You ever see "The Omega Man"? A movie from the 60's, maybe early 70's, with Charlton Heston. It's based on the same story as Will Smith's "I am Legend". There's a scene in that move meant to illustrate how everybody's dead and gone. It even has tumbleweed rolling down the street. That's Detroit, minus the tumbleweed.
I grew up in the western suburbs of Detroit. As a kid I would sometimes go to downtown Hudson’s department store with my Mom for their annual sale. As a teenager I attended concerts at Cobo Hall and later Joe Louis Arena. All of these excursions involved getting in your car, driving to your destination, parking as close as you could, attending the event, getting back to your car as quickly as possible (especially at night), and driving home. Not only wasn’t it safe to go walking around, there really wasn’t any reason to. The majority of Detroit looks like this:
Detroit Train Station
After I got married I lived in Ann Arbor. It’s a wonderful college town. I use the words vibrant, bohemian and quirky to describe Ann Arbor. There I got my first taste of walking downtown streets, eating at an outdoor café and the hustle and bustle that comes with a thriving community. As a college town though, Ann Arbor is almost entirely focused on the University and its students. It lacks the bigness and the competing interests that you find in a major city.
I never imagined what a real city was like. Then in the early 90's I visited San Francisco on a business trip. I had never seen a bustling big city neighborhood before. Everywhere I looked there were people working and shopping and even living in these cities. I had no idea. A year later I went to Boston, which confirmed that San Francisco was no fluke. In the ensuing twenty years I've been to many cities. Sad to say that none of them are as dismal as Detroit. Cincinnati came close but it's more gritty than destitute. It has a certain character.
There have been attempts to revitalize Detroit that have resulted in some positive changes. A thriving casino district, though, is hardly something to hang your hat on for sustained improvement. What will help Detroit? 1) A good public transportation system. We have no train system, no subway and the city line and suburb lines are operated by two different companies. 2) We have to get people living in the city again. When they live there, they will want to shop and work there. They will pay taxes that the city sorely needs. 3) Somebody has to take over that corrupt school system and start all over again.
I hope there's a brighter future for Detroit. The city motto after all is: "We hope for better things; it shall arise from the ashes."
(This post was originally going to be about an encounter I had with a homeless guy in San Francisco. Ms. Healthypants comment reminded me of it. I got sidetracked. Stay tuned.)