Welcome to the Hipsterhood

There are certain neighborhoods that, if you say you’re interested in moving into them, some will sniff and huff and immediately call you a hipster. Woodbridge, Corktown, and Midtown are the most common triggers. What a lot of people who judge don’t take into account, though, is the fact that a big part of the reason these neighborhoods are so desirable is specifically because there are people who have hunkered down during the bad years and made their homes there. You think Midtown, Woodbridge, the Village, and Corktown are just suddenly “magically” safe and nice? They’ve been that way for decades.

I admit that it can be frustrating to hear people (hipsters specifically) talk about Detroit as if it’s a brand new city/playground for them. There definitely is an undercurrent of “clean slate” syndrome going on, and it’s annoying. The hipster movement often does not understand what they’re coming into when they set up shop in Detroit with dreams of starting an artist collective, an urban farm, or a commune. They sometimes seem shocked that there are things like laws, a city council, and ordinances. “Wait, you mean I can’t just start a horse farm in the middle of the city? I was told there was a clean slate!”

I can understand how long-time Detroit residents would get annoyed at that. I understand that having someone come in with the attitude that they are going to “fix” your city is condescending and naive. But at the same time, look at our city from the outside: It’s a huge mess and it needs a lot of improvement. More importantly it needs people; millions of them.

Hipsters are people too

Hipsters bring with them an almost endearing bright-eyed optimism. There’s a lot to love. They tend to have disposable income, and their spending habits and priorities tend towards local and indie business, both of which Detroit is full of. They are very well-connected technologically and socially, and tend to be proud of where they set down roots. I think we can all agree that Detroit could stand a lot more positive press. They get involved in outdoors activities, including biking and concerts. The more people go outdoors, the more they’ll want to change their surroundings for the better, clean up litter, maybe plant some flowers, and just generally improve their homestead—again, things that Detroit could stand a little more of.

While maybe not getting involved in politics (yet), they do tend to be more socially conscious. They’re more willing to, say, go to a community meeting, call the police department and get involved with things on a street level, and spread the word about causes. Sure, sometimes it’s slacktivism (the act of ‘sharing’ a good cause on Facebook or other social networks, and feeling like that’s all you have to do to make something better), but that’s better than nothing.

Part of Detroit’s return to greatness is filling the city with new people, new ideas, new businesses, and new attitudes. Hipsters are a part of that, and they’re here to set down roots, spend money, and talk about how much fun they’re having on their well-connected social networks. Detroit could use a little bit of “cool” and if it takes hipsters to help that along, then I say “welcome” to them.

Change is never easy. But the next time you see a person on a bicycle carrying a load of fresh greens in their basket, or a man with a suit and a beard and pipe on a longboard, holding a painting, wave hello and smile at the fact that Detroit is a crazy and awesome city, instead of turning your nose up at the “stupid hipster”. They just might be your new neighbor.

8 thoughts on “On hipsters in Detroit

  1. But will they stay? The answer to that question in other cities has invariably been no. Good schools are needed to keep people. Also, hipsters move on to the next hip place once they have gentrified the neighborhood enough to make rent prices go up. Besides, beard pipe and longboard? Cmon, we all know thats stupid..lol
  2. There are all kinds of "hipsters," it's really a problematic label. Some may indeed be the kind that move out when the going gets rough, but a lot of them are just normal young folk that have made a questionable fashion choice. Critics are painting with way too broad a brush.

    It sucks when rent goes up, but the alternative often is landlords that do the bare minimum and let the housing stock deteriorate. I don't think we'll see rapid gentrification in Detroit or rapid displacement of people from their neighborhoods. What does concern me though is that some investors have managed to buy up large swaths of property in Detroit, and might do something stupid and raze a bunch of historic properties to put in a new development. Even so, that's better than stagnation, I guess.
  3. It's like Brooklyn in the early 90s. Hipsters tend to be the first wave of a turnaround in a neighborhood: younger people who are a little daring and are attracted to very low-cost living. Maybe they leave, or maybe they just grow up with the neighborhood.
  4. OK, OK. While I poke fun at hipsters and make jokes at their expense, I understand they're a vital part of the neighborhood. Hell, I'd consider most of our renters hipsters. (Yeah, I'm one of those landlords charging top dollar -- for a nicely renovated, amenity-filled historic house with the owner five minutes away, that is.) But really, their choice of clothes or cigarettes or facial hair or whatever don't affect me in the least.
    Unfortunately many of the hipsters I have daily interactions with are the pretentious ones, like you mentioned in your post. Yes, I know there's an organic bakery nearby, thanks for telling me. Yes, I know about the community garden; I helped build the thing. It's kind of like the annoying teenager thinking they know it all when they actually have no real life experience.
    If we can get them to stop walking on the sidewalk four across, and shower occasionally, I'll be extending a welcome to every hipster who wants to move to midtown.
  5. Thought I'd bump this conversation, as today an exchange on Reddit got me riled up. People have so much vitriol towards these hipsters. I think it's the optimism that pisses people like this off. Read the exchange between me and "LeftDetroitThrowAway".
  6. I hate the accusation of gentrification. Woodbridge was never built for poverty stricken people. The homes are large and elegant. Many of us who have been here for 10+ years bought abandoned homes. Who exactly is being pushed out of an abandoned home??? In any big successful city there are areas that are out of the reach of the very poor. If we want our city to grow we will have to swallow that bitter pill.
  7. I hate the accusation of gentrification. Woodbridge was never built for poverty stricken people. The homes are large and elegant. Many of us who have been here for 10+ years bought abandoned homes. Who exactly is being pushed out of an abandoned home??? In any big successful city there are areas that are out of the reach of the very poor. If we want our city to grow we will have to swallow that bitter pill.
    THIS. SO MUCH THIS. Thanks, Katie! Hard to be "gentrified" when we live in a neighborhood that was built by the very rich for the very rich a hundred years ago.
  8. Moreover, larger homes are a huge drain on resources and can quickly fall apart if someone without means attempts to live in one. I have a small army behind me and can barely keep up with mine. In Woodbridge, "gentrification" means "people are buying the houses that can actually afford to live in them." As long as the city's occupancy is less than 40% of what its peak was, I think it's difficult to argue displacement is a leading concern.

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