Every time I tell a born-and-bred Detroiter that I moved from the “Big Apple” to the “Motor City” they look at me with suspicion. Instead of a welcoming pat on the back or a, “Glad you’re here,” they subtly imply that I have a screw loose. Why would anyone move from New York to Detroit?
Of course the question is reasonable. New York City seems to have it all. It is arguably the cultural/financial capital of the world and rightly so. But is life perfect in New York? No. The city suffers from potholes, unemployment, anxiety, poverty, racism, hungry people, traffic jams and pollution, just like every city in the country. New York’s greatest asset is its abiding optimism. New Yorkers believe in their heart that theirs is the greatest city in the world, even with all of its problems.
Detroit, on the other hand, suffers from a choking pessimism. Many Detroiters, in the city and its suburbs, have such a sense of inferiority (an annoying trait) they can’t see the beauty and energy, the possibilities that are in front of them.
I grew up in St, Clair Shores, went to Lawrence Tech and then headed off to Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture in 1979. My wife, Carol Ann, and I lived in NYC and nearby in Tarrytown, N.Y. for 18 years until the New York lifestyle and its peculiar culture took its toll. We moved back to Michigan in 1997, selecting Royal Oak because, at the time, it seemed the only place where we could walk comfortably to restaurants, grocery stores, hardware shops and drugstores.
I love New York and visit a couple of times a year, but Detroit is my home by choice. Life can be a struggle in Detroit but the city has its virtues and, in some ways, offers a more “authentic” life than can be found on the frenetic island of Manhattan. On the downside, as we all know, Detroit is spread out into former farmland and terribly segregated along economic and racial lines, leaving the inner city impoverished. But there are good, creative, energetic people living in the city and its surroundings, and more are moving in. Now more than ever we need to be tolerant and welcome immigrants, from wherever they come. An influx of people and talent can only bring life and prosperity to our city.
While there are dire predictions on the city’s status, my instinct tells me we are moving toward a more vital and exciting life here in Detroit. Others agree.
Chuck Cirgenski makes his home in Hamtramck and keeps an apartment in New York City. His wife Ganine spends more time there. He spends more time here with his filmmaking company. It’s obvious he has a deep and abiding love for this place. When asked about Detroit Cirgenski gets serious and earnest. There is possibility here, he says. In metro Detroit, there is great diversity. Pockets of urban life are expanding and just need to be linked together. Pedestrian traffic is needed, and more people living in the city.
Cirgenski also points out that Detroit’s nightlife is more accessible. In New York you might wait months for a reservation at the finest restaurants or never get into the hippest clubs. In Detroit there may be fewer great restaurants but at least you can get in.
Anthony Garth, another filmmaker, makes videos for Eminem and The White Stripes. He lives in Corktown and finds Detroit authentic and honest – to sum it up, “real.” This city is a great backdrop for film, Garth says. He used Capitol Park in Southeast Detroit as the set for a video and people in L.A. asked, “Where in New York is that park?” It’s not in New York; it’s in D E T R O I T.
Having lived in Los Angeles, Paris and New York, Dave Krieger, a graduate of Cass Tech and a successful photographer, found his way back to Detroit in 2002. Krieger is a photographer for Model D. Why did he come back? There were omens, he says. His grandmother died, the 9-11 attacks occurred and he faced a bureaucratic nightmare getting his special-needs child into the New York public school system, convincing him to move back to Detroit. In Detroit he feels “well-loved,” he says. He’s got a close circle of artist friends that support each other. In New York, Krieger says, it’s more transient, “like planets briefly crossing paths and then moving on.”
When Detroit is the topic words like authentic, solid, honest, gritty, good people and great potential come up. And this phrase: “I just can’t explain it.” Detroit, like love, at its most basic level, can’t be fully explained. We know there are places more beautiful than Detroit, places with more culture, more money and better weather. There are also many, many places with much less. But none of the petty accounting of pluses and minuses matters at all. For some of us, it is Detroit’s soul that captivates.
Every place has an ineffable quality, a spirit, a soul. Some people sense it. They feel it in their heart. For some of us, Detroit gets in our soul. Its warmth rises from the ashes of its industrial history and latches on to our heart.
All photographs copyright Dave Krieger
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