Detroit: The Most Exciting City in America?

Posted by Reif Larsen on

Detroit: The Most Exciting City in America?

By REIF LARSEN  NOV. 20, 2017

I’ve always found the best way to read a city’s mood is on a bicycle. You move at a speed that allows for a kind of mutual handshake with the urban topography.

This past summer I shook hands with Detroit. Specifically, I signed up for Slow Roll, a mass social bike ride. Slow Roll (pronounced “Sloow Roooooooooll!”) was co-founded seven years ago by Jason Hall and Mike MacKool as a small, motley group of cyclists who bonded while riding motorless in the Motor City, evading the police and potholes and irate drivers. Over the years, Slow Roll has evolved and grown up alongside its hometown and now the Detroit police escort as many as 4,000 Slow Rollers on a weekly ride designed to highlight one of the city’s many historic neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, the Slow Roll I was supposed to take part in was canceled hours before its start because of a threatening thunderstorm. But, as the old saying goes, “80 percent of life is showing up.” So I showed up.

The Slow Roll gathering point, in front of the old Masonic Temple, was a ghost town. There was me, a young African-American man named Woody who had been Slow Rolling since the beginning (“Since before the beginning”) and three middle-aged white women who had come in from the suburbs. This was their first Slow Roll and they hadn’t heard the ride had been canceled.

“Don’t worry,” said Woody. “They’re coming.”

The women looked doubtful beneath their bicycle helmets. Not too long ago suburbanites rarely came downtown. I remember visiting Detroit in 2001 and being unnerved by how empty the streets were. It felt like the beginning of a zombie apocalypse movie. The national media participated in constructing this portrait of Detroit as the ultimate failed American city, artfully feeding the public’s appetite for ruin porn with photos of decaying buildings, majestic theaters crumbling into dust, trees sprouting through walls.

Over the last five years, however, Detroit’s downtown corridor has seen a veritable explosion in real estate investment. Much of this growth was precipitated by Dan Gilbert’s now-famous decision to move the headquarters of his mortgage lending company, Quicken Loans, to a building overlooking Campus Martius Park in 2010. Mr. Gilbert, the “mayor of Gilbertville,” as he is sometimes mockingly called, now owns a significant portion of the downtown, over 60 properties in all. Today, the sidewalks of Gilbertville are packed with millennials taking a break from beach volleyball to sip craft beer and nibble on artisanal pickles.

Read more at The New York Times >

One Detroit - Four million people. One story.

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