Detroit is a damn complicated place. Thank goodness there's a slew of talented local bloggers toiling away at their computers to help us deepen our understanding of this unusual American city. Do yourself a favor and read what they have to say. Here's my (by no means comprehensive) list of great local blogs you need to be reading:
Data and Maps
Lovers of maps (cartophiles?) need to follow Detroitography, a blog "featuring and creating great maps of Detroit." Explore the maps of the Detroit Geographic Expedition
, a group of radical "folk geographers" active in Detroit during the 1960s and early 1970s (check out this map
of Detroit’s "Sympathetic and Unsympathetic Ethnic Groups" from 1960) and fantastic original creations like this map
of the smells of the Midtown Loop and these great hand maps of Detroit
. Visitors to Detroitography can even request maps
and submit their own
GooBing is the act of comparing images of the same location with Google Street View and Bing Maps. When GooBing Detroit first hit the Internet, most Google Street View images were taken c. 2009, while most Bing Maps images were taken c. 2012. When presented side-by-side, the images reveal the (often dramatic) transformations experienced by Detroit locations over three short years. Thanks to the release of historical Google Street View
, GooBing Detroit now can document transformation in Detroit in greater detail. Many posts showcase the decline of individual properties, while (in rarer instances) others highlight rehabilitation.
A creation of Loveland Technologies
, GooBing Detroit also houses original content like this data-driven feature
asking whether the city should focus on the collection of $375 million owed collectively in delinquent residential property taxes or figuring out a way to retain the 150,000-odd residents at risk of foreclosure.
Detroit Athletic Co.
Fifteen years after the final Tigers game was played at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull in Corktown, the Detroit Athletic Co., located a block away from the old Tiger Stadium site, endures as the premier location in the city to buy local sports apparel and memorabilia. It also happens to run a kickass blog featuring nuanced stories about contemporary Detroit teams (Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons) and articles about days of yore in Detroit sports, such as this feature
remembering Tiger Stadium's infamous "Bleacher Creatures" or this one
about the Detroit Red Wings' first ever outdoor contest, a 1954 game played against a team of convicted killers and armed robbers at Marquette State prison in the Upper Peninsula.
News and Commentary
Aaron FoleyJalopnik Detroit is a car blog...sort of. Aaron Foley
, the writer behind the blog, mixes coverage of the latest developments in the auto industry with snappy commentary on culture, politics, race, and life in Detroit. Combining sharp observations with humor, Foley will have you laughing to yourself or blushing from embarrassment.
Not being a car guy, I prefer posts like this one
that explains what the Simpsons taught us about the American auto industry or this post
that gives credit to Apple for creating a good commercial about Detroit (described by Foley as "one of the rare times you see a black person at the forefront of one of the [city's] popular movements" in a national spot about Detroit) but criticizes the company for not investing in opening an Apple Store in the city of Detroit.
Motor City Muckraker
There is no ambivalence about this site. You love it or you hate it. Dedicated to investigative journalism, Muckraker goes places where major media outlets fear to tread. MCMR founder Steve Neavling's coverage of the barn blockade on Kercheval at the Detroit/Grosse Pointe Park border has raised the region's consciousness of modern forms of segregation. His coverage of fires and arson in Detroit have alerted the public to the struggles of the Detroit Fire Department. This is a must-follow blog.
Check out his simple but powerful "Detroit at Night"
photo essay depicting the city's street lighting crisis.
Still in beta stage, Detroit 143 is an ambitious project that serves as "an online resource that reports on community efforts to rebuild the city." Focusing initially on Southwest Detroit, Detroit 143 has plans to expand its coverage to all of Detroit's 143 square miles. Currently, the site "relies on such tools as Twitter, Instagram (hashtags #trueSWdetroit and #atcafeconleche), Facebook, SeeClickFix and Fliptu to enlist residents in documenting neighborhood needs and achievements." Funded by large grants from the Knight and Kresge foundations, this site is one to watch as it grows. Could it create a new paradigm for local journalism? We'll see.
A collaborative project of Model D
, MLive Detroit
, and WDET 101.9 FM
, Aging Together is a blog that explores what it's like to grow old in metro Detroit. So far, the project has examined the threat
gentrification poses to those living in senior housing in downtown Detroit, the challenges
faced by LGBT seniors, and programs
that help seniors access fresh produce. There's more to come.
Donna JacksonThe experiences of Detroiters are often overlooked in media coverage of Detroit's financial and political challenges. That's why designer and artist Donna Jackson
launched Middle Detroit. The blog hosts video interviews of 'Middle Detroiters,' the people Jackson describes as "the ones in the middle of the extremes and also the ones who keep balance in communities with their hard work, talents, dedication and loyalty." Detroiters interested in contributing their stories to this project can sign up here
A painstakingly researched blog, Corktown History gives us the backstory of the streets, lots, and buildings of "Detroit's oldest neighborhood." Particularly pleasurable reads include this post
about the 1938-39 widening of Michigan Avenue in a failed attempt to construct a "super highway," this one
that explores various interpretations of the Corktown's neighborhood boundaries, and this one
that reminds us of Dearborn-based clothing company Carhartt's roots in Corktown. As you click your way back in time, you will be amazed by blogger Paul Szewczyk's dedication to thoroughly researching each post.
Did you know that Wayne State University's Department of Anthropology has programs that focus on urban archaeology? Pretty cool, right? Did you know that that department also has a wonderful blog that focuses on collections-based archaeological research at Wayne State? Well, now you do.
Visit Unearthing Detroit and explore WSU's Department of Anthropology's collections at the Grosscup Museum of Anthropology
, which is "home to the remains of over 20 large-scale excavations conducted at various Detroit sites over the past half-century" and "contains one of the most extensive urban historical archaeology collections in the United States."
"Every building has a story." That's the motto of Historic Detroit, a site that serves as a database of the stories behind many of Detroit's notable historic structures -- those standing and those that are long gone. Well-researched and driven by passion, Historic Detroit is a great local history resource.
The Night Train
You may know "The Night Train" as a classic R&B jam
by James Brown, but it's also a fantastic blog about Detroit's pre-automotive history. Most people are familiar with the modern industrial history of Detroit -- you know, the era brought on by guys with names like Ford, Chrysler, and Buick. Amy Elliott Bragg, the woman behind the Night Train, gives us greater insight into the origins of our modern metropolis by examining the figures, buildings, and places in Detroit that predate the automotive era. Take, for instance, her profile of J. Jex Bardwell
, the man who photographed the city of Detroit for a half century before the first Model T ever rolled off the assembly line.
The Detroit Aesthetic
You've seen them everywhere, but have you really
examined the painted signs you come across throughout the city? Lucky for you, Painted Detroit is a blog that gives us a closer look at these cool signs. This young blog will be fun to follow as it matures.
This blog features images of things found in Detroit's public spaces -- statues, signs, plaques, murals, graffiti, vistas, streetscapes, and more. Simple yet exploratory, Down I-94 is a fresh perspective on the city. You're invited to ask
the blogger anything (within reason).
Arts, Culture, and Lifestyle
Detroit Grams is a blog that looks like a magazine -- a self-described "never-ending ethnography of Detroit’s past, present and future." New issues of Detroit Grams come out about once per quarter. They are well worth the wait, featuring beautiful photography and great stories about unique people and places in Detroit.
Last Supper Table
The Last Supper Table is an art project of Ali Sandifer Studio
, a Detroit-based design/build furniture studio run by wife and husband team Abir Ali and Andre Sandifer. Drawing inspiration from New Testament accounts of the Last Supper and Da Vinci's
famous paintings, the team has spent months creating a massive table made of Michigan hardwood for this year's ArtPrize
competition in Grand Rapids. Their blog documents their inspiration and process.
Abir Ali and Andre SandiferMotor City Blog
Since 2004 (was blogging even a thing back then?), Motor City Blog has been publicizing music and art happenings in and around Detroit, serving as a resource for local artists and culture seekers alike. Next time you're looking for something to do in Motown, check out MCB. It's also fun to click through the archives for snapshots of the changing Zeitgeist of Detroit's music and arts scenes.
The Built Environment
This Instagram photo blog, created and populated by Detroit photographer and cinematographer Geoff George
, documents a type of building found you will find throughout Detroit's 139 square miles: the corner bank. Some are abandoned and some are vacant. Some have been repurposed. There are even a few still being used as banks. You've seen them all over town, but thanks to George, you now can view them all in a single location.
The G.A.R. Building Detroit
Perhaps the most exciting historic restoration project in Detroit, the Grand Army of the Republic Building -- a castle-like structure that once served as a clubhouse for Detroit veterans of the Union Army -- will soon re-open for the first time in decades. Once renovations are complete, the building will house the offices of Mindfield
(the media production company leading the G.A.R. Building's renovation), several storefronts, and two restaurants. The G.A.R. Building blog features tidbits about the building's history, updates on the renovation process, and a historical photo archive.
The El Moore
The El Moore is poised to be the city's greenest apartment building when the folks behind the Green Garage
(also a great blog!) are through rehabbing it. This blog features updates on their renovation process (check out this post
about how the El Moore is meeting sustainability goals by reusing materials) and stories about the building's idiosyncrasies (check out this post
about the St. Benedict medals that were found throughout the building).
The Detroit House
Ever thought about fixing up a home in one of Detroit's historic neighborhoods? Maybe you should read Crain's Detroit
reporter Amy Haimerl's blog about renovating her home in Detroit's West Village.This blog shows that historic renovation isn't for the faint of heart, but is a rewarding labor of love nonetheless.
Detroit Urbex: Then and Now
Detroit Urbex (short for 'urban exploration') is mind blowing, plain and simple. The site examines the past, present, and future of the city with historical and contemporary photos that document the city's continual transformation. Dismissing the 'ruin porn' label, Detroit Urbex claims, "The goal of this website is not to aestheticize ruins, but to document them. That’s why we focus on historic photos, facts, and narratives about these locations."
Detroit Urbex's Evolution of a City
page is particularly mind blowing, featuring sliding images that provide an "interactive look at the growth, decline, and revival of the city of Detroit through historic and present-day pictures."
Matthew Lewis is Model D's managing editor. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjlew.