A Tale of Two Cities

This is the house I purchased in the Islandview section of Detroit.

It’s about 600 miles and a 14-hour drive from Red Hook, the neighborhood in Brooklyn I’ve called home for the past 9 years, and Detroit, Michigan, a city I know very little about even though many of my family settled there half a century ago. They aren’t worlds apart geographically but there is more than distance separating these two places. One place is less than a mile from the financial center of the world, while the other has been rated the second poorest city in the country. Considering the vastly different economic realities experienced by those who live in each location, the gap appears to widen significantly. The fundamental differences between these two places makes more bizarre that some series of synchronous circumstances have brought me into my current relationship with the Motor City.

It happened rather quickly as life changing moments are likely to occur. I wasn’t aware of the significance of each point of the process. I hadn’t felt the need to log each entry and therefore the chronology escapes me. It may be that key segments have been excluded, perhaps forgotten, their impact never to be understood. My dear friend and cohort Monica sends me an article on Corktown, an area of Detroit experiencing a revival. There’s a random conversation with my friend Tina, who is from Detroit, about how much she idolized Grace Lee Boggs, the renowned activist. Shortly thereafter I unexpectedly meet Grace Lee Boggs and heard her speak about the social transformation taking place in Detroit. I finally make a visit to the city for what might as well have been the first time.

What I knew of Detroit I knew comparatively. It had been named one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the world. In fact it was in the top five. It was a city to be avoided as one is warned to avoid the border towns of Mexico. Since 2000, Detroit has seen a decline in population of over 200,000 people. According to some, Detroit is a wasteland of ruins–so much so that it has spawned a cottage industry known as “ruin porn.” Detroit should have been the last place on earth where I should have been considering buying a home. Which, I suppose, makes it that much more preposterous that I laid out cold hard cash to purchase the burned out shell in Islandview that is for all intents and purposes my future home. I suppose I should also mention I’ve spent a total of 12 weeks in Mexico over the past few years.

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