Before applying to DukeEngage Detroit I knew little about Detroit. I knew that it was a big city, that it was in Michigan, and that it got really cold. I'd heard a couple tid-bits here and there about its bankruptcy, but I never fully grasped the negative stereotype of a crime-ridden, house-deserted city that it seems the whole nation places on it. When DukeEngage accepted me, my immediate introduction to Detroit was an image of economic improvement, culture, and resilience with Matt and Katherine at our first meeting sharing with us all the cool non profits we would be working with and raving about the best pie restaurant in the world. However, when I came home and told friends, family, and strangers that I was going to spend my summer in Detroit, they all had this subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) look of confusion as to why I would leave California and spend my summer there. They would go on about what they knew about Detroit, which wasn't much. They would tell me about how eerie it is to drive through the abandoned houses and how the city used to be so great and has now sunken so far. I was slightly perplexed at how their complete image of Detroit could be so different from that of Matt and Katherine, but that was most likely due to the fact that unlike Matt and Katherine, all those other people had never actually lived in Detroit.
Given I've only been here 3 1/2 days and guided by the wonderful schedule Katherine set up for us, the Detroit I've seen so far is no more troubled than other big cities I've spent some time in and more so has proven to be historically and culturally rich in restaurants, buildings, and opportunities for fun. After settling into our Wayne State housing on Sunday night, on Monday we explored the campus and got a safety lecture from one of Wayne State's police officers. Wayne State Police impressively cover a huge radius encompassing campus and beyond, and I feel lucky to be a visitor of Wayne State and have access to their police resources. On the way back to our apartment building, Matt showed us the neat boutiques and restaurants near by including a high in leather shop that's helping bring manufacturing back to Detroit. In the afternoon, we took a fun bus tour into downtown. Our super intelligent and charismatic tour guide Calvin, wearing a superman hat, tank top, belt, and shoes, led us around the maze of beautifully architected skyscrapers and buzzing squares and parks. My favorite stop was at the riverfront, where just across the way is Canada (South of us interestingly enough) and to the left lies Belle Isle with beaches that I'm excited to explore while I'm here. Another favorite place we visited was the Heidelberg Project. When Tyree Guyton found his street riddled with drugs and poverty, he began to turn the entire street into a huge art project. He started by painting colorful dots on the road and abandoned houses and then began transforming trees into sculptures and empty lawns into art masterpieces creatively using what people would commonly consider as random objects and junk. This made the artist in me want to ransack my old garage and closets for materials and put together my own Heidelberg Project at home. After the tour, we formed teams and hiked all over downtown to statues, hotels, restaurants, stores, and bars for a competitive scavenger hunt. I was a little too arrogant that my team would crush the others as we mapped out the perfect strategy to hit all the big groups of clues in a loop that would take us back to the tour guide center. Unfortunately, we came in 3rd, which happened to be last place. For dinner we went back to midtown to a delicious restaurant called Traffic Jam where they had home-made cinnamon bread for an appetizer and later home-made ice cream for dessert. Overall, it was a very exciting day to see midtown and downtown of Detroit and hang out in some of its coolest areas. So far, everyone I've met and stopped to talk to in Detroit has been as friendly as all the Southerners that I get to meet in North Carolina, and I feel very privileged to be here engaging with this wonderful city and community.
As an outsider, I don't yet know Detroit well enough to be able to just jump right into the community and know how to help it "rise from the ashes." It's the people who actually live here, working with their own community like Tyree Guyton, that are really doing amazing things for Detroit. However, I want to dive into living here these next 8 weeks and explore all that Detroit has to offer while doing my best to give back the city something through my service with Next Energy. I'm excited to start working on projects and do my small contribution to help Detroit with energy efficiency and economic development.