Two weeks ago, I decided to take a small trip to see a concert at the famous Madison Square Garden, and to experience the hustle and bustle of New York City at the peak of the holiday shopping season. Needless to say, it was quite the experience, from the busy streets of Soho to the bustling cafes of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Along the way I met many fascinating people, some with Detroit roots and some who’ve never even ventured within 100 miles of Detroit. But what these two groups had in common was a curiosity about a city that’s on the brink of becoming the largest municipality in the history of United States to declare bankruptcy – something New Yorkers themselves experienced at one time. Yes, it’s true; New York wasn’t always the great city it is today. No sir; at one point New York City was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, a city plagued with high unemployment, crime and high drug usage. Times Square was littered with garbage, XXX theaters and blight, and now it’s the landmark of New York’s tourist economy. After years of an uncertain future, New York City reestablished itself as one of the most expensive and visited cities in the world.
So why does NYC care so much about Detroit? Well, they know our pain. But what was most interesting to me is that out of the handful of people who I told I was from Detroit, not one mentioned the bankruptcy to me. Nobody asked whether it’s true that a majority of the streetlights don’t work or if the average response rate for police is really 30 minutes to an hour. But instead, I was asked questions like, “Is it true that the downtown area is once again attracting young people to live, work and play?” Or, “Is it true that there’s a parking structure being built that houses the work of some of the world’s most famous street and graffiti artists?”
At that point, a sense of pride took over. There, people weren’t interested or intrigued because Detroit was about to go bankrupt. Instead, they wanted to hear the positive; the stories that rarely get talked about. Brands like Shinola and Carhartt, who also have flagship stores in New York, wisely brand their companies “Detroit Made” because they know Detroit is marketable, and people enjoy a good, quality, American-made item (see above picture). Even at the opening I went to, AJ Fosik’s “Against the Infinite,” there was a sense of Detroit in the room. A working-class Detroit artist who’s created some of the most intricate wooden sculptures, has drawn Instagrammers like crazy! And he’s an artist who never shies away from telling someone he is from Detroit.
As I made the 10-hour trek home, I couldn’t wait to share my stories and give hope to the many people I engage with on a day-to-day basis. To their dismay, I told them that New York was once there. And if New York can rise from the brink of near-bankruptcy to the city it is today, then I believe it’s possible. While it’s sometimes hard to compare Detroit to New York, especially with all that New York has to offer, there are a few things Detroit has that NYC doesn’t: grit, determination and most importantly, pride.