Sure, the city of Detroit is not like what we thought we knew about it. But why would it be?
Call me weird or rude if you want to, but it's time people stop focusing on the past and comparing their preconceived notions to what our eyes really see in Detroit, and I'm including myself in this. It doesn't really help anyone.
Cities aren't simple objects that can be accurately portrayed, to have their essence and values condensed into a measly vial. Cities are complex organisms, working engines that play with both power and hope, that encapsulate the extremes of our society and provide us with a means of organization. And you can't really know them until you become a part of them, not by simply visiting, but by living in them – experiencing its struggles, giving back to its community, connecting to its people.
We need to recognize the reality as it is, and to have the courage and creativity to imagine how it could be.
Detroit is not a war zone, but it's not the paradise some try to make it seem like. It's both in low levels, like one article on the 21th page of my Google search seemed to understand. Out of all the amazing achievements of the city in the past years, from public service to flourishing startups, the vast majority is concentrated in an area of 7.2 square miles in a city almost 20 times that size, called Downtown Detroit. Away from this area, the city still has a long road to cover.
It's a tale of two cities.
While it seems that complaining about Detroit has become almost a taboo in the city, it is only by recognizing reality as it is that we can even envision what the future could be like. Although I was sure since the beginning of the program that I wouldn't be able to impact Detroit in a significant way, I knew that I could, at least, show the world the way I see the city. We most likely won't leave Detroit with multiple nonprofit projects, or having tremendously improved the quality of life of the neighborhoods we work in. But if there's one thing we can do, that thing is to raise awareness about the things that strike us the most, to be the starting point for change. And maybe, one day, we might not have a tale of two cities in the city of Detroit.