Why did you move to Detroit? Transplants fill us in

As Detroit's national profile has risen, the number of people who have moved here from out of state has grown immensely. Whether artists, programmers, government employees, engineers, or another other profession, they usually come here for opportunity. But more often than not, they stay because they fall in love with Detroit. 

We interviewed six such people who have been here less than three years to find out why they moved, what they think of their new home, and something they'd like to see changed. 

Rocky Coronado



Age: 37

Occupation: Owner of the food truck Rocky's Road Brew, entrepreneur, barista, "jack of all trades"

How long have you lived in Detroit? Almost two years

What part of the city do you live in? 7 Mile Road and the Lodge. Hopefully I'll be back in southwest Detroit by the spring. (Rocky bought a building at Morell Street and Vernor Highway where they plan to open a brick and mortar restaurant and cafe.)

Where did you move from? Austin, Texas

What brought you to Detroit? A Texas tornado brought me here. My partner in Austin got a job teaching at Bowling Green University in Ohio. We moved to Toledo in August and I was in Detroit by January. I met someone at a conference from the Southwest Detroit Business Association. She gave me card and was like, "I can get you grants for your business."

So I went to Detroit, a city I where knew nobody, in midwinter. I was broke, it was the closest place, and I didn't want to go back home. Here I am, less than two years later: I bought a building and am ready to put down roots here. I love it here. But it's cold.

What did you know about Detroit before moving here? I've always been into Detroit and never realized it. It's the birthplace of techno, Motown, Fortune Records. It's the Motor City — I've always been into cars; my dad is a Corvette guy and I'm into Jeeps. Even the food truck came full circle — I've had a sticker on it that says "Detroit Made" for years. I've got a flying goddess ornament from a '49 Cadillac that was probably made in Detroit.

But when I got here I realized it's also ground zero for American politics right now, possibly America's most important city. It's very political here with a lot of organizing, lots of heart.

How has your experience been so far? Everyone I've met has really watched out for me — they're like my aunts, uncles, and cousins. It's a more accepting place than I thought. I felt like a big outsider coming from Texas. Opening up a shop, I thought was gonna be given a hard time.

What's your favorite part of living in Detroit? I love the heart of Detroiters. They're people who got left behind — without electricity, through water shutoffs, though all the evictions. The people who've made it, stood by their neighbors and supported each other. I feel like that's lived on.

People show up for each other here, again and again. I haven't met a lot of flakes. 

If you could change something about Detroit, what would it be? Coming from Austin, living in San Francisco in the early 2000s, and then New York, I saw how Brooklyn, Oakland, and Austin all gentrified so it looks like Any City, U.S.A. I see it happening now in Corktown and Mexicantown.

I know as a business owner I should be stoked about it, but I don't want to see people get pushed out. I hang out on the street with people all day, people who struggle to pay for rent and are on social security and can barely walk and now rents are being raised. So I'm worried about that on top of everything else.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Detroit, where would you take them? Southwest. Have them meet everybody that I know here. The African Bead Museum, The Henry Ford. My favorite skate spot at the Bagley pedestrian bridge. All the vegan places: Detroit Vegan Soul, More Herbs. The Riverfront where the Underground Railroad stopped.

How long do you think you'll be in Detroit? As long as my old bones can take the cold. I have a business here and a really awesome new partner — her whole family's here, they're the coolest. She never wants to move away and I don't see a reason to either.


Ingrid Green

Age: "Older than 45"

Occupation: Social media consultant

How long have you lived in Detroit? Three months

What part of Detroit do you live? Jefferson-Chalmers

Where did you move from? Los Angeles

What brought you to Detroit? Me. I made a list of criteria for cities to help me find my tribe. The last cities standing were Pittsburgh and Detroit, but I found the apartment of my dreams here.

What did you know about Detroit before moving here? I'm the director of development for Detroit Hives and my job is to create new apiaries so I knew that there was a lot of land available. But that was just through Google Maps. I also knew that the city had recently declared bankruptcy.

How has your experience been so far? The people are very nice. City-wise, the nicest set of people I've ever met — bar none. And I grew up in Canada.

But there are some very disparate perspectives of the city. Although it's 80 percent black, it might not seem like it when you're downtown or in Eastern Market.

What's your favorite part of living in Detroit? I feel like I'm in the right place. I feel like I need this city as much as this city needs me. The benefit feels very mutual. It's easier to get lost in the shuffle of L.A. or New York and there were other people doing what I was doing and it didn't really matter if I left. I always wanted to contribute to my community, and that's very fulfilling.

If you could change something about Detroit, what would it be? Public transit. I would have the QLine go all the way up Woodward to 8 Mile. Also I'd add more bus drivers and bus shelters, put Wi-Fi in them. It's really easy to fix transit — I don't know what y'all are doing here. The car companies could do so much with mobility. Detroit could be a petri dish for the car companies, but they're not about mobility — they're about cars. 

If you're showing out of town friends or family Detroit, where would you take them? The People Mover — it offers the best perspective of downtown. Tour the murals around Eastern Market. There's a ridiculous amount of wall art in this town. I'd also take them to see the neighborhoods. I can describe to my dad that one street might be really nice and the next street over looks like the moon, but you have to see that for yourself.

How long do you think you'll be in Detroit? I'm giving it a year. If I gain some traction and momentum with my nonprofit Drones for Girls, I'll stay. I want to build a home — I've never had a house before. This seems like good place to be for five to 10 years.


Kristina and Vadim Oss



Ages
: 39 and 43

Occupations: Art gallery owner (K. Oss Contemporary Art), investor

How long have you lived in Detroit? Almost two years

What part of the city do you live in? West Village

Where did you move from? Manhattan's West Village

What brought you to Detroit?

Vadim: The opportunity. There's a great vibe to Detroit, a lot of cool things happening, and we wanted to jump on board with all the changes taking place. Also, we've had quite a bit of exposure to different cultures. And in a place like Detroit which is really diverse, multiracial, and multicultural, it's a good fit for us.

What did you know about Detroit before moving here?

Vadim: I bought a rare car here once in 2006. I was living in San Francisco then and couldn't understand why there was so much open space. Then in 2016 I read about what's going on with real estate and thought it was a tremendous opportunity.

Kristina: I heard a few things about the art scene here, but didn't know exactly what was happening.

How has your experience been so far?

Vadim: There's been more challenges than anticipated around some basic, rudimentary stuff. For example, you have call to call five different plumbers to get the job done. Also the city has moved faster than expected. I haven't seen a place like downtown Detroit before, where every block has a couple of buildings under construction and businesses moving in every few months.

What's your favorite part of living in Detroit?

Vadim: Whatever you want to do you can make it happen. Detroit, to me, is city of makers, people who do things with their hands, producing something physical. I see fewer limitations here for a creative person to make things happen.

Kristina: For years, we lived in many different places. The more I travel, the easier it is to adjust to different surroundings.

If you could change something about Detroit, what would it be?

Kristina: Improving public education. (The Oss's have a young child.) I would love to see more accessible public parks.

Vadim: Public transportation. The fact that you need a car — we didn't have one for six years. But it's changing. Even in the last year there's now a bike share, scooters, and it's all moving in the right direction.

Kristina: We live in West Village because there's small businesses like coffee shops nearby. We need some walkability.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Detroit, where would you take them? Midtown, DIA, Foundation Hotel for lunch, the People Mover, Belle Isle, Cinema Detroit.

How long do you think you'll be in Detroit?

Vadim: Until it's time. We traveled for four years and didn't know when it would start or finish.

Kristina : Nothing is permanent. We're enjoying the present moment in Detroit.


Shirel Jones



Age
: 31

Occupation: Dance instructor, early arts specialist

How long have you lived in Detroit? A little over three years

What part of the city do you live in? The North End

Where did you move from? Brooklyn, New York, where I grew up.

What brought you to Detroit? I was looking to put down some roots, looking at cities that would be affordable for a small business. Detroit was at the top of the list.

What did you know about Detroit before moving here? I didn't know much about it though my ex-husband grew up in Lansing. I did start to hear a little about artists coming to Detroit, the Galapagos owners in particular. But I didn't visit until I was looking for house to move into.

How has your experience been so far? I love being involved in the community here. I did not expect to meet so many people invested in their neighborhood and city. Where I grew up, we didn't have this huge sense of community feeling, and I didn't identify with the surrounding area. Detroit is a big city, but feels like a small town.

As a dancer, it's been hard for me because there's such a small scene here. The ones in the city are smaller, younger, trying to find an identity.

What's your favorite part of living in Detroit? I've joined a community of people that support what I do. And I feel very inspired and supported by the people I work with and the people I work for.

If you could change something about Detroit, what would it be? I want Detroiters to feel more included in the changes happening. It's not accessible to many who have been here and come from lower socioeconomic standing.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Detroit, where would you take them? The Riverfront and Belle Isle. Walk around Midtown.

How long do you think you'll be in Detroit? When I moved here, I told myself I'd dedicate the next 10 years. I don't see that changing.


John Selby

Age: 33

Occupation: Project manager for a construction company based out of D.C. 

How long have you lived in Detroit? A little over two years

What part of the city do you live in? West Village

Where did you move from? Washington D.C. by way of Ann Arbor, where John's wife got her MBA. 

What brought you to Detroit? We got to know Detroit through being in Ann Arbor and really liked it. Lily (John's wife) did a lot of projects through the business school where we interacted with the city. We just loved the vibe — found it very welcoming. 

The cost of living compared to D.C. was another obvious draw. Also, we were eager to fix up a house. Then Lily got her job with the DEGC in July 2016. 

What did you know about about Detroit before moving? I didn't know much about it. Our first visit was for the Detroit Jazz Festival. It seemed cool and had this onion layers quality. Initially, our eyes were wide open about downtown and the stuff going on in this tiny radius. But then we discovered other areas like West Village and saw another ring there. Finally we realized we had experienced like 3 percent of the city. 

How has your experience been so far? I expected people to be friendly, but it's so much more than I could have imagined. We're best friends with all our neighbors, in every direction on both sides of street. When we had a birthday party for our 1-year-old daughter, it was just our neighbors. One made a cake, others brought presents. And we'd live there for less than a year. 

I've also been impressed with the creativity and ingenuity of the small the small business community. We love supporting it and keeping money in the community and Detroit as much as possible. 

What's your favorite part of living in Detroit? Belle Isle. We love that our house is in close proximity to the waterfront. That's a small portion of the city but something that we wouldn't have access to in other cities. 

If you could change something about Detroit, what would it be? More trees and parks. And policy-wise, more support for residents to stay in their homes: repair houses if needed, downsize if needed. After living in D.C. and seeing how that went down, you can't have rising real estate and rents without the right amount of support. 

I really hope the city stays authentic, that Detroiters keep opening cool businesses, and the money that's spent stays in Detroiters' hands. 

If you're showing out of town friends or family Detroit, where would you take them? We have a pretty good circuit: the Guardian Building, Belle Isle, a new restaurant. We love exploring a new neighborhood with people when they come.

The narrative I'd like someone to walk away with is that Detroit, in its heyday, was a world class city — that's why we drive by the Guardian Building and the Packard Plant. Then we show them some of the newer stuff; what it's becoming. And also that there are amazing people, our neighbors, business owners, and people in the market. Not just experiences through retail or tourism, but also real human interactions. 

How long do you think you'll be in Detroit? When we moved here, we said we're not even entertaining the conversation of moving for five years. Reason being, it's hard to move to a new city, make friends, get settled. We wanted to live here as if we're going to live here forever. So there's no definite end date.

But at the same time, it's hard to be away from family. If we could convince our family to move here, then there's no question we'd be here forever. 

Read more articles by Aaron Mondry.

Aaron Mondry is the managing editor of Model D and a Detroit-based freelance writer. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter @AaronMondry.
Signup for Email Alerts