Moving East, through the Midwest

We’re on our way back to the east coast after a far hop out to Madison, Wisconsin. It rained practically the entire time we were out in Madison, so I’m afraid we weren’t able to take much advantage of the beautiful area around there.

We did wander through the rain in the state capitol and the campus of the University of Wisconsin – both so close together downtown that they are a short walk apart. Sadly, there are no pictures to share. My best words to describe Madison are that, it’s a curious blend of university town and state business. There’s the incredible energy you expect when the streets are filled with young adults with the long road of life in front of them. At the same time, the capitol building – modeled off the U.S. Capitol – adds a statesman air to the area it casts its shadow. One can’t help but also think, with the business buildings running through the campus, that the Wisconsin students don’t quite get the fullest oasis of youth that you find in other college towns – where societal norms are entirely dictated by a younger demographic.

We’re currently in Hamilton, Ontario having just arrived last night. We did the drive from Madison in two days with an overnight in the quaint lakeshore town of New Buffalo (Lake Michigan pictured above, with an appropriate plastic bag in the foreground). The drive took us, west-to-east, across the entirety of Michigan. As we were planning our route, knowing neither of us had been to Detroit, I made sure we would stop for lunch in the city.

Our stop-over in Detroit gave Daria and I another one of those moments in life where a discovery expands your world view. It’s too soon to call it love, but we both developed a hard crush for Detroit. Time will tell if it’s one of those five beer crushes that becomes morning regret. I wish we had pictures to show, but the weather was again not helpful.

Detroit is on the precipice of a revival. It may take five years, it make take twenty but the revival will be unstoppable. The downtown area of Detroit is unlike any other city I’ve seen. Much of the downtown area is preserved in its turn of the twentieth century and Motor City glory. An era that reflects both the wealth and the industrial grit of a city that played a key role in the coming of age of the U.S.. And Detroit revels in these roots.

Buildings that would have been torn down in Chicago or New York remain and are incorporated into the life of the city. The downtown area is dense with history and variety. The people who walk the streets are the 21st century business person; the purple-spiked hair, leather boots wearing, “I don’t care what you think” rock-n-rollers; the “my family built this city and inspired a genre of music that will withstand the ages” African-Americans. All the sports venues, every-single-one, is in downtown proper – each walkable to the other.

New investment is apparent everywhere. New York and Chicago made a graceful transition from their industrial age for various reasons. Detroit, so invested and myopic in its automotive roots, stumbled. Those who could and wanted to leave, left. Once the market bottomed-out, empty buildings were bought by the handful, and now are not being razed but revitalized. Incredible neighborhoods just 10 miles from downtown still exist, also awaiting revitalization – perhaps because Detroit didn’t prosper while the rest of the U.S. was fleeing almost entirely to far-flung suburbs. As a long-time resident of Atlanta, I’m especially sensitive to the suburban wasteland.

For certain, Daria and I are committed to coming back to Detroit. I said for a long time that Chicago was my favorite U.S. city. Much more manageable than New York, it has all the American character one looks for in an urban center. Detroit is now poised to take its place.

One thought on “Moving East, through the Midwest

  1. Detroit deserves a break after the riots of 1967 and 1968. Hopefully it’s not just gentrification, but is taking into account race relations and development in all areas of the city.

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