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Seeing Detroit with Appreciation

October 30, 2017 • By

I’ve heard the words, “Detroit is coming back,” since I was young. My parents are native Michiganders with my mom hailing from Allen Park outside of Detroit and my dad from Flint. I grew up listening to stories of Detroit’s grandeur. My maternal grandparents played as children under the Ambassador Bridge and my mother referenced happy times shopping at the famed Hudson’s department store, attending shows and eating at Detroit’s best restaurants.

Fantasy Aisle, Renaissance Center in Detroit home to GM and the Marriott. The tallest building in Detroi

Renaissance Center in Detroit home to GM and the Marriott. The tallest building in Detroit

Anyone with a Detroit connection talked of great plans for the city’s revitalization one day and the rest laughed and conceded it would never happen and so became the running joke among natives and transplants for decades. People would brag about the enormous potential of the city situated on the Detroit River and rave about the busy international crossing between the United States and Canada, yet Detroit steadily declined with developers and loyalists awaiting its upswing.

Fantasy Aisle, Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad at Hart Plaza

Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad at Hart Plaza

Many believe Detroit’s economy started to decline in the 1950s with the automobile industry struggling but the turning point occurred in July 1967 when Detroit experienced one of the worst race riots in the country. My dad, a member of the Michigan Air National Guard – Battle Creek, was activated during the riots. Still short a summer class to graduate, the Guard called him to service in Detroit. He admits he didn’t even know how to carry a gun (and didn’t) but went to work with the Michigan State Police. He said, “There were a lot of prejudices going on,” and recounted a story of how the team he worked with chased a man who broke into a store and stole televisions.

When I was a student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, my roommates and I made the hour-and-a-half trip to Windsor, Canada where the drinking age was 19. One time I recall driving and making a wrong turn to reach the Ambassador Bridge. My roommate, familiar with Detroit, became alarmed and instructed me to start speeding and to run through red lights. We were in a “bad area.”

Until recently, my history with Detroit conjured negative connotations and I avoided visiting. I heard whispers of Detroit’s return and remained doubtful. That changed last week when I stayed in Detroit for the first time in 20 years. I won’t say, “It’s back,” but it is on a positive road to recovery evidenced by the countless construction cranes spread across the city. Detroiters and Michiganders alike are excited and proud with good reason.

Fantasy Aisle, RiverWalk along the Detroit River

RiverWalk along the Detroit River

It’s worth a day or two to explore this comeback kid with a plethora of nicknames –Motor City, Motown, Hockeytown, Renaissance City. I woke up at sunrise to a blustery clear day and grabbed my sneakers for some exercise along the RiverWalk, (Detroit International Riverfront), a 51/2 mile path stretching from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. I walked east for an hour before turning back finding lots of locals and tourists shared the same idea. It’s easy to rent a bike, roller blade or relax on many of the park benches. There are sculptures and art pieces, seasonal restaurants and state parks lining the path and restored landscaping enhances the experience. Detroit is a walkable city even with all those cars.

In need of coffee, I turned my sights on Woodward Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Detroit. The area is flush with businesses relocated from the suburbs. The likes of Starbucks, Shake Shack and Potbelly further affirm my belief that the “new Detroit” would not be recognizable to people who left years ago.

Fantasy Aisle, Central United Methodist Church

Central United Methodist Church

Armed with caffeine, I sat for a bit people watching at the Campus Martius Park. Workers were busy converting the public area from a summer hot spot with volleyball and music to a winter wonderland with ice skating and hot chocolate. I continued along Woodward shocked by the modern buildings and impressed with the detail that has gone into preserving the heart of the city.

I snapped pictures with my family in mind hoping to show them the changing story of Detroit, a resurgent city with growing opportunities. “If you build it, they will come,” ran through my head and I was overwhelmed with happiness for my friends who stayed local and weathered the storm. It’s thrilling to witness the transformation firsthand.

Fantasy Aisle, Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team

Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team

All of Detroit’s sports teams play in a few block-radius along Woodward. The Red Wings(hockey) and Pistons(basketball) play at Little Caesars Arena (I appropriately named it the Pizza Palace), with the Tigers(baseball) and Lions(football) across the street at Comerica Park and Ford Field respectively. My dad used to drag my brother and I to Pontiac for the big Thanksgiving Lions game at the Silverdome. It is a brilliant idea to relocate all the sports teams in one place. Now families and friends can spend an entire day eating and drinking while rooting their favorite team onto victory.

On a recent trip to Detroit this summer, Suzette Loving, who left home after college for job opportunities, walked Woodward Avenue from the river to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum –in awe. She explained going alone by foot was not a good choice a few years ago. I sensed pure joy in her voice when she talked about all the revitalization.

“If I didn’t have a family, house and great job, I could move back,” she said. That is quite a sentiment from someone who lived in San Francisco, Chicago and Denver.

Joining me in Detroit, Suzette passionately pointed out new buildings and speed walked me along Woodward Avenue, then to Greektown and back around the Michigan Opera House and straight into a hip coffee shop, the Roasting Plant –a trendy place not found in downtown until now. I witnessed the hope and possibility through her eyes as she summarized her childhood and early adult years in the places that remain — A bar here and restaurant there. Her endorsement of Detroit is an understatement.

“Seeing people coming together and in some cases taking a risk to invest their business in the city is even more inspiring.  Probably my favorite part, though, is the sense of pride the community has resurrected.  The pride was always there but now it is outwardly visible – people have their chin up and heads held high.  You can feel that,” said Loving.

Fantasy Aisle, Car that drove John F. Kennedy's when he was shot. On view at the Henry Ford Museum

Car that drove John F. Kennedy’s when he was shot. On view at the Henry Ford Museum

While it’s not located in downtown Detroit, a visit to the Ford Rouge Factory and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn about a 15-minute drive from the city is highly recommended. My maternal grandfather was one of 8,500 students who graduated from the Henry Ford Trade School in the 1930s and I’ve always maintained an affinity for the car industry, which provided a source of income for relatives on both sides of my family. The Museum highlights stories of American innovation, trailblazers and explorers with plenty of educational exhibits for everyone. I particularly enjoyed the Presidential Motorcade and the Civil Rights and suffragist displays.

Fantasy Aisle, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Founder of Detroit in 1701 for the French

Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Founder of Detroit in 1701 for the French

My trip to Detroit sparked many inexplicable emotions in me. As I gazed at the Ambassador Bridge in the distance, or posed with a statue of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac with the GM building in the background, I relived the stories my grandparents used to tell me. I didn’t walk in their exact steps but they were present. I celebrated their history and their sacrifices and triumphs. They would be beaming with anticipation of what is to come for Detroit.

When I told my 95-year-old Great Aunt (my only family member living from her generation) about my experience, I asked her if she missed Detroit, she responded, “I would be very pleased to go back and see.”

Fantasy Aisle, Ambassador Bridge of Detroit River connecting Detroit, USA to Windsor, Canada

Ambassador Bridge of Detroit River connecting Detroit, USA to Windsor, Canada

Activities of Interest

Browse Monet or visit with an Egyptian Mummy at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum

Watch a game or concert at Little Caesars Arena, Comerica Park, Ford Field

Hang out with friends at one of the many sports bars

Gamble with some fun money or sample a taste of Tzaziki in Greektown

Take in some exercise or fun in the sun on the RiverWalk

Fantasy Aisle, An art deco building in the heart of Detroit, Center for the performing arts

An art deco building in the heart of Detroit, Center for the performing arts

See a production at the Fox Theatre

Eat eat eat and then shop shop shop at Eastern Market

Sing the hits of yesterday at the Motown Museum

Spend a day exploring Belle Isle located in the middle of the Detroit River (off limits for many years)

Set sail on the Detroit Princess Riverboat

Eat and explore the Mexican history in Detroit at Mexicantown (SW Detroit)

Get out of Town
Visit the Ford Rouge Factor for a Tour

Take in history at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village

Local Restaurant Recommendations
(Note: I ate at Apparatus and Townhouse.  Local and foodie Rhiannah Luedeke provided her favorites)

Apparatus in the Detroit Fountain Hotel – Upscale, trendy dining experience.  Great halibut and strong wine list

Wright & Company -Try the craft cocktails and the Burrata Toast and Seared Bay Scallops

Fantasy Aisle, Best Burger Ever at Townhouse in Detroit, Michigan

Best Burger Ever at Townhouse in Detroit, Michigan

Townhouse – Quite possibly the best Hamburger on the planet.  For small plates, don’t miss the Cauliflower and Truffle Fries

Craft Work – Try the Ratatouille and Fried Chicken.  Fun hipster vibe in a casual atmosphere

Tokai (Formerly Katoi) -Menu changes frequently but notable dishes include the Ox Tail, Spare Ribs and Cauliflower

Vincentes – Located off a hidden alley with artistic graffiti and little bars  Try the Mejillones Al Citrico and Cuban Style Paella.  Stay for the salsa dancing which starts around 10 PM or 11 PM

la Dolche Vita – Hidden gem.  In summer, enjoy a beautiful garden with a string quartet. Who needs Italy?

Huron Room

El Barzone – A mix of Italian and Mexican food. Owner is Mexican and studied fine Italian in NYC before coming to Detroit

Parc

Green Dot Stables – Creative sliders

Selden Standard – Beef Tartar won’t disappoint

For more ideas, check out Detroit Eater

Where to Stay?

Detroit Fountain Hotel – a boutique hotel converted from a former firehouse.  Great location

Fantasy Aisle, Detroit Foundation Hotel, a former firehouse now boutique hotel

Detroit Foundation Hotel, a former firehouse now boutique hotel

Westin Book Cadillac Downtown

Greektown Hotel and Casino (dated)

Atheneum Suites Hotel (dated)

For more information…

To read more about Detroit’s Comeback:

Americas Comeback City – The Rebirth of Detroit – Forbes

Taking Back Detroit – National Geographic

On the Detroit Riots:

Detroit (based on the July 1967 riots)

History of Detroit Riots

“Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies” — Edited by Joel Stone
(Wayne State University Press)

“The Detroit Riot of 1967” — Hubert G. Locke
(Wayne State University Press)


Culture, Destinations, North America, Travel Tips

A Day in the Park

October 26, 2017 • By

I’ve lived in New York City the greater part of 16 years and I never tire walking through Central Park. It’s my favorite spot to seek solace and tranquility in an otherwise hectic environment.

Fantasy Aisle, Central Park, the heart of New York City

Central Park, the heart of New York City

A few weeks ago with summer bleeding into fall, I explored the park as if it was my first time. I entered 72nd Street on the east side (off limits to cars on weekends) and joined the hoards of runners and bicyclists moving uptown along their respective paths. It was hot and humid and I admired the fitness levels of those zipping past me. People dressed in sponsored training attire, fathers and mothers pushing strollers, friends talking to friends and others like me making the most of a morning in the park.

Fantasy Aisle, Early morning runners and walkers

Early morning runners and walkers

The falling leaves signal the change in seasons as shady areas succumb to open patches of golden yellow and blazing red. The squirrels don’t mind because this is their territory and they out number people. They move quickly popping in and out of pathways diving into the leaves–they are not shy.

I venture off the crowded pathway into the “Ramble” where winding walkways lead to a man-made forest within a city. The sounds of fire engines and traffic disappear and I weave around huffing and puffing in silence until I spy a couple kissing passionately. I startle them. How long have they been hiding? This is the perfect place to seek shade, read a book, grab a pair of binoculars and bird watch. I hesitate but then continue with my goal to make the 6.02-mile loop around the park.

Next, I take in an adult soccer game on the Great Lawn. They see me lurking and put on a good performance before I find myself zig-zagging on another walkway to reach the Shuman Running Path bordering the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The direction for runners and walkers remains unchanged year after year and I make a mental note to voice my opinion.

Fantasy Aisle, The pesky Central Park squirrel

The pesky Central Park squirrel

At the north end of the reservoir, the city skyline comes into view. There is a slight fog obscuring the tallest skyscrapers but it provides a simple backdrop to the simplicity of the calming water and the fall foliage. I walk half of the 1.58 mile-loop and exit to a bridge I’ve crossed a hundred times. It’s an antique straight out of the chalk drawing in the “Mary Poppins” Jolly Holiday scene.

Fantasy Aisle, Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

Gothic bridge, connecting the Reservoir to the Tennis Courts at 94th Street

I take a quick bathroom break at the tennis courts and watch a match in progress. The courts both clay and hard are filled with people of all ages and levels. If only I brought my racquet, I could practice my serve.

My feet ache for a timeout but I push myself through the Conservatory Garden. A beckoning bench reads, “Take time to sit and smell the flowers,” useful and timely advice.

Fantasy Aisle, Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Conservatory Garden located on the Upper East Side of the park

Now on the West Side of the park and the sun bearing down on me, I wipe my sweat and duck into the North Meadow walking briskly to Belvedere Castle and the Shakespeare Garden. The tourists are awake and occupy the castle’s landing with cameras and tripods. I check to make sure the turtles are still roaming freely at Turtle Pond and remember my first performance of “Much Ado About Nothing” during the 2014 season of Shakespeare in the Park.

Fantasy Aisle, Empty swings await

Empty swings await

Fatigue sets in and I’m counting the 40+ blocks I need to finish the 6.02-mile loop. The joy has vanished from my face and my walk transformed from a leisurely activity into a mission of sorts. I notice a woman on a swing and move to take her picture but pause. We exchange pleasantries and I admit I haven’t sat on a swing in ages. She tells me to give it a try and I do. I’m kicking my legs faster and faster and soaring into the air. We swing together but not in unison. She is in her 60s I guess and loves the park for the swings. She stops, waves and bids me a good day. I let my hair blow in the wind and push higher and higher until I am scared and slow my pace. A child inhabited my body and I jump off the swing making a skittish landing on the sand. I recover. That was fun.

Fantasy Aisle, A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

A beautiful bride poses at Bethesda Terrace and Fountain (lower passage) in Central Park

Central Park serves as an open-air museum and events center to New Yorkers and its guests. There is something for everyone whether it’s catching rays of sun in Sheep Meadow, paddling a rowboat on the pond near the Loeb Boat House, pledging wedding vows at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain or listening to the talented musicians scattered along Literary Walk, a day in the park is only the beginning.

When I bought a park map from Karina, a 24-year-old student from the Bronx, I asked her what she enjoyed most about the park and she answered, “Literary Walkduh. I finished my adventure along the Mall admiring the statues of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott and talking with Shayneh Starks, a native of Newport Beach, CA who has been visiting Central Park for the last 20 some years. She sits and listens to the magical music of Ralph U. Williams who is a talent on the saxophone. We discuss her first visit to the park with her mother when she was 21-years-old and I tell her I love zooming around the park on my bike but early on weekends before the tourists arrive. I ask her what she likes most.  She pauses and with passion and a smile answers, “The best part of Central Park is the fireflies.”

Fantasy Aisle, The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

The Mall and Literary Walk, a favorite of many in Central Park

I agree. I thank Shayneh for the conversation and hunt for an empty bench in front of Kerbs Boathouse. The next few hours I bask in the sun reading my book and forgetting I live in a city with 8.5 million people.

My Favorite Spots in Central Park

The Pond at sunrise.  Take in the view of the Gapstow Bridge and a glimpse of the city’s skyline

 

Sip a coffee or a grab a drink at Kerbs Boathouse/Conservatory Water

Walk/Run the 1.58 mile loop around the Reservoir

Fancy a game of tennis?

Camp out all night for free tickets to Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater (I usually cheat and become a member of the public theater)

Take a break at Strawberry Fields and listen to the Beatles greatest hits played by visiting musicians

Enjoy paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse

Read a book and fall asleep in Sheep Meadow

Enjoy an outdoor lunch at Tavern on the Green

Let someone else do the driving on a romantic Horse Carriage Ride through the park

Breathe in the sounds and sights of Literary Walk/the Mall

Catch a free movie night in the Park

Plan for a Concert in the Park

Snap pictures of the Boathouse and people getting married at the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain

Fun for kids and parents

Make some figure eights at the Wollman Rink

Get dizzy on the Carousel

Pet an animal or two at the Tisch Children’s Zoo

Go paddle boating at the Loeb Boathouse and take in city views