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Toby Barlow

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"Detroit," Meet Detroit

Posted: 11/17/11 12:00 AM ET

You may know this already, but the one thing I've learned since I moved here is that many, if not most, of the people who identify themselves as being from "Detroit" have really no idea what Detroit is like. That's because they really live in, say, Novi, Warren, even neighboring Redford, and haven't explored downtown in years. Holding onto mythologies perpetuated by a hysterical press over the past quarter century, they cling to the belief that there are no grocery stores in the city (we actually have 115) and still ask me where I get my dry cleaning done (for the last time, I get my dry cleaning done at the dry cleaners.) They've been to the Fox, to Comerica Park, and maybe waited in line at Slows, but they haven't been to MOCAD, Astro Coffee, D'Mongo's, Good Girls Go to Paris, Le Petit Zinc, Supino's Pizza or any of the other places that have popped up over the past half-decade.

People will say, "Oh it's not like it was," they'll say they can't bear what happened to Detroit, but they're simply blind to the possibilities of the present. Nostalgia for an old bygone Detroit is fine, but it's not relevant to what is happening on Michigan Avenue, on Woodward Avenue, and in Eastern Market right now. It's great that you still know the Faygo song, but do you know about the College of Creative Studies' massively incredible new Taubman Center? Who do you want to be? That guy hanging out at Starbucks sporting a Mark Fidrych t-shirt who has no idea where Cliff Bell's, Honest John's or the Russell Street Deli are (that last one's on Russell Street, by the way) or do you want to be really, actually, honestly, 100% from Detroit?

The lack of knowledge comes from a very specific history. The last two or three generations got out of Detroit during the enormous boom years, leaving the city limits for the American dream of a suburban house with two cars in the garage. In their wake, they saw Detroit go through an enormous upheaval of poverty, extreme racial division, and abandonment. The problems seemed too huge and too intractable so, out of frustration, they simply stopped looking. When they turned their back on the city, their children and their grandchildren did the same.

But you can't have a region without a center. If you're from Detroit, you've got to know it and be a part of it, embracing all of its opportunities, its troubles and its beauty. It is not just some idealistic dream, it's an economic necessity: The reason this is so fundamentally important is because -- get this -- it's the straightest path to getting your property values back. It's that simple. You may be from Berkley or Dearborn Heights or Beverly Hills or even Ypsilanti -- it doesn't really matter how far out you go -- but if you're in Southeast Michigan, you're from Detroit. It's your brand. So deal with it. When companies are thinking of relocating to the region, bringing jobs here, the perception of Motown is the biggest thing that matters. And when companies start thinking of relocating away from the region, the health and reputation of Detroit has a certain undeniable weight. Those companies aren't going to listen when you say "Come on! We're different! We're Troy!" They may have fallen for that in the past but now they know the truth. Detroit is right here, front and center, our inescapable fact.

I'm sure you've experienced something like this before, you're off on vacation or travelling out of town and you tell someone you're from whatever township you're from -- "Clawson" for instance -- and they'll say "Really, where's that?" And you say "Oh, near Detroit." And they will say "Detroit, man that is a scary place!" And you say, "No, no, well, yeah, but Clawson's different, really." And you smile politely and they smile politely but they also slowly edge away from you like you're kinda maybe scary too. See, you can't win by denying it, this is where you're from. The fact is the suburbs have been trying to run away from Detroit for half a century and all it has brought is ruin and depression for all. It's time to stop running. It's time to embrace this place. Luckily for you, right now, it's a wonderful town to embrace.

So take some time and find where your passion resides here. If you're living out in Canton, instead of eating at the Outback Steak House, come downtown. The best steak, ribs, pizza, crepes, Mexican food, Mexican/Italian food can all be found in the city (and the best Mexican/Asian hybrid is in Hamtramck, which is pretty much the same thing.) If you're in Sterling Heights and into music, you need to ditch Spotify and start listening to WDET's all-music high def station, HD2, streamable at wdet.org. If you're gay and living in Ferndale, you should know about and support The Ruth Ellis Center, one of the only three centers for homeless LBGT kids in the entire country. If you're in Grosse Pointe and you're into crafts, check out Pewabic Pottery classes or the new letterpress shop Signal Return. And Birmingham, instead of going to the damn mall and buying the same damn thing everyone else is going to buy, do your holiday shopping downtown and get some truly unique gifts at City Bird, Detroit Artist's Market, King's Books or even Henry the Hatter (sweet!)

Finally, most importantly, if you're looking for a place to live, stop clinging to the suburbs and just move on into the city. Seriously, nothing good ever came out of suburbia. Come be a part of what is happening here now. It is an exciting time to be in Detroit. You can start by checking out the affordable listings in the window of O'Connor Real Estate while you're standing in line at Slows. Honestly, the financial reporters can write their opinions and the economists can come up with their schemes, but, in the end, everything will be so much better and the future will be fine if everyone just moves downtown. So come on down, it'll be great, I'll even show you how to get to my dry cleaners.