The road to Detroit was one of caution and advice. From friends, family, and strangers alike, our decision to head for the Motor City was followed by sincere concern for our safety. The nearer we got, the more we heard advice like ‘Watch yourself there boys’, ‘Act like you know where you’re going’, ‘It’s a different sorta city’, ‘They’ll steal the paint off your car’. And heading straight for Metro Detroit after five days herding goats in Wisconsin, we were inclined to listen. But there’s a fascination about Detroit that trumps the inevitable dangers that come with severe poverty. Like many of the travelers passing thru, we were fascinated by the magnitude of the desolation and of the industrial ruins that show the wealth that once was. These monoliths account for many of the city’s main attractions, but the life and culture that still rustles in the empty factories and the tall grass of the vacant lots is starting to tell a new story, and it was that which we wanted to hear.
Mobbing around the city on our bikes dodging potholes and debris, it was all too easy to feel we were navigating an apocalyptic landscape. The burned down and boarded up homes, the trash piles and the overgrown yards, the empty factory and office buildings, all served as haunting reminders for how frail an industry and income can be. But what wasn’t so frail in Detroit was the sense of community and pride that Detroiters still share. Where once there were homes and shops, there now are farms and art installations. It seemed that no matter what neighborhood we crossed, the residents who stayed have bonded together and have begun to rebuild, if just a little at a time.
The car industry has all but gone from Detroit. Even those lucky enough to still work in the plants have had pay cut to such a level it’s no longer a feasible career. And so it seems the city is reinventing itself. Whether that means a city of entertainment, with casinos and venues, or a city which has gone back to the land, with small farms spread across the vacant lots of the city. The path for Detroit is still unknown, but from our brief time there, the one thing we’ve noticed is the resilience of the people, who keep on living, keep on rebuilding instead of waiting around for better times.