Although conducting summer research as an undergrad can be fairly time-consuming, one of its perks is that most of the work is localized in the lab. With a whole weekend free, I decided to explore beyond the “bubble” that is Ann Arbor and venture into Detroit to not only obtain a set of diverse perspectives but also, get a better understanding of Michigan as a whole. Along with a couple of good friends, I left Ann Arbor on an early Saturday morning via the Detroit Connector. One of my friends who spearheaded this trip is a Detroit local, currently an undergraduate at Wayne State University with an interest in urban planning/development, and happens to works with MoGo, Detroit’s bike share company. That being said, he also happens to be very knowledgeable and passionate about Detroit’s past as well as its directions for the future. It was my first time extensively traveling through Detroit and upon arrival one of the first places we went to was the Georgia Street Community Collective. Started by Mark Covington, it was a multifaceted approach to tackle some of the many issues facing the area at the time. It managed to provide an answer as to what to do with the unused and empty lots across Detroit and quickly spread its roots to address other concerns, such as neighborhood revitalization, youth engagement, as well as providing a source of fresh produce for residents in food deserts. We were fortunate to talk to Mark as well and were amazed at how something like a community garden (which is becoming more like a community farm now with the introduction of animals) can breathe life into a neighborhood both literally and figuratively.
After this visit, we headed to Eastern Market and took advantage of the MoGo bikes to travel around Detroit. We crossed through Dequindre cut, made our way along the riverfront (which really reminded me of NYC), and eventually downtown Detroit. As we slowly made our way across the city, my friend served as a cornucopia of information, supplying us with all the information we ever wanted to know about Detroit. I was very impressed at how extensive his knowledge was, and was enraptured by his condensed yet comprehensive rendition of the city’s past and how it ties into urban planning for the future. Throughout our self-guided tour, he also emphasized the importance of reliable and efficient public transportation systems. As Gillian B. White from The Atlantic puts it:
“[t]ransportation is about more than just moving people from point A to point B. It’s also a system that can either limit or expand the opportunities available to people based on where they live. In many cities, the areas with the shoddiest access to public transit are the most impoverished—and the lack of investment leaves many Americans without easy access to jobs, goods, and services.” (White 2015)
Detroit had the potential to develop a great public transportation system. For example, the People Mover was initially developed to connect the city with the outskirts of Detroit and facilitate workforce growth. However, with the onset of the Reagan administration, funds that were initially allocated to further expand the 3-mile loop in downtown Detroit were shunted to other projects in the nation. Furthermore, throughout Detroit’s history, the strong-armed and borderline nefarious tactics of the automobile industry served to suppress public transportation development and promote the purchase/use of individualized automobiles. Despite its rocky start, Detroit and the state of its public transportation system are slowly but surely headed towards the right direction. With a new generation of motivated Detroiters, projects such as MoGo and the 3.3-mile-long QLINE can bring about the Detroit of tomorrow.
Looking back, this trip definitely made me reflect on how much I took the resources in New York City for granted. Notably, the (mostly) reliable public transportation system and all the benefits that come with it (ease of access to quality produce, great schools, and places to work). Obviously, I’m not an expert about Detroit by any means and my trip was fairly limited in scope. However, from what I’ve seen, I’m somewhat optimistic about the future of Detroit—it’ll be great to see it’s growth in the years to come.
Until next time,