Latin: We Hope for Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for it is a moveable feast.” –Ernest Hemingway
After exploring the streets of both Paris and Detroit, I can confirm that parts of Detroit deserve its nickname “Paris of the Midwest.” A far cry from the urban wasteland that I had imagined it to be, the Detroit that I see is a vibrant city overflowing with hope and energy. From the public oasis of Campus Martius Park to the scenic banks of the Detroit Riverfront, Detroit has its own Champs de Mars and La Seine.
And the comparisons don’t stop there: public memorials? Look no further than the Fist of Joe Louis, a 24-foot tall monument commemorating the heavy-weight boxing champion, or Detroit's version of The Thinker, the Spirit of Detroit—a contemplative man comparing heavenly rays denoting God in his left hand and a family in his right. Corner cafes? Check out the rich brews and wines of the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting shop. Outdoor markets? Go to the vibrant Eastern Market on a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning. Cultural landmarks? Visit the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor art project that is the only one of its kind in the world or the Cass Corridor, home of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the second largest art museum in the US.
Yet, not all of Detroit can be compared to Paris. Abandoned buildings, including the striking Michigan Central Station, hint at better times and inspire the “ruin porn” that citizens detest and artists passionately admire. Local neighborhoods outside the more developed Midtown and Downtown areas, which encompass the Wayne State University dorms that our DukeEngage group is staying, TechTown, and all the locations described above, lay in ruin and neglect. According to recent studies, 40 percent of Detroit’s buildings are abandoned, Detroit has the highest homicide rate of any major city, and 47 percent of Detroit’s citizens are functionally illiterate. Urban sprawl, gentrification, and widespread poverty are just a few of the many problems that must be addressed. Rather than turning a blind eye towards these problems, I believe we should directly address these through steps that include investment in skilled workers, building a culture that attracts millennials, and equipping the city’s youth with trade skills and higher education.
My goal this summer is to improve the economic situation of these neighborhoods by attracting manufacturing companies into employ citizens outside of the more affluent Midtown and Downtown areas. My work with TechTown is to create a concept report and vision statement to attract manufacturing companies to move into these underprivileged neighborhoods. By increasing employment in the city, more Detroiters can experience the Paris of the Midwest in all of its glory and splendor.
Hemingway called Paris a “moveable feast,” for anyone lucky enough to visit the City of Lights when they are young will leave with enough memories to last a lifetime. Detroit resembles Paris in many ways. Each of Detroit’s streets, like each of its citizens, tells a unique story and is a physical testimony to the evolving times. Its streets breathe history, and majestic cathedrals dot the cityscape like stars on a clear, midsummer’s night. The city comes alive at night with the light from the local clubs, skyscrapers, and the collective hope of a community in solidarity – a community longing for better days. Though I may be only one person, Detroit is a place large enough to make a difference for the world, and a place small enough for one person to make a difference for Detroit. I am excited for the many unforgettable adventures to come, and I am glad to be part of the DukeEngage Detroit program.