NY Times Asks: Is Detroit the Most Exciting City in America?


As we all know, for decades the Detroit narrative on a national level was not very favorable. In fact, freelancer Reif Larsen recalls visiting the city in 2001 and being unnerved by the empty streets and feeling like it was "the beginning of a zombie apocalypse movie."

Now, Larsen has written a magazine-length (3,800 words) cover story for The New York Times travel section, headlined: "Detroit: The Most Exciting City in America?"

There may be a question mark, but his enthusiasm suggests he believes that in fact it may be the case: 

In Detroit, the future is still being written. Time and time again I felt giddy with possibilities, informed in large part by the innovators I was talking to. Yet many of these same innovators — community activists, artists, small business owners — took issue with the trendy notion of a “New Detroit,” as this term largely ignored the fiercely independent and creative spirit that has existed in the city for decades and made Detroit such a haven for creatives and visionaries in the first place.

Indeed, those who have been here for the long haul were skeptical that the massive redevelopment downtown would translate to any kind of sustainable change in the surrounding neighborhoods, areas that largely bore the brunt of the Motor City’s long decline. How Detroit navigates the various dangers of regeneration and gentrification seems a particularly poignant question given that this year is the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit race riots that exposed the deep tensions ingrained within a city that remains one of the most segregated in the country.

He notes that public transportation is "woeful" but mentions there's some signs of hope, pointing to the QLine. He acknowledges limitations of the 3.3-mile route and the fact some people think it's nothing more than a "show pony." But he adds:

Perhaps. But every revolution needs a show pony.

This past summer I rode the Q-Line a couple of weeks after it first opened, before a fare was being collected. The tram was packed with young and old, black and white. Everyone had an opinion about the streetcar; everyone was suddenly an expert on the intricacies of urban transportation.

As we slid past buildings being thrown up at a lightning pace, I felt a bit like I was on a Disney ride. See the future American City being built before your eyes!

He goes on a Slow Roll in the summer, even though it was cancelled because of possible thunderstorms. About 200 bicyclists showed up. The thunderstorms never materializes and they all an unofficial Slow Roll.

He mentions Dan Gilbert ("the mayor of Gilbertville") and writes:

The good news is that Detroiters are perhaps Detroit’s greatest asset. They have never stopped innovating and caring, and nowhere is this more evident than in the vast proliferation of urban gardens and farms that dot the city’s landscape.

In many ways, Detroit seems ideal for such an urban agricultural revolution: What better way to activate those 40 square miles of vacant lots than to turn them into farmland? If you visit the vast farmers market in Eastern Market on weekends you will find a cornucopia of local produce from some of the city’s 1,400 gardens and farms.

Read more:  The New York Times

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