A few years back, when the United States was sinking from the Lehman bankruptcy / sub-prime mortgage crisis, a classic human-interest story was the collapse of Detroit. Already teetering on the edge due to the protracted failure of the American auto industry, the “Great Recession” pushed Detroit beyond respectability. In September 2009 Time Magazine embarked in “Assignment Detroit”, a year-long blog reporting project that chronicled the challenges and prospects of the once-great American city. Perhaps it was the first article, “Assignment Detroit: Why Time Inc. Is in Motown“, that fueled my fantasy of moving to Detroit, becoming an urban trailblazer, and 30 years later looking back at how far we had come, knowing I had been part of the re-birth. This never happened.
A few days ago I drove through Detroit for the first time. Coming off the highway from Windsor, Canada I was deposited into Downtown, a spectacular amalgamation of classic 20th century skyscrapers. The streets were practically devoid of people, but within minutes I found myself at a stop-light, and across the road, in the middle of the sun-drenched skyscraper canyon, a pack of hipsters gamboled in the afternoon heat, three men on skateboards and their lady friend on a bicycle. These were the hipsters of Detroit I had imagined spending time with – they had an empty city as their playground, with nothing stopping them other than economic uncertainty and the fact of being in the most dangerous city in the United States.
But on a glorious, sunny summer afternoon, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic about the life than could have (but probably never would have) been mine.