Two Points Of View On The Midtown Renaissance

January 15, 2013, 3:46 PM by  Bill McGraw

Monday was a typical day at the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Company at Woodward and W. Alexandrine.

Baristas served coffee that is organic, fair trade and rainforest-alliance approved. There is also craft beer, smart cocktails and artisanal food, including anchovies on toast.

Music played from the house speakers, but some in the youngish and mostly fashionable crowd used ear buds as they worked on their MacBook Pros and read their tablets and iPhones.

Beyond the large windows, it was a typical scene as well.

Older people on three- and four-wheel mobility scooters negotiate traffic and potholes on a busy Woodward Ave. A legless man in a motorized wheelchair, his urine bag and catheter hanging on the side, crossed the street. Younger people, huddled against the cold, some wearing worn clothes, walked past. A few ate food from the nearby McDonald’s. A woman carried a red gas can.

The different scenes on either side of the glass illustrate a fact of life of the ongoing renaissance in Midtown and downtown Detroit. Neighborhoods are evolving, but they are located in the midst of one of the nation’s most impoverished cities. Gentrification is not new, but as the new Detroit expands, it keeps pushing against an old Detroit that has many residents without the means, or the time, or the inclination, to eat anchovies on toast.

The clash of Detroits is reflected not only in class, but also in race. The city is more than 85 percent black, but these establishments, and others in Midtown and downtown, have a mostly white clientele.

You can also see the clash from behind the windows at Atlas Global Bistro on Woodward and Charlotte. Apricot glazed quail stuffed with golden raisins and couscous is on the menu; COTS, the high-rise homeless shelter, is around the corner.

You could see the clash when a fashion show was staged on Woodward south of Grand Circus Park two summers ago. It was invite-only, and they fenced off all but an eight-foot corridor on the east sidewalk for people who normally are on Woodward at that time of night. Some of those people stood at the barricades and heckled the models as they sashayed down the runway.

The clash turned criminal Friday night at another establishment that attracts a crowd from both Midtown and beyond -- the Woodbridge Pub on Trumbull Avenue, across from the Wayne State University football stadium. A teenager entered the bar with a rifle, and he took some wallets and cell phones. A customer, apparently recognizing the weapon was a BB gun, grabbed it and kicked the robber in the groin. He fled, along with an accomplice who waited outside. No one was hurt.

I love the Woodbridge Pub, and I appreciate how the management has made sure it is sensitive to the community in a number of ways. I have sat behind its big windows and watched people pass by, on foot. Some glance into the bar with looks that are quizzical. Some people have looks of annoyance.

When you look out of the windows at the Woodbridge Pub, you also see WSU’s athletic complex. The land it covers was once a neighborhood. After the school acquired the property in the 1960s and bulldozed the homes to build facilities for commuter students from better neighborhoods, nearby residents protested, and WSU let them use the swimming pool.

People who have jobs can afford to have a coffee or beer at many of the places in central Detroit that have contributed to the neighborhood’s emergence. But a lot of people in Detroit do not have jobs.

The changes in Midtown and downtown are indisputably good for Detroit. But change often leaves poor people on the outside, looking in, and prosperous people on the inside, looking out.

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