Last year, when I told my parents, both 55-year-old teachers from Shelby Township, that I was moving Downtown, I have to admit: I was a little scared. Oh, all right, there’s no sense in sugar-coating it — I was petrified.
Don’t get me wrong, my parents are great people and two of the most open-minded individuals I know. But, given the common misconceptions that Detroit is riddled with crime and drugs, that panhandlers abound, and that the city is unsafe and dirty, I wasn’t sure that the news would please my parents.
Unwilling to give up my plans without a good, strong fight on behalf of the city that I had quickly come to adore, I marched over to my mother and father’s house with one thing in mind: I was moving Downtown, and if my parents didn’t like it, I was going to do whatever it would take to convince them otherwise.
As it turned out, I didn’t have to do much convincing at all; my mom, dad and I took one trip Downtown to check out my would-be digs, and they understood why I wanted to move there. In fact, my father’s initial impression of the place was: “I could move here.”
Realtors and residents say they see stories like mine all the time: Grown children move into the city that their parents or grandparents left decades ago. Their parents are initially reluctant, but through their children the older generation reconnects with the city, or at least gets a more positive view of Detroit.
Paige Dotson Peabody, founder of Esquire Properties — a real estate brokerage firm in Detroit – says there has been a positive shift over the last decade in parent’s attitudes about their kids moving to the city.
“When I first started out in the Wayne State area, there wasn’t a big selection of places to rent or buy like there is now, and the few that were available were not in the best neighborhoods,” Peabody says, “so parents were not very supportive of their kids wanting to move Downtown.”
With the rebirth of the Midtown area a few years ago, and the recent redevelopments along the riverfront and within the central Downtown area, she says parents’ tones have shifted from disapproving to supportive.
“Every year, you could see the attitude changing a little bit more and a little bit more,” she says.
Kim Ross, also in her 20s, grew up in the suburbs but recently left for a new place in the city. Her family moved to Illinois when she was young, and they didn’t move back to the Detroit area until she was a freshman at Rochester High School in Rochester Hills. Even though she was back in Michigan, Ross didn’t start hanging around Detroit until she went to college. On weekend trips home from Michigan State University to visit her parents, Kim and her then-boyfriend Matt decided to take a detour to explore Downtown.
“Matt has always loved tall buildings and beautiful architecture, so we decided to take a little trip to downtown Detroit to explore,” she says.
The couple was intrigued with what they found in Detroit and began taking regular side trips to the city. Upon completing their undergraduate studies, they got engaged and got themselves a permanent place in Detroit: a new condo on the riverfront.
Kim, a law student at the University of Detroit Mercy, discovered that not everyone shared her enthusiasm for her new location.
“When I first told some of my family members that I was spending time Downtown, I wouldn’t say that they were thrilled,” she says. “But, when Matt and I brought some of my relatives downtown and showed them around, they really started warming up to it.”
Kim’s father, Peter Ross, was born and raised in Detroit. Peter, 55, says he’s happy that his daughter lives Downtown. “I think it’s great, and it’s exactly what the city needs.”
The family always has gone Downtown for ball games and special events, but “having Kim Downtown definitely brings us down more often.”
Kim Ross is also pleased to have been partly responsible for changing the perceptions that some of her extended family members had about the city. She gives the rest of the credit to Detroit.
“At first, I really felt like I had to persuade people to come Downtown and see my place. But once they came and saw it — and the city – with their own eyes, that was it; now they want to come Downtown all of the time. It’s amazing,” she says.
The sales pitch
Amanda Dunham, an Ann Arbor native who now resides in Ferndale, is another young professional who has had some success in changing some of her mother’s perceptions of Detroit.
“I really enjoy the city, and I like spending time there, but my mom never wants to go with me. She has memories of this mental health facility in southwest Detroit where she used to work … she said it was in ‘a bad area.’ But she still thinks that all of Detroit is that way,” she says.
Figuring that her mother would be impressed by Detroit once she saw it herself, Amanda, a database administrator at Compuware’s Southfield location, hatched a plan to get her mom Downtown.
“When she asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I told her that I wanted to spend the day with her in Detroit,” she says. “We ended up having the most wonderful day.”
Amanda took her 56-year-old mother on a bike ride through Elmwood Cemetery, Indian Village, and up, down and around Jefferson Avenue. The mother-daughter duo then took a visit to Compuware’s headquarters downtown, where Amanda soon will be transferred. They ended the night at Campus Martius, where they watched the weekly Friday night outdoor movie.
Dunham says that her mom still isn’t 100-percent sold on her Downtown move, but their day together got her mom to see some of the positive things going on. “My mom really had a good time … she was definitely impressed by Campus Martius.”
Peabody says that with the influx in the number of young, educated professionals moving to Detroit, their parents may not be far behind.
It’s only a matter of time before the young people’s enthusiasm trickles down, and the empty-nesters — people in their 50s and 60s who no longer have children at home — realize the opportunities in Detroit.
“The empty-nesters, who are likely to downsize as they get older, will get a better deal in Detroit because of the number of properties that qualify for the city’s special 12-year tax abatement,” she says. “This group is made up of people that are retiring earlier than previous generations did, and they want to have fun at this time in their lives. They want to go to the symphony, or the opera, or to a ball game — and, in Detroit, they have all of those things within reach.”
As for my parents, they haven’t moved into the city, yet. But they are solidly behind my move.
Once they discovered the beautiful view of the Detroit River, the friendliness of other tenants and the proximity to Downtown entertainment venues, they needed no further persuasion from me. Detroit had done that on its own.
Jamie Halaas also writes for her blog Girl In The D.
Amanda & Mom, Kim, Compuware and Detrot Opera House Photographs copyright Dave Krieger.
Jaime (sunglasses) Photograph copyright Jaime Halaas.