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Not giving up - Detroit

07 March 2011

Okay so what do you know about Detroit? Here's my list:

Motown - the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder .....

Henry Ford, and Cars

Black people


White flight


Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

My friend Eva's niece Ruthie living there in a Jewish suburb with her four daughters and her Rabbi husband

Suited for Work run by the glamorous Allison (ex-air hostess) and her equally elegant mother who I've met at The Women's Alliance Conferences.

Not bad. Most people in the USA wouldn't be able to write that much stuff about Melbourne - probably they'd know nothing and think we had the Olympics there a coupla years ago.

Here's the worst thing I've ever heard about Detroit. The Detroit City Water Department was cutting off water from homes where people weren't paying their water bills. Then the Detroit City Social Services Department took away kids from families who lived in houses where there was no water. Crazy? For the kids, for the families, for the stupid City where it's costing them much more to keep those kids in care. People say euphemistically \"there are problems with Detroit City Government\". Methinks this is code for totally stuffed and corrupt.

So I do not go with an entirely open mind. Detroit turns out to be full of surprises.

Like, it's the Arab capital of the USA with more than 300,000 people from different parts of the Arab world. And it's just a short swim across the river to Canada. Even I could do it. And people have. Before the Civil War this was a major station of the Underground Railway smuggling slaves to freedom in Canada.

\"Welcome to Detroit, The Renaissance City Founded 1701.\" Another surprise - it's a French name. Obvious once you look at it and ignore the pronunciation.

If you want further depressing statistics there are plenty. After three decades of crime, drug addiction, and corrupt government, 40% of Detroit's residents live below the poverty level, the worst among large U.S. cities. Officially, Detroit's unemployment rate is just under 30 percent but the actual jobless rate is closer to 50 percent because so many have given up looking for work altogether.

Twenty to 30 percent of housing lots are vacant and 10% to 20% of the city's houses are vacant. No wonder you can buy a house for $100.

But there is more to Renaissance in Detroit than a marketing buzzword. They just keep on keeping on, remaking the place. Where some people saw abandoned land, others saw food and community.

And these activists are turning Motown into Growtown. The need was certainly there with only two supermarkets in the entire City. There are now 800 registered urban gardens. More and more empty lots are being transformed into productive gardens to feed people, develop skills and foster a sense of community.

In other areas young artists are buying up and renovating those $100 abandoned houses.

Detroit is alive and kicking - reclaiming land and dignity. Go Detroit!

More about the gardens:

And the artists: