So I don’t have a car. At the beginning of the program I didn’t even have a bike. Despite my mom’s best wishes my plan was to bike to my internship on a bike that my grandma bought for $20 at a flea market in Florida. However, I was able to use a university vehicle and that’s made my life a lot easier. One of the first big trips on my bike, I got a flat tire and had to be driven home. So my grandparents gave me my grandma’s bike to use and now my almost daily bike rides have become one of my favorite parts of my time in the city. I try to go in different directions and neighborhoods each time I go. Usually I put a destination in my phone, and once I get there I have to figure out a different route home without my phone.
In early June, we watched a documentary called “The Last Days of Chinatown,” which is about Detroit’s Cass Corridor, where I live in the city. The corridor, rebranded as Midtown, is experiencing a lot of development and gentrification. This documentary focused on stories from citizens in the area and the history of the space.
One of the things that surprised me most about this documentary was how little of the locations I recognized. Granted, at the time I had only lived in Detroit for about a month, but I had ridden my bike down Cass Avenue numerous times, and I only recognized one of the more ostentatious bars. So I brought this up with my roommate, and she said, “well, have you been down Second or Third Street? (streets that are a block and two blocks from Cass Ave, which is where I live) (I hadn’t) and “you should try biking without your blinders on during your next trip.”
So after seeing the movie, I went on a bike ride through Cass Corridor the next day. My roommate had told me that the differences in just these three streets is noteworthy, and was intrigued to see the differences become apparent. I started on Third (two streets over from Cass) and I was surprised by the lack of buildings and the high number of homeless. I noticed the differences in the appearance and condition of the few buildings from Cass Ave, which is going through a lot of development especially.
I went up Second, (one street over from Cass) and I recognized a restaurant called The Selden Standard, which was in the movie as an example of this gentrification. When my friends visited a few weeks ago, we actually tried to eat there, but the wait time there was three hours, which is a notable experience based on the documentary’s use of this as an example of gentrification.
Finally, I went down Cass Ave, but I tried to pay attention to more of my surroundings, so I noticed the street signs and the closed schools and buildings. I never realized how close the new Little Caesars arena is to my apartment. This bike ride gave me an intriguing perspective to supplement what I was shown in the documentary. One of the most important things I’ve been considering a lot is this idea of Detroit’s comeback, and its hyperfixation only in this small section of the city, the 7.2 square miles of the city that’s experiencing a lot of development, while the rest of the city is left in poverty without the proper resources and education. I was able to see this just in three parallel streets. This bike ride helped me to look deeper at the Cass Corridor (just step one, realizing that the Cass Corridor is not just Cass Ave…) and seeing just how much of a difference a few blocks can make in the city.
I’ve enjoyed using bike rides to get to see the city, and since the beginning of the program I’ve been making sure to pay more attention to what I’m seeing and not just bike with my blinders on. One of the things that throws me off is the sheer enormity of the city. It’s overwhelming and I want to see it all, more or less. We have a map of Detroit hanging on the wall in our apartment and there’s just so much to it in terms of sheer size. I’ll just keep chipping away at it on my bike.