Letter from Cambridge: Destination D:hive

Working downtown taught me a lot this summer.

Like, if M-10 is really backed up, sometimes it’s better to take I-75.

Or that looks can be deceiving, even at arguably the most exciting, far-reaching project to launch out of the lower Woodward corridor. I'm talking about D:hive, where I spent my summer vacation before coming back to Cambridge to begin the academic year at Harvard. 

D:hive’s bright orange storefront seems out of place on this still somewhat drab section of downtown. Maybe about as out of place as I felt, being a suburban blonde fresh off the east coast landing in Detroit, of all places. But one of the most powerful lessons I would go on to learn is not to assume that anything is as it seems.

For example, while the sandwich from Slows that your vegetarian co-worker is eating may smell like delicious barbequed meat, it may in fact really contain a meat substitute. Ot that zucchini that comes from Eastern Market may or may not be as big as a small child.

And don’t assume that ketchup goes on hot dogs. Just don’t.

One day at work, I heard about Teach for America angling at moving 200 folks downtown. They assumed there would be lodging available. After all, Detroit was supposed to be a ghost town. The small detail of downtown occupancy remaining at 98 percent suggests they may be learning this same lesson.

I had assumed that Detroit was a temporary stopover on my way to bigger cities. I thought I’d learn about the city that had been so long shrouded in mystery, put it to rest, and move on. On this, too, I found my assumption disproven. You can see in the empty buildings and vacant lots how much opportunity and potential the city holds. And in one of the empty buildings you can see a tree growing from one of the upper floors out the window.

You can also see the strength of the city in the tightness of its community. Detroit may be a city of pockets yet to be fully connected, but its residents do not seem the slightest bit divided. Even outsiders like myself receive warm greetings on the sidewalk or Riverwalk. Though on second thought, I may have received them simply for looking a bit lost.

As I integrated myself a tiny bit into this community, it, too, began to integrate itself into me and my perspective began to shift. I went off to college two years ago with the childlike dream of living in a city simply for its glamour, excitement, luxury and opportunity. This summer, that goal crystallized and matured into a more fundamental desire to participate positively in a city by creating my own contributions to the life of its community. To me, that’s something really special.

As Jeanette Pierce, officially the D:hive Community Relations Director and unofficially Detroit’s fairy godmother likes to say, Detroit uniquely has both big-city amenities and small-town community. It’s really special that way. I couldn't agree more.

Laura Hogikyan grew up in Ann Arbor and attended Greenhills School. She settled on Harvard College, after considering Princeton and Yale. She studies the Classics, with a secondary field in Spanish. After graduating, she hopes to work for a couple of years before returning to school for a J.D./M.B.A in order to advance her goal of working at the intersection of the public and private sectors to make a positive impact. 
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