Wunderkammer Magazine recently commissioned me to write a piece on Detroit for their Politics and Society section. I took the opportunity to write about a side of the city that gets significantly less attention in the popular media—the “other” Detroit, if you will. It ended up being a bit too long to post here in its entirety, but it’s worth a read nonetheless.
I take Interstate 96 eastbound from Ann Arbor. It’s the first warm day of 2008, and the combination of a bright sun and light breeze makes for a beautiful spring afternoon. After 35 miles of Midwestern nothing, I reach the city limits of Detroit. Small, decrepit housing lines the edges of the Southfield Freeway as I approach the exit for North Rosedale, a neighborhood located on the northwest side of the city. As I pull into the local Community House and park—the only privately owned park in the city—the smell of freshly cut grass is almost intrusive. A youth softball game is underway, and parents lounge in folding chairs. Along the edges of the park, residents—predominantly African-Americans—walk their dogs by large, single-family English Tudors. Almost without exception, each two-story house on each tree-lined street adorns a perfectly manicured lawn and a large wooden front door. It’s a middle-class oasis. A distinctly suburban feel, in fact. But it’s not the suburbs. It’s Detroit.
North Rosedale Park is the anti-slum. A middle-class majority remained after racial turnover, separating North Rosedale from countless other urban neighborhoods throughout the country. Homes are large, and social cohesion throughout the neighborhood is strong. Residents are tremendously proud of their neighborhood, and perhaps more importantly, committed to the city they call home.
No story or investigative report has captured this side of Detroit, the North Rosedale side. It’s not the bombed out train station, nor is it the urban prairie. It’s not the empty factory, nor is it the large housing project. It’s not the homeless man pushing his cart down a desolate downtown, nor is it the young woman waiting in line for a welfare check.No, it’s the daily struggle of the urban middle class, the plight of a forgotten population. It’s the neighborhood where Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm lived briefly before ultimately moving to the suburbs. It’s half a mile from where Detroit historian Thomas Sugrue grew up, a neighborhood his parents hoped to one day “be wealthy enough” to call home. It’s the tree-lined streets, the well-maintained community park. It’s the colorful gardens and golden retrievers. It’s the uneasy, yet unwavering middle class in an otherwise unsettling and unsure urban abyss.
It’s the other Detroit.
Special thanks to my editor, Dara Lind, for her encouraging comments and thoughtful critiques.