Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Had some fun. Had some laughs.

John Lennon once said -- and millions of people subsequently quoted him -- that life is what happens while you're busy making other plans. A cliché, sure, but as someone else once said, the cliché is cliché for a reason. Or something.

A New York native, I first set eyes on Detroit in October 2000. I've spent the last 11 years in and out of the shadows here in the Motor City, pursuing a career in New York City while not-so-privately obsessing over one of the most unloved cities in the country. Looking back, it's easy to figure out why. As a reporter, I saw Detroit as one of the greatest untold stories in the United States.

As happens in this business, professional curiosity can often take you some really unexpected places. Over time, I fell in love with Detroit in a way I never expected to. The city so many were busy fleeing began to feel like home.

I made repeated attempts to transition from being a part-timer, ducking in and out between trips around the globe, trying to see how I might move in for real and settle down. It never seemed to work. The more I came to know Detroit, the more I loved it -- the good and the bad -- but I never felt one hundred percent sure that throwing my pretty good job away and moving to Michigan was a great idea. Anyone who's tried to keep a news career going in Southeast Michigan over these past ten years can no doubt identify.

While I dithered and planned and scrubbed plans and started all over again, times changed. Detroit changed. The city, long left to its own devices, emerged from the shadows. As the economy fell apart in 2008, with the auto industry front and center for the drama, national media types once again took an interest in a city that had been all but forgotten in the decade or more prior.

Soon, Detroit became a thing. Reporters swooped in, trying to make sense of it all, after years of being completely tuned out, often missing the point entirely as they drove around the ruins, writing off the city for dead. (Unexpectedly, it would be a Chrysler commercial that finally showed the world a proper glimpse of Detroit's incredible humanity.)

The word itself -- Detroit -- became hip. Artists flocked in. A new generation of entrepreneurs began to take chances. Downtown, already with so much going for it, flipped into high gear. Then came Whole Foods Markets, announcing a Midtown store -- a curveball that threw even the sunshine-loving city supporters for a complete loop. Today, I read New York-based Curbed Networks' new Detroit real estate blog for the first time, along with many of you. (Another thing to file under things you didn't expect to see around here, any time soon.) Suddenly, Detroit is cool. Suddenly, everyone is saying it is the new Brooklyn. I don't know if that's true. But if that's what people need to tell themselves to get psyched up to come hang out in the city and make it a little better, than so be it.

All I ever wanted, from the very start, was for the world to stop ignoring Detroit. Today, I look around at a city that still faces unbelievable odds, odds it probably won't completely overcome for generations, but I see a city with a brighter future, something I never dared think about, after learning the hard way the perils of treating Detroit as if it were like any other place in the United States.

Today, though, no matter what happens, Detroit is once again part of the national (and global) conversation. This is all that could ever be asked. Magical solutions to its brokenness do not exist. And at day's end, Detroit must save Detroit. But I now take comfort in the fact that the world will be watching, lending a hand where it can, if Detroit will let it do so.

With so many changes both here and in my own life, I'll be moving on for the most part, leaving this blog to internet history. I'll still be involved locally in at least one very fun (and to me, very important) way, working with Eat It Detroit, a local outfit that celebrates Detroit's rich food culture and heritage. Join the conversation over on our Facebook page, if you can.

In summary and in closing, thanks to all of you who read this blog over the years, It was incredible to see the traffic transition from almost entirely local in 2007 and 2008 to an international audience in the years that followed. I hope this did some good. I hope someone learned something. I know I did. Peace.