Broad Thoughts Amid Narrow Debates
Those who know me know that I am proud to come from Detroit. But these days, like so many others, I am now just part of the Detroit Diaspora.
In countless ways my hometown comes back to me: images of the industrial landscapes we grew up with (mixed with summertime greens and those long, flat stretches of houses,) reminders of its fall in the hundreds of “Detroit ruin porn” videos that fill the web (we’ve seen it, thank you,) or those sausages and ginger ale that you can only find deep in the city.
Wide avenues that radiate from the center like spokes on a bike; late nights in the hot summer listening to the Electrifying Mojo and watching the stars. People who are unfailingly friendly, but know how to keep a polite distance.
I think about my hometown dozens of different ways on any day, but it always ends the same. Detroit may be my hometown, but DC is my home.
These two places aren’t nearly as different as one may imagine. Hard to believe (not to me) now, but Detroit was, for decades, the most prosperous major city in the U.S. More people bought their first homes – nice ones, separate with lawns and fences and backyard bar-be-ques and Jarts – in Detroit than in any other American city. It was a company town that worked exactly because of its immigrants: Slavs, Quebecois, Irish, Mexican, American South.
DC today – with all the condos and “gritty” bars and three-bill restaurants and hustle was exactly Detroit, fifty years ago. Motown wasn’t just a marketing label: it was the live-wire energy that that place was.
Washington today can feel the same – lots of people moving here who didn’t grow up here, company town, nightlife buffet, broad avenues amid the rigid grid of urban life.
But there’s one other thing that troubles me deeply: the hubris that it will never end.
Thoughtful opinions to the contrary are welcomed – keep the insults down and I’ll repost your thoughts and visions. But there was a time – don’t laugh – when people thought the gravy train would never end in Detroit.How could it? Detroit was the American dream.
Which makes me shudder when I now hear all these “gotta-wear-shades” exuberant predictions of how DC, and the larger metropolitan community web, will never, ever suffer the sort of humiliation visited upon iron-and-steel barbarians like Detroit. Of course it will continue to grow, and grow! Washington: City on the Move!
Except that was exactly the title of this film, promoting Detroit for – stop laughing or I shall punch you – the Olympics. hahahahaha Detroit? OLYMPICS?!
The Point of This Blog
There was a time when people called Detroit, without ironic smirks, the Paris of the Midwest. DC is these days labeled among Paris, London and Tokyo as capitals of the world.
What happened with Detroit was a catastrophic mismanagement by all parties – everybody. You can’t grow up there without feeling a little blood on your hands.
I feel that acutely now; notably as I’m not living there, doing my best. I have chosen a path that connects me with my life partner – and his home is DC. So it is mine, too.
This blog is something of a warning flare. Not of impending doom – Detroit didn’t fall in a year but over 50. Rather, I have lived city mismanagement once, and I don’t want to live it again.
Enthusiasts wave the banner for every new bar, lounge, condo or whathaveyou as proof of the invincibility of DC and its continued ascendency.
Parking? Bah. Over-crowding of nightlife districts? Old man! Developments built exclusively for the profit of the developer, community be damned? NIMBY!
I am numb to the Nimby name. It is not unlike other words people hurl to try and keep one down, hunkered, defensive. It is bullshit, and I am calling it for what it is.
We are participating in this community precisely because we care: we want to nurture it, help it grow smart but not over-fast so it falls down on its face. What charlatans call NIMBY, we know as stewardship.
So let’s not let DC become Detroit – which grew far too large far too fast for anyone to say much because money was being turned hand-over-hand.
We welcome contrary views – not as snarky three line “responses” which say little. Have a different view? Fine. Send it to us, we’ll print (again, keep the name-calling limited) and we can have a discussion.
I am a Detroiter. I am a DCite. I love my two towns, and want the best for them. I do not want the fate of the first to become the fate of the other.