Detroit: The Resilient City

Detroit is not the easiest place to live but that’s part of its charm. It asks a lot of you at times, but it is unlike any city I have encountered in the freedom it offers, the deep community it necessitates, and the creative responses it provokes.

I moved to Detroit a year ago to start graduate school at Cranbrook Academy of Art and quickly began to feel like it was a place I was supposed to live for a long time. I think you truly get to know a place as you get to know its people, and I was lucky to meet a phenomenal community of artists and musicians soon after moving here. My love for this place rises directly out of my relationships with my friends. They are the ones who have shown me this city, and it is through being near their love for it that I have come to love it as well.

Over the past year, I have come to appreciate the strange expansiveness and unexpected beauty of Detroit’s landscape. Being one of the only cars on a wide street often leaves me feeling quietly exposed yet defiantly independent as I move about the city. There is something strangely peaceful yet empowering about coming to a traffic light that is no longer working. And although it is sad at times to be surrounded by physical manifestations of decay on a daily basis, it is also inspiring to see waist-high grasses and wildflowers reclaiming once occupied buildings that are no longer needed. Seeing the wildflowers change every few weeks this summer has kept me primed to the constant cycles of life and death happening around us and helped me appreciate the opportunities for new growth that accompany loss.

I have also been baffled by the intimacy and strength of community that exists in Detroit. Community is strong here out of necessity. When you can’t ride your bike home alone at night, you have to leave with a friend. When you live in one of a few homes occupied on a block, you have to really get to know your neighbors and look out for each other. People are also incredibly supportive of each others’ artistic and entrepreneurial work because cooperation is essential for building a critical mass of support in a city this size. The small scale of the arts community here also makes it likely that you’ve had the opportunity to really get to know people working in similar ways…and when you really get to know people, it’s hard not to want to support them.

I have been inspired by the fierce ingenuity and resourcefulness of Detroiters as they creatively respond to specific problems in their neighborhoods and communities. From farmers to artists, builders to social entrepreneurs, residents are responding to local needs with an urgency that often leads them to work collaboratively across disciplines. As an artist, I feel deeply grateful to have the opportunity to come alongside and work with people who are experimenting with new alternatives and unexpected, creative approaches for how to solve local problems and grow as a city.

Over the past year, living in Detroit has taught me deep things about how failure gives rise to freedom and need provokes creativity. With no local coffeehouse to write in, you write in bars. With little functioning public transportation, you ride bikes with your friends. With not one chain grocery store in the city limits, you plant a garden and grow your own food. I’ve also simply had a lot of lot of fun getting to know some of the most creative, passionate people I have ever met. Detroit is complex city with many deep problems, but it is also a resilient city that has offered me the freedom to make new things that are actually needed with people I really care about.