I started the TDH with the idea of organizing a regular group spin through the East Side of Detroit. So far, that’s happened once, (and it was fun), but hasn’t been a group ride, mostly due to my lax organizational skills.
Now it’s more of an Urban Cycling diary – a chronicle of the most bizarre large city in The United States. Detroit is such a strange place – a city big enough to hold 2 million people, (which it did at one point) which now has a population of about 700,000. That makes for a lot of empty space, and a tax base so degraded the city can’t take care of its basic upkeep.
Detroit is also a synopsis of America’s rise and fall as one of the world’s manufacturing powerhouses. It was the “Arsenal of Democracy”. Much of Detroit was based on making things – from cars and all their ancillary parts, to giant machine tools, to smelting and banging and forging. That’s all gone now, and the hulking remnants of that 20th Century glory still stand, empty, and collapsing, while someone tries to figure out what to do next. (No one’s come up with a workable idea yet).
Detroit was also the home of the rise of the Black/African American middle class, as one of the centers of the great migration North by Blacks and African Americans leaving the then segregated South, looking for opportunities and jobs.
It was also a huge immigration magnet, drawing Poles, Hungarians, and Middle Easterners – first Lebanese, then Chaldeans and Palestinians.
It was the home of Motown; in my opinion, the greatest American pop music ever created. (Aretha Franklin is from here, too. But she recorded for Atlantic Records).
Now it lays still, slowly turning back into prairie, while an inefficient and corrupt city government (present mayor excluded) fails to take action to fix the danged place.
I think it’s shameful that one of America’s (still) largest metropolitan areas has fallen into such a state; but the rest of the country laughs us off and continues to ignore the real problems that exist here. Too many people who live in our suburbs are proud to say they’ve never been downtown. How sad.
I like Detroit; I can’t answer why, exactly. It’s bizarre, unique, magnetic in its weirdness.
So every weekend I go on my ride, discovering and noting the eccentric and peculiar objects I find along the way.
I have never felt threatened. I have never been bothered by the people I ride by and meet. I find the opposite. Most people I see are simply very poor people trying to get on with their lives.
There are spots of hope; here and there I find people trying to re-invent the city. My friend Joe Posch made a telling and insightful point one day not long ago. He said that (quote not exact) “suburbanites are always trying to remake Detroit into their idea of what a Detroit ought to be”. That’s doomed to failure. Detroit wasn’t much like that even when I was a kid, and I’m not a kid any more.
Fortunately, a younger generation, who can’t even try to remember was Detroit “used to be”, is accepting what it is, and trying to make something of it. It’s slow, and goes in fits and starts, but at least there are people out there trying.
You should take a ride below 8 mile some day, too. Even those who’ve chosen to live as far away as possible from the city’s center are affected by why happens in it, no matter how hard they try to ignore that fact.
It’s a shame more people won’t bother trying to find out what it’s really like.