What AirBNB taught us about how metro Detroit sees itself

Potential new ordinances have led to Portland, OR to be up for the title of Most Airbnb-Friendly City in the U.S.. New York and Los Angeles have been pushing back against the rise of private accommodation listings on the peer-to-peer rental site. AirBNB itself has declared Mendocino, CA; Eugene, OR and Madison, WI among the most hospitable American cities using their services. 

So what's Metro Detroit's AirBNB reputation? Despite the fact that the number of Detroit area listings on the site have doubled in the last year, according to The Detroit News, there's not much out there yet on how AirBNB accommodations in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties compare to other metro areas. So we took a deep dive into the currently available listings to find out just what Metro Detroit looks like through the lens of AirBNB. 

More suburban than urban

Travelers looking for a homey, tree-lined neighborhood experience have plenty of options in Metro Detroit. In fact, that's the vast majority of their options. Though it might not surprise anyone locally, the number of single family home listings, either with a room to spare or the whole house, vastly outnumbers the amount of apartment, condo and other multifamily listings. Even if urban living is on the rise in Metro Detroit, the trend is yet to become evident on AirBNB.

Misleading walkability 

Is walkability much of Metro Detroit's greatest strengths? Alas, it is not. But even most area listings in cities with high walk scores like Royal Oak, Dearborn and Hamtramck appear less walkable than they are because the hosts fail to enter nearby destinations into the map accompanying each listing. Far more often than not, the teal circle around the accommodation cite indicating a walkable area is empty - even when there are coffee shops, restaurants and retailers located there. 

Laziness on behalf of the hosts? Or do we Michiganders sometimes forget that car isn't everyone's preferred mode of travel?

It's worth giving a high five to Ferndale hosts though, who appear to buck this trend with far more attractions on their maps than others. Way to be, Ferndale.

Detroit? What Detroit?

By and large, AirBNB listings in Oak Park, IL include information on how to easily get to and from Chicago. Listings in Walnut Creek, CA brag on how close they are to San Francisco or the public transit to get you there. 

Though it seems like this should be a "no-duh" feature of suburban listings, good luck finding info on access to Detroit in most metro Detroit listings. The closest most get is indicating the number of miles the listing is from Detroit, though it's impossible to tell if they're boasting about how close or how far they are from the city. The few who do mention public transit to Detroit only do so in the context of explaining how terrible it is. If mentions of the DIA, Eastern Market, Comerica Park, Corktown and other Detroit attractions are to be found, they're buried pretty deep. 

There's no need to psychoanalyze why this may be. And maybe this is an indication that many travelers to Royal Oak or Birmingham are simply traveling to Royal Oak or Birmingham. But we are supposed to be in a new era of Detroit pride, are we not? Looking at the area through AirBNB, one might never know it. 

People like us!

Perhaps it's our compulsive Midwestern politeness, or maybe it's the resurgence of Michiganian pride. Whatever it is, AirBNB guests seem to really like metro Detroiters. It's not just that so many listings are reviewed with four and five stars, it's that so many of those that are point to the host him- or herself as the primary reason why. 

"Alyssa and Matt were very cooperative and friendly and they explained everything upon my arrival," writes a reviewer of a 5-star listing in Detroit. "She walked me through her urban garden and it is awesome what they do for sustainable living."

"Susan was a lovely hostess," writes another AirBNB-er about a host in Birmingham. "She baked us a delicious chocolate pound cake for breakfast and had sparkling water and pistachios in the room." 

The only thing crazier than getting homemade pound cake for breakfast and sparkling water with your $75 per night room is the fact that, based on a number of area listings, it's not even an unusual occurrence. Names of hosts and their various kindnesses lead off an astonishing number of reviews. Aw shucks, guys. 

Does AirBNB paint an accurate picture of metro Detroit? Are we still struggling with our walkability - both in practice and perception - as well as our evolving feelings on Detroit? Do we have a preference for single family housing and knack for hospitality? Though all of these conclusions may belong to the eye of the beholder, if the the beholder is looking at metro Detroit through AirBNB alone, the answer, sadly, would be a "yes" on all accounts. 

Natalie Burg is a freelance writer, development news editor for Concentrate and IMG project editor.
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