Paging the real Detroit



Photo Credit: BBC News


I guess the question would be whether the renamed Midtown neighborhood is really Detroit. Because the question that seems to always pop up amongst longtime Detroiters is what is – and what is not – really Detroit. Authenticity is everything in the ‘D’. Either you are or you aren’t one of us, we know who you are either way, and we will never let you forget it.

So where does the real Detroit begin and where does it end? Detroit is what you might call strange beautiful. It certainly isn’t for everyone, and it demands more than its pound of flesh from any and all who live here, voluntarily or otherwise. But like a shark pulsing through deep blue water it continues to seduce and fascinate even as it wreaks havoc. A gorgeous destroyer of sorts.

It is this fascination with the paradox, among residents as well as visitors, that provokes the question about Midtown, the jumping, pumping, up and coming hip heartbeat of a neighborhood that has bloomed in recent years from between the exposed ribs of the walking carcass that used to be the Cass Corridor. Home sweet home to some of the most bizarre characters and behavior in one of the nation’s more devastatingly bizarre cities, the Corridor was once a rough ride full of pimps, hookers, junkies, hustlers, and others who populated the fringe as the only location where they could maintain their precarious balance amongst the rest of the world. Today it is arguably the most walkable real estate in the entire city save Detroit’s Riverwalk itself, complete with cute coffee shops, restaurants, bookstores, and the like.

Still, bits and pieces of Midtown’s not-so-distant past have yet to disappear completely, although in a somewhat perversely comical twist I get the sense that a sizable portion of the newer – noticeably whiter – residents seem to enjoy that stubborn remainder as part of the ‘truly urban’ experience that gives the area a uniquely dangerous charm. Safe is fine, but not too safe.


Because how can you ever really say you swam with sharks when you never left the swimming pool?

Meanwhile, most of the rest of Detroit’s neighborhoods continue to struggle with the ugly, painful issues that have defined and strangled this city for decades now. So what does Midtown mean for them? Is Midtown Detroit twenty years in the future, as one longtime resident/activist told me recently? Or is it an island mirage, surrounded by the ‘real’ Detroit?

Or is reality what we make it?


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