Blog: Caroline Altman Smith

Noodle on this: Just 32 percent of Michigan's working-age residents hold at least a two-year college degree. Gov. Granholm and The Kresge Foundation want to double this figure by 2025. Caroline Altman Smith, a program officer at Kresge, will spotlight community colleges and cover the importance of college access (and success) for Detroiters.

Post 1: We're Moving to Detroit!

"Why would you want to do that?"

This was not the "Welcome to the neighborhood" my husband, Christopher, and I expected when we announced our plans to move to Detroit from Indianapolis.  We were at a local hotel, in town to scope out a potential move, and clearly our disparaging clerk was not properly trained in hospitality.  At least that's what we hoped.  

But no. The locale low morale continued.

When chatting with the cashier at the grocery store, we mentioned how positive our first impressions of the area were, and she said "That's nice, but I can't wait to get out of here."  We were surprised by (and a little afraid of) these responses, but decided to make the move and give Detroit a try.  Although we had never spent time here, we were attracted specifically by a good job opportunity at the Kresge Foundation and more generally by the sense that Detroit was a gritty Rust Belt city with a lot of potential. 

We bought a house in Royal Oak because of its convenient proximity to both Troy (where I work) and downtown Detroit (where we play).  We were drawn to Royal Oak's vibrant Main Street, the leafy parks placed every few blocks, but most of all its walkability. (We used to check out the walkability of all the homes we were considering).

Metro Detroit has far exceeded all of our expectations.  The history, the people, the music, arts, culture, delicious food, varied neighborhoods, dysfunction, decay, political turmoil—say what you will, this is not a boring place to live.  It amazes us that even after 18 months of exploring, there is still so much to see and do here.  The challenge is always weighing numerous interesting options as opposed to struggling to find good ideas for what to do or where to eat.  We've made a point of inviting friends from around the country to visit us, and all of them leave excited about what they've seen and experienced in Detroit.  

Christopher and I met in college as volunteer tour guides at the University of Virginia, so our visitors know that they are signing up for a structured and fact-filled weekend when they make the trek to Detroit.  We've got our standard itinerary in place for weekend guests: Friday night at the DIA, dinner at El Barzon, Saturday morning at Eastern Market with lunch at Supino Pizzeria or Mudgie's Deli, a walk through the Heidelberg Project, tour of Hitsville USA, a book-lovers ramble through John K. King Books, a Tigers or Red Wings game (depending on the season), drinks at the Park Bar and late night shawarma at Bucharest Grill, and a slow Sunday start at one of Royal Oak's Bloody Mary bars (a particularly inspired brunch innovation never-before-seen outside of Michigan).  

When we drive friends and family from out-of-town around to see the city, their jaws drop when they see Michigan Central Station, and they want to pull over and take a picture when they spot a boarded-up house with a tree growing through the roof.  I have to tell them that unfortunately, this is not an isolated photo op and no matter the route selected, there will be much more urban decay on the tour.  While people are shocked and saddened by scenes of abandonment and disinvestment throughout the city, they are inspired, delighted, and impressed by many other landmarks and signs of life.

We believe it is our responsibility to spend money in Detroit (we were able to get all of our Christmas shopping done in one hour at the Urban Craft Fair), spend our leisure time there, root for the sports teams (this includes our quixotic status as Lions season tickets holders), and volunteer. 

I travel frequently for work and people are always fascinated to know "What's going on in Detroit?  Is it really as bad as it looks in the news?" While there are still widespread negative perceptions of Detroit in the national media (and even much closer to home), I take every chance I get to be a small part of improving the narrative by talking up the positive aspects of our community and inviting people to come see it for themselves.  Now when I hear others being disparaging about our new home, I have learned to parrot Inside Detroit's city-booster entreaty: "Say nice things about Detroit!"