Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Kramer" vs Kramer

As you are probably aware, Huffington Post has started a Detroit section, featuring opinion pieces from every variety of Detroiter, and because we are ultimately a small town it has of course become a little bit of a shitstorm already.

Toby Barlow wrote a piece called "Detroit," Meet Detroit which was a strong argument for the idea that as much as people from the 'burbs want to say they are Detroit, they really are ultimately still the suburbs. Maybe not his strongest idea piece ever - this is the man who broke the $100 house story (much to Ryan  Cooley's chagrin) and who proposed the idea that became Dan Gilbert's business model - but a strong assertion to actually make in public. Naturally, a strongly worded response arrived from the Northwest Territories saying "Hey!  Whose money is fixing up your damn town anyway??"  It's a tale as old as time, revisiting itself in a new iteration: City vs. Suburb: the Blog Wars.

I'm not going to belabor this in a lengthy way, and I'm going to paint in relatively broad strokes, so take this all with a grain of salt.  But the fact is, if you don't live in the city, if you don't put up with the bullshit along with the glory, then you ARE a suburbanite.  The biggest lesson I learned when I moved to Detroit was that living in Detroit was a completely different experience than just hanging out in Detroit.  And you can't fake it and you can't learn it from the outside and it is almost impossible to create authentic, meaningful, non-douchebaggy change unless you live here.

I was having a drink with an old acquaintance a while back. someone who knew me from my store back in the Ann Arbor days and who now lives in Royal Oak.  He was doing what I call the Suburban Shuffle ... getting in on the street cred of Detroit while trying to rationalize staying in the 'burbs.  The old, "I'd move to Detroit except ..." And I said listen, nobody who lives in Detroit has any superpowers.  But they did make that leap, and they take the bad with the good.  So don't expect a pat on the back because you tool down I-75 for the fun stuff and then tsk-tsk from the comfort of your fake loft when the latest calamity strikes.

There's a lot of cool stuff going on in Detroit right now, and it hasn't always been this way.  And suddenly it's cool to say you're a Detroiter.  I do believe there are Detroiters "in spirit," but at the end of the day you don't get to use Detroit to validate yourself without fully committing.

So what IS the status of the suburbanite who loves Detroit but won't or can't move to the city?  Or who just loves where they live (because frankly our suburbs are pretty great if you're into that kind of thing)? Well, I think you are "A Suburbanite Who Loves Detroit."  Or a "Detroiter in Spirit." It's not an aspersion, it's just a fact. I know a TON of people who fit that description. Please, do stuff in the city, work to make it better if that's what you believe in, say good things about it.  And be honest and unapologetic about your level of involvement.  I think you'll find everyone appreciates that.

Or, why don't you move to Detroit?  THAT is how you really make a difference, and you can finally be a Detroiter!  Now wouldn't that be awesome?


Anonymous said...

What do you call someone who lived in Detroit for over 30 years, whose neighborhood went into the toilet and home value dropped $100K, said house was broken into repeatedly in broad daylight, police response was more than two hours in arriving and who then decided he'd much rather concentrate on living a life than on maintaining a fortress? Does that negate the years as a resident, am I no longer a 'Detroiter'? Has Toby Barlow shared my experience?

Love the city, still quite active there but must admit, at day's end, it's a relief to arrive home without worrying whether my cats have been harmed or my computer and hard drives missing.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous? Is that you? I have your stuff. Sorry about breaking in. My bad. Move back and I'll give it to you. Except for the ice cream, I ate that.

Anonymous said...

But for another perspective, see this blog (written by an actual, lifelong, Detroit resident): http://univercities.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/what-makes-an-authentic-detroiter-intern-michael-stepniak-speaks/

sus said...

Dear Anonymous #1 - You can take the kid out of the city, but you can't take the city out of the kid.

As a re-patriot (born and raised, moved away but now am back) I can tell you that a little piece of you dies when you leave, but another piece of you dies if you move back.

Part of the problem with this entire dialogue is that there is the assumption that one thing is better than the other. I LOVED living in Berkley. My car wasn't broken into; I could walk home from the bar and not worry about being mugged; the schools (although I don't have children) were fantastic. I love living in Detroit - I ride my bike everywhere; I encounter people from every walk of life on a daily basis; I feel at home.

Anyone who says you are not a Detroiter has never lived in the city, or is kidding themselves. Anyone who is fortunate enough to live in a safe neighborhood and denies the value in that is just ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

This continuing argument of Detroit city life, versus residing in the suburbs is an old one and at this point is quite dull. The idea that you "can't fake it and you can't learn it from the outside and it is almost impossible to create authentic, meaningful, non-douchebaggy change unless you live here," is foolish. We should strive to reside in the world, Berlin, New York, Tokyo, London, and the list go on. I would assure you that most people living around our country and the world give little or any thought to Detroit or your cred. There are great and terrible people everywhere. Whether you live in the city or live in burbs has nothing to do with who you are, that is you choice. P.S. talking about you cred is the essence of a douche. Hey Detroit the world is large...and it could give a shit about you.

Slappy san said...

If your mail doesn't have "Detroit, Michigan" on it, you're not from Detroit. It's that simple. If you moved, claim where you live now.

People who have lived here most of their lives don't care about cred. What they care about is that their city is slagged off by outsiders and then they later want to claim it when it's trendy. Be authentic. Don't be a liar.

John said...

I like the constructive tone of the post ... I'll claim my city--Ferndale--but I've been in and out of Detroit "proper" over the years as well. I'm living about as far out of town as I'd like to, but I don't care about cred or trendiness. If I'm talking to someone from out of state, etc., telling them I'm "from Detroit" is just common shorthand ... If I'm talking to someone local, Ferndale it is. Love them both, am over 8 Mile daily. No need to divide to conquer, I say.

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