You Will Summer in Detroit
A great American city gets great again.
By Taylor Bruce
When I’m asked about Detroit, the questions often circle around news headlines: bankruptcy and blight, crime stats, bus problems. Whether things in the city really are that bad. Until I first traveled there about a year ago, those were my trigger thoughts about Detroit, too. That and Megatron’s freakish football skills. But after spending a big chunk of 2014 in Detroit, kicking it at Astro Coffee in Corktown, roaming the beautiful Belle Isle, stopping into Shinola in Midtown, meeting entrepreneurs and artists, barbers and chefs and teachers — even a mortician — I’m convinced Detroit is beginning its third act in a great American comeback story. Or, as longtime poet laureate Naomi Long Madgett writes in City Nights, that the “grandchildren are upstairs dreaming.” There’s an engine of ingenuity at work in the Michigan city, with a forward-thinking, Midwestern hustle at the core. In 2015, these are just a few of the reasons why I’ll definitely go back to Detroit.
Gold Cash Gold
Detroit’s restaurant cred is booming, and no place has our attention more than Gold Cash Gold, a former pawnshop in Corktown. In a city known most for pizza squares and chili dogs, chef Josh Stockton’s urban farmstead menu ups the diner ante for sure. And the design? Impeccably Detroit, with reclaimed beams made into bench seating, spotting of stained glass, and awesome reminders of the building’s former life smartly preserved on its exterior. Starting with that badass name.
Write A House
Writers looking for inspiration need not go far in Detroit. And as of 2014, finding real estate isn’t hard, either. Write A House, a brilliant, lit-focused non-profit is buying decrepit bungalows on the cheap, fixing them up with the Detroit Youth Build program, and giving them away to up-and-coming scribes. No strings attached. Talk about a true writer’s residency. The first free digs were gifted in November to a Brooklyn poet who’s bringing her typewriter to her new zip code this year, with several more on deck in 2015.
When it comes to acreage, Detroit is an urban farmer’s dream world. Which is a huge reason why Pashun Murray and Detroit Dirt’s mission is so compelling. Their business is pretty simple: Gather the city’s food scraps and natural debris, churn it into rich compost gold, and bag it for the masses. Supported by a contingent of local companies, from Ford Motor to Carhartt, Dirt sees a higher call: to transform the Motor City into America’s sustainability capital, one healthy backyard garden at a time.
Museum of Contemporary Art’s Teen Council
Sure, soaring industrial space doesn’t hurt the city’s art prospects (just ask Brooklyn’s legendary Galapagos collective, which recently bought 600,000 square feet in Corktown and Highland Park). But more than brick and mortar, what makes Detroit’s creative atmosphere special are programs truly investing in the city, like MOCAD’s Teen Council. Select high school students win yearlong mentorships with contemporary art pros and, as a group, they design and produce museum programming of their choice. No doubt, these are America’s coolest docents.
Housed in a gorgeously rehabbed former Model T showroom, Tom and Peggy Brennan’s Green Garage incubator and co-working hub focuses on sustainable, triple-bottom-line ideas. Businesses-in-residence may vary in concern, from school nutrition to smart technology to figuring out what to do with mountains of trashed tires, but all focus on building the future city. And anyone’s welcome to mingle, especially at one of their Friday brown bag lunch series. BYOL.
“What can you do with a little? In this city, the answer is: a lot.” So says Amy Kaherl, director of a micro-granting program called Detroit SOUP, and her thoughts bullseye the optimistic outlook of Detroit. The granting co-op began as a monthly dinner, where guests paid $5 for soup (hence the name) and voted on what fun city projects should win the cash. Today, based out of Ponyride, a smart entrepreneur’s hub, the goodwill grubbing continues to seed ingenuity in more than a dozen neighborhood-based SOUP sites.
Many say that Detroit’s fate has been, and always will be, tied to the automobile. Well, say that on Monday nights at the world’s largest weekly bike ride. It’s called the Slow Roll, and it’s a super-friendly, two-hour group cruise through the city. Launched by Detroit Bike City founders Jason Hall and Mike MacKool, it’s all ages, all paces, and all on two wheels — no matter if it’s a fixie beater or a fancy Shinola. Just bring your wheels, stay to the right, and soak in the non–Motor City.
Taylor Bruce is the founding editor of the Wildsam Guides.