Perhaps the largest criticism levied against staying in Michigan through your twenties has nothing to do with housing or employment. For some, it’s the social aspects to quality of life where we as a region drop the biggest creative class ball. There is no one to date, no where to take said date, and nothing to do once there. Apparently in comparison to bigger cities, we live in a vast cultural wasteland—void of both adequate mates and substantive entertainment.
As a child born and raised in Ann Arbor, attitudes such as these are perhaps one of the more perplexing arguments for flight for me to understand. In this little, big city dominated by the cultural, economic, and social powerhouse of the University of Michigan, those native born never lacked or wanted for numerous options for artistic and creative opportunities. The public school system here guaranteed that, like it or not, every young child would be bused or marched seasonally to at least an opera, a symphony, multiple museums, and the botanical gardens. Furthermore, most in this town were wealthy enough to vacation broadly with their parents from an early age. If not, the school foreign language departments and countless other service organizations made sure that most kids graduated high school with at least a few stamps in their passports. My friends who were raised similarly in Oakland and other well-off areas often claim similar upbringings.
What’s ironic is that it is perhaps by the very nature of this availability of culture—the abundance of art and metropolitan lifestyle in Southeastern Michigan—that has contributed to the exodus of the young, affluent and educated. It is an oblivious princess syndrome—where having been locked in our richly appointed tower most of ours lives we fail to realize just how great we have had it.
I hear from those who did leave a few years ago that things aren’t necessarily as great as they had imagined. Life in a big city is hard. Apparently it’s not that easy to take in all the shows, exhibits, bars, and available singles when half your meager income goes to pay rent in an apartment you’re too busy with work to ever even see. I hear of loneliness at not being able to meet anybody in a city of millions, of frustration with the inability to buy a favorite food at the corner bodega, of annoyance at having to take a 20 minute subway ride to go work out at an overcrowded gym. They tell me they miss their great lives in Michigan and living in New York as a new adult is certainly not the same as visiting New York as a teenager with their parents and their parent’s money.
I’m sure some that have left are quite happy with their new life away. Yet even though it may be from the inside of the jar looking out, I question the logic of giving up the opportunity to build a life from the start in a state that in reality lacks little when it comes to social assets. Those that come back later in life (as over half do historically) will find that the years spent away don’t necessarily easily transfer into equally earned equity and experience to those that stayed. Make and spend your money here. It will be worth it. For those with wanderlust, the world is only as far away from Detroit as a plane ticket, a free weekend, and the desire to explore.