Can a city exist where there is not a distinct dichotomy: Desolation Row and Pleasantville? I have thought a lot about our conversations surrounding regentrification in Detroit, and the more I do, the more helpless I feel. Here are a few moments that have crossed my mind.
~As of late, I’ve been walking to work, and I’ve noticed that my surroundings are drastically changing as I am crossing over streets. Woodward is eclectic– businessmen in gray suits and young women in ruffled blouses and sandals sit at patio tables outside; women jog casually to morning workout songs, or play music as they bike, with bags from Whole Foods on their handlebars. I’ll change direction for a bit, watching and hearing the Qline whisk passed me carrying more, unfamiliar faces. Sometimes, I stop on my way to work to see if any dogs are at the dog park or pick flowers that bloom near Go! Sy Thai, but if I walk all the way down Woodward and turn right just before the Little Caesars Arena to head over to 2nd Ave, I always forget where I am. It’s like Joy said– it is when home becomes obscured, but the change happened so fast that you can’t put your finger or the what, when or why.
~Some days I’ll be running late, so I skip the scenic route and walk down 2nd. Suddenly, I am encompassed by the mythic city. I see Cass Corridor– dilapidated buildings, garbage (ugh, the smell of garbage) and there is graffiti everywhere. I’m sad, and I’m scared. Many homeless people stay in this neighborhood, watching me backpack my way down unkempt streets under precarious trees, and I am reminded of stories about how drugs and violence used to riddle this part of the city. It was when Midtown was less hipster and more criminal– only a decade or two ago.
When I make it to the Sierra Club, and sit down at my desk, having a moment to think over everything, I am overwhelmed with sadness. I’d just walked from the other side of town. I know that sometime soon those groups of people will be displaced. We can’t have homeless people lining the streets so close to the newly established slices of development; how will the businessmen enjoy their brunch– the women comfortably jog– the preppy U-M interns feel safe making their way to work at the Sierra Club?
And therein lies the rub.
See, I don’t feel helpless because there is nothing to do, I feel helpless because there is SO much to do. Few people outside of the Detroiters themselves are disillusioned by the propaganda assault that Detroit is “coming back”–” taking off”–“being rescued from ugly public relations and poor leadership”. They either don’t see or don’t care to see the casualties of the process of gentrification. They won’t ever tour what misery lies just a few streets over. Therefore, A LOT must be done to change this cultural mindset of morality.
But for those few people (for those of us) willing and capable of being understanding to others’ perspectives, I’ll tell you how to fix gentrification, though I am sure you won’t like the answer: educate. Enlighten people on the pejorative, racist nature of gentrification– how it subjugates people; remind them that the city is not just grass and roads, street and dirt: it’s people; do research on candidates, vote intentionally and with good heart, and encourage others to do the same; support local businesses and, if you are from Detroit, find ways to give back to your community. Not every social justice warrior would label herself as such– I surely would not. But I intend to do whatever I can to give agency back to us residents. You know what? I think I’m off to a damn good start.