I’m a little burned out from writing about serious "design will save Detroit" stuff (although I’m serious about that). What I want to do today is make a serious entreaty to design-oriented individuals like you (or your cooler friends): MOVE TO DETROIT.
I was always the kind of person who spent a lot of time in Detroit, even while living in Ann Arbor. Having engagements here three nights a week was not uncommon. Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to find out how different actually residing in Detroit was.
Having a home base really makes a difference. Suddenly, you are out and about in the morning or afternoon, shopping, visiting friends and neighbors – not just meeting people for dinner or drinks. Suddenly, all the quality of life issues everyone warned you about seem insignificant as you really get to know the ins and outs of Detroit and notice the smaller details. Suddenly, you discover that Detroit is more vibrant and alive than you ever dreamed.
From a design perspective, there is much to love and much to hate in the city, but what is really spectacular is that there is simply so much. There are buildings from some of the most notable modern and postmodern architects of the 20th century: Mies van der Rohe, Minoru Yamasaki, Frank Lloyd Wright, Phillip Johnson and Michael Graves. There are amazing public spaces for art which include work by modernist masters such as Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder. There are, of course, our museums, with MOCAD being a great addition to the landscape.
Lafayette Park is getting a lot more press, and deservedly so, because it is quite simply the most amazing modern district in the United States.
While the architecture is thoroughly modern, there is an incredibly humanizing element to living in Lafayette Park. I wake up each day to the pealing bells of churches in the Eastern Market area and the sunrise glowing pinkish-orange off of Windsor Tower. I sit at home working with my window open and hear schoolchildren playing at recess. I gaze out my window over a sea of green with the cityscape rising up beyond it, and I walk home from work through that green, an experience that can leave you dumbstruck on a late spring evening when the trees are flowering and fragrant.
Moving my business to Detroit has been equally inspiring, and not simply because I love the space my store inhabits. My relatively unique position as a drop-in center for design buffs enables me to meet many amazing people. It has been really life-affirming to meet so many in the area who are educated about design, cosmopolitan, and genuinely interesting. It’s also great to hear the stories of people who have moved to Detroit from other cities, many of whom considered living downtown their only option. And frankly, it’s cool to meet so many people who are doing really cool things, either with their careers or with outside pursuits.
I do worry a bit about the suburbanization of downtown, and architecturally dismal projects like the Crosswinds development metastasizing along Woodward don’t do much to allay those concerns. We need to show developers and city leadership that there is an elevated expectation, aesthetic demands that are not being met, and get them to see that excellence in design will be embraced by the population. That is why we need design types to move into the city center now, before it’s too late.
This is truly a magical time, pregnant with possibility. If you crave authenticity and want to be inspired by your surroundings and the people you meet, move to Detroit.