Playing Detroit by Ear. Sounds Good so far.

That seems to be the standard operating procedure for me, playing Detroit by ear. One week goes by with businesses opening, smiles on the street, television news reports of good Samaritans and the like. The next week goes by filled with house fires, disdainful bums, and a murder down the street.

This is likely the case for anyone living anywhere in the world, but in

Detroit, there is the sense that one’s outlook on the city can change with the drop of a hat. It does.

Rather than focus on the bad, this time around, I figured it might be a welcome respite to focus on some of the good things happening in the area.

Yesterday morning, the Detroit branch of the Roasting Plant opened up in Campus Martius, right across from all the ice-skaters. I stopped in for a cup today and ended up speaking with woman named Liz, who said she’d grown up in Detroit, and was happy to bring the New York based coffee enterprise to her native city. I ordered a cup of Sulawesi, and young lady punched it into the register. Within two seconds, freshly roasted beans were shooting down a clear tube from the ceiling, and into a coffee machine. Star Trek ambiance aside, it was the best damn cup I’ve had in a while. I’ll spare you the coffee snobbery and leave out the tasting notes.

Michigan Avenue, Detroit

A view down Michigan Avenue. copyright 2013 Rob Knevels

Curbed Detroit mentioned this week that another development made out of shipping containers is in the works. This time, condos near the Woodbridge neighborhood. Also on the docket, Detroit building-buyer Dan Gilbert made a sneaky move to buy up another block in the Downtown area. Add to this the newly finished Auburn lofts on Cass, a rapidly advancing Whole Foods on Mack and John R., and Woodward Gardens, a new loft complex on one of the last remaining blemished blocks of Woodward (in Midtown).

All of this movement is enough to put a Detroiter in a good mood for a while. There is too much development going on in the city’s nucleus to talk about here and it’s all very inspiring, especially when the areas surrounding the hustle are in effect, third world. Using the term ‘Detroiter’ here is perhaps a naive generalization. Not everyone lives in one of the re-emerging neighborhoods. In fact, a majority of them don’t. Detroit was a city built for over two million people, now with only around 700,000. Porous is the word that comes to mind. A third of Detroit’s lots are either abandoned or vacant.

Living close to downtown makes it easy to forget that out there, in the rest of the city, people are living among ruins, where there are no new coffee shops opening, no new condos, no nothing. This also reminds us not take all the new development with a grain of salt. A new era of Detroit residents will have to remember that at one time, everything that they are trying to build, was already here. Their goal should be to avoid starting from scratch, ever again.

Which leads us to the eggs in the basket. Cars are a large part of America, and always will be, but Detroit knows better than to follow that path again. Things will have to be looked at from a standpoint of what will work for us in the long run? The new Detroit should be built on a model of economic/environmental sustainability. Not one or the other.

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