Taking the good with the bad

Often, when you read about all the “moving to Detroit” hype, the optimism flows like hot butter down a biscuit. People will stress and emphasize how amazing, how wonderful, how beautiful Detroit is.

While all of that is true, there is also the elephant in the room: People try to overcompensate for Detroit’s downfalls in their writing. It’s almost as if by pushing how wonderful everything is, they can hide the negativity.

It’s only natural. How else are we to be expected to make the best of a bad situation? We’re fighting a war of perception with people who desperately, for one reason or another, want us to fail.

It was very easy to be a part of the “Positive Detroit” crowd when I was comfortably ensconced in my suburban enclave. I could drive to all the best areas of Detroit, do cool stuff, take cool pictures, meet cool people, and drive back home to write about how awesome everything was.

I never got mugged. I never got carjacked. I never got shot. Nobody I know has ever had any of those things happen to them.

It’s not fair to hide the bad side, though. It needs to be talked about and we need to stop hiding it because we’re afraid that people will use it to jump all over us and shoot us down and say, “You see! I told you so! Detroit is a piece of shit!”

Detroit is not the only city in the world

City life is different from suburban life. This is true whether you’re talking about Detroit, Michigan or Tokyo, Japan. New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Austin… no matter what big city you’re in you need to have a different level of expectations for security on your personal property, and your own personal safety. Why should we be so defensive about Detroit, which has the same problems as any other big city?

The first big city experience came when Lincoln nearly ran into an intruder. We’ve now had to think about security, fixing broken windows, jamming doors—things we’ve never really had to worry about in the suburbs (although to be fair, we’ve never had a vacant home in the suburbs). Even this minor intrusion has altered our perception of security. Lincoln carries a knife. I have the Wayne State Police on speed dial.

Our house has been stripped by copper thieves. We’re discovering more and more of how this is impacting us as we get deeper into the renovation. The water got turned on yesterday, and water was pouring out all over the basement—wherever copper pipes got stolen. The entire run from the basement to the top floor of the house is gone (all copper). The kitchen radiator’s pipes have been removed as well. The plumbing project just grew significantly more involved (and expensive). The city Water Department worker turned to look at me and said, “Well, enjoy your project.”

We purchased a Bagster from Waste Management; these are cool little canvas bags that you buy for $30. You fill it with up to 3000 pounds of trash and then pay $100 to have them pick it up. We bought two, and began filling the first one with trash on Friday. When we got there Saturday morning, the trash was all over the lawn and the Bagster was stolen.

It’s almost comical, because the bag is almost useless on its own. I can just imagine the thieves using the bag and then calling Waste Management to pick it up, thinking it’s free. Still, $30 is $30. That’s just gone, and even though in the scope of a big-city level petty crime this is not a big deal, it has to be said that this is not something I would have worried about in Warren.

Detroit is Detroit. We do have to worry about securing the premises. We do have to worry that someone will come by at night and scope the joint out, sizing it up for a potential robbery. We do have to consider that leaving tools behind is a bad idea. As one of my new neighbors said when she found out the Bagster got stolen, “Heh. Welcome to Detroit.”

So what do you do? Do you throw your hands up and say, “Yeah, I’m not dealing with this”, and move away? To the suburbs where everything is safe and predictable and mind-numbingly similar? Where they’ll tear down an old arcade to pave over and build another big-box store? Where they’ll tear your garden down just because someone with more clout wants to store garbage there?

No, that’s not what you do. That’s exactly what happened in the 1960’s and 1970’s. People abandoned Detroit. They left it to rot. And rot it did.

All we can do is exactly what we’re doing. Buy a house. Fix it up. Live there. Raise our kids there. Let thieves know that this is no longer their playground.

The situation is far more complicated than I am capable of covering here, but the big issue is that we’re done talking about Detroit. We moved in. Now we’re making our own tiny corner of this great city just a little bit better.

The same day the Bagster was stolen, four new neighbors introduced themselves. One of them asked if maybe this summer we could start a porch band since our new front porch was so cool. Another asked if they could help. A third couldn’t wait to meet our dogs. Another said she’d keep an eye on the place for us while we were gone. We are surrounded by good people. Detroit is filled with good people. If this is the good, we’ll take the bad.

We do have to talk about the bad; most often it’s glossed over by the Detroit apologists who do nothing but concentrate on how amazing Woodbridge and Midtown, Corktown and Indian Village are. After all, you don’t exactly see anyone blogging about how amazing Davison and Mound is, or what a cool neighborhood Brightmoor is, or how much fun they had at 6 and Gratiot the other night. But this is all Detroit. The good and the bad. If we don’t talk about the bad stuff, it’ll never change.

9 thoughts on “Taking the good with the bad

  1. I think the biggest problem, and this doesn't just apply to the people who purposely stay away from the city and want it to fail, it applies to everyone, including us. You need to approach this city with empathy. You have to understand the people who live here, what they've been through and why things have gotten to the way they are. The mistake we often make is that we want to come in and make things the way we think they should be, but rarely ask ourselves if that's actually good for the city. This is how a fiasco like the Robocop statue happen. You get people excited because, "Oh, hey, Robocop was filmed in Detroit so that would be so cool. I love Robocop." But don't stop and think about whether or not you would want that in your neighborhood, or if the people who live there, who have seen enough police brutality in their day, to have a monument to martial law in their backyard. "I hate to say this, but Detroit needs to herp before they're ever going to derp." Ask not what Detroit can do for you, ask what you can do for Detroit. Don't just attach the Detroit label to everything because it'll help you sell t-shirts, do it because your product is worthy of the title.

    I would hope that no one I come across in this city would ever think I'm trying to cross them, but I know that most of the residents are distrusting of outsiders and new-comers. It's because of a string of bad experiences they have had in the past. If you approach the people here with empathy, and speak from the heart, you will find that the people of this city are warm and kind. They may try to hustle you, so you have to stay on your toes, but they show respect when respect is earned.
  2. I hear all that, you know I do. But my shit got stolen. That's just something that I don't, and can't, have empathy for.

    That's the kind of thing you have to confront, head-on, when you're talking to Detroit haters. They're gonna say "See? Your shit gets stolen off your front lawn", and they're right. We have to face up to that and not make excuses for it.
  3. Empathy can go a long way towards understanding why your shit got stolen, and why the city has turned to anarchy in the first place. Mistrust of outsiders, mistrust of the police, mistrust of city government has led people to believe they all need to look out for #1. You should actively pursue these people, go ahead and setup cameras with motion detectors and all that, but at the end of the day, the problem won't go away until we confront the real issues.
  4. Good news. Waste Management heard about our plight and reached out to contact us about crediting our account for the amount of the stolen bag.

    Thank you, Waste Management! If you have a small cleanup project, we can highly recommend the Bagster; even on the basis of their customer service alone.
  5. I really appreciated this post, and the idea of honestly covering the good with the bad. From my perspective, being a suburban Detroit "ex-pat" living in SF, I think honest coverage about the bad stuff does help keep it real. I've witnessed first-hand, some of that "see, Detroit IS bad" backlash by outsiders when a news story about crime or violence comes out in the national media. Overall these days, from the outside, it often feels like there are 2 streams of media coverage about the city. The bleak stereotypical, and sensationalist generalizations about crime, poverty, etc. that have plagued mainstream media coverage for 40 years, and conversely, the more hipster Pollyanna "Detroit is the new Portland/Austin/Brooklyn/the Mission" coverage that's happening in some blogs. In the end, the middle ground seems like the best tact to take. Highlight all the good, and shine a light on the bad and needs-to-be-fixed elements, so that anyone interested can approach the city realistically. It's REALLY ok to be upset about your shit being stolen, and take appropriate steps to prevent that, regardless of what city you live in. Let's face it, part of the reason these amazing opportunities exist in any neglected area of any city, is because there is greater risk there, at least in the beginning. No need to sugar coat that. I'm glad you're not.
  6. We ARE community. We're in this together. We will win this battle by banding together in respect for each other. And love. Yes, it sounds like Hippie International, but this is the ONLY way to bring Detroit back. We must prove those who drag her down are not as strong as those of us pulling her back up into the light. WE will love this place and these people so forcefully that Detroit and her people can NOT fail!!! Together we will save each other!!! That's how it works.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *