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A Brit in Detroit Has No Requiem

I am a Brit, born and raised. I met my wife, who is from Detroit, seven years ago.

Before moving to Detroit, I was filled with dread and fear brought on by the bad publicity and propaganda about Detroit in the UK. Until then, the only the only thing I knew about Detroit was Motown, Detroit Rock City, and the “Big Three.”

Prior to my move here in December 2008, I was inundated with friends and family sending me newspaper clippings and telling me to watch documentary upon documentary about Detroit. Of course, most of this press showed the city in a bad light. So, as you can tell, I was very pessimistic about the move but moved anyway.

Since moving here I have come to realize that most of the things I had heard were wrong.

Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, work is not at a premium, but morale is high. People I meet ooze of positivity that things are going to get better and they are taking steps to spread a positive vision of Detroit.

I know everyone is aware of the masses of decaying abandoned buildings, but when I look deeper and think back to my younger days, it is no worse than London, Sheffield, Birmingham, or Nottingham, England were in their depressions. They recovered by reinventing themselves, and Detroit is doing that, too, starting with making people aware of all the good things metro Detroit has to offer.

You can read numerous blogs about Detroit all looking at the positive: Detroit Moxie and Positive Detroit come immediately to mind. I, myself, am not a blogger. I am a carpenter and would not normally put pen to paper (as they say) but recently I had the chance to watch a BBC Documentary called “Requiem for Detroit.” It was interesting to again see what the British media think of Detroit.

They focused on the negative side, showing the same pictures over and over again of the dilapidated buildings around a few of the worst-hit areas of the city. This was an eye opener for me as I felt they could have turned the camera 180 degrees at times and captured the bigger picture so their viewers could see the entire story rather than what they wanted them to see. They even showed a gentleman driving down the Lodge Freeway showing there is hardly any traffic on it, the same road that I have been stuck in traffic jams on numerous occasions at rush hour. Doesn’t that mean that people are using it if only to commute to and from Detroit for work?

I won’t deny there are certain parts of Detroit that I don’t particularly enjoy being in, but as work is work and having set up my own business, you go where the work is. Working in the office furniture business is surprisingly a busy industry. There are new companies opening up and existing companies expanding all over metro Detroit, which is in complete contradiction to the documentary that implies everything is closing down and everyone is leaving.

In fact, I have noticed over the last six months more and more companies are starting to move back to Detroit. Quicken Loans and Fathead both have plans to move back to Downtown. The Guardian Building, a beautiful and often overlooked skyscraper, is almost fully occupied for the first time since the early 80’s.

All this said, I would not want to leave Detroit now that I’m here. It’s a great place, full of life and some of the friendliest people I have ever met. The economy IS going to pick up. Detroit will reinvent itself to once again become one of the best cities in North America. I can feel it happening. All it needs is self-belief, which can only happen if the media stop putting us down and reporting on the bad side. There are many other cities all over North America struggling that don’t get the bad reputation Detroit does. If Detroit was really that bad wouldn’t there be TV shows like CSI Detroit? Not CSI Miami or New York?

Come visit Detroit and see for yourself, then compare it to any other big city in North America. Where else in the United States can you stand by the river looking south and see Canada? Visit when we’re having a special event like the largest techno music festival in the world (held every year) or the Red Bull Air Race and see the life it can inject into a so-called dead city.

Andy Davis owns AJD Office Interiors, providing cubicle systems, office furniture and custom offices.

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6 comments on “A Brit in Detroit Has No Requiem

  1. This is great, love your point of view & I'm a proud Detroit native & I love going downtown though I don't do it enough! If you like Sunday brunch & bottomless mimosa on the cheap check out Woodbridge Pub at Trumbull & 94, it's my new favorite spot!

  2. Very well said. I am a native Detroiter and I love working downtown. If I could find a marketing job downtown I would take it. I love the Joe (sort of my mecca) and even if it is wore out and tired it does have a unique personality to the building. There is so much this region has to offer we just have to support it ourselves. If we don't believe in change and communicate with each other than nothing is going to change.

  3. Thank you for the fresh new perspective on Detroit. I live and work downtown and I love it!! Yes, it needs a lot of work but there is a lot of potential here and the people are the reasons why I moved here and fell in love with the city.

    I am so happy to see people ban together to help make Detroit what it can be!!!

  4. Yep, I'm a Brit too. 41, and lived in Birmingham (current location), Sheffield and Nottingham. And spent a good chunk of last year living in, and exploring, Detroit. A city that still fascinates me and one I'd seriously consider living in, in the future.

    I watched the requiem, and of the various documentaries about Detroit have seen over the last few years, thought it was the most balanced. There *are* epic areas of ruin and desolation – denying or downplaying them won't make them go away; half the population left the city; the history has been turbulent. But also, as it finished, there's a lot of hope and concrete, positive, things happening there.

    So some of your points I agreed with, but this one stood out:

    "but when I look deeper and think back to my younger days, it is no worse than London, Sheffield, Birmingham, or Nottingham, England were in their depressions."

    No sorry but that is utterly ludicrous in exaggeration. Even when e.g. heavy industry collapsed in Sheffield, unemployment climbed rapidly and the city became an unpleasant place to live, it never declined so rapidly, or on such a scale or magnitude, as Detroit. Not comparable. I've lived in the rough parts of these cities (cheap), and they were nothing in comparison to the eye-widening, almost unbelievable, parts of the "Post Katrina-like" areas of Detroit I travelled through.

    And no, I'm not knocking Detroit. I was based in Midtown which seemed thriving. Bakeries, bars, quality cafes, lots to do, micro businesses springing up, *and* it felt safer – that particular area – than even many areas of British cities today. I hope Detroit continues to recover and rebuild; looking towards Birmingham (UK) and how the digital and media industries are helping it to recover from the loss of e.g. the substantial motor industry, may provide pointers.

    Looking forward to my next trip to Detroit.

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