Despite this initial reaction to the city, I began to see a different Detroit as we headed toward the eastern neighborhoods on our bus tour of the city. Dilapidated houses and vacant properties replaced the renovated art deco towers and aesthetic public parks in downtown. Though this was the Detroit I read about online and saw in documentaries, it was surprising to see such a stark contrast between the prospering downtown and an overlooked urban neighborhood.
One notable experience of going to this area of Detroit was viewing the Heidelberg project. At first glance, the “art” appeared to be piles of assorted belongings in a vacant lot. Yet a common theme of clocks and time became visible, suggesting that the time to make a change in the city is now. The Heidelberg Project has significantly changed the surrounding neighborhood by attracting large crowds of visitors like myself, but as I was viewing the art, I wondered what the residents living nearby thought of strangers coming into their neighborhood to observe piles of used shoes, toys, and other miscellaneous items. Is this really the change they want to see in their neighborhood? Are the residents of this eastern neighborhood of Detroit really benefiting from the art project?
It is questions like these that I strive to answer as I help the city “rise from the ashes.” Something that certainly did not surprise me was the conflicting attitudes of MoGo’s presence in the city. This past week, I had the opportunity to speak to members of a company in downtown Detroit about their experience with MoGo. Some employees expressed extreme satisfaction with the bikeshare—They said they used it multiple times a week. Others were not pleased with it in the city, perhaps because its presence indicates the rise of gentrification. As an outsider to Detroit, I cannot give much because I do not know the city well enough to help it recover from years of blight and abandonment; I cannot learn about a city in eight weeks when others have lived here for decades of their lives. But I can share my enthusiasm for dense, walkable cities and desire to critically consider the ways in which social innovations—like shared bikes, urban gardens, or strange public art projects—affect the local community.