I’m midtown with A., a friend from high school I haven’t seen or talked to in five years. He went to med school at Wayne State and hasn’t been back in Detroit himself in a good while. We walk around after lunch and A. points out the new shops and restaurants. Where he used to live, go for class. That’s new. This wasn’t here before. It looks like they’re building lofts. That brown apartment building shut down six months after he moved out; someone living at the top was suicidal and set fire to the entire floor. It’s clear, sunny, there are stacks of pipes and striped orange barrels up and down Woodward; the light rail scheduled for completion in 2017.
We walk into Shinola, which is what comes out when you throw buy-make-local into a blender along with pride in a city and nostalgia for the heyday of American craftsmanship. But my metaphor is too crude for the store itself: made-in-Detroit luxury watches, beautiful bicycles, leather goods, well-lit, serves coffee, on a half block that would feel at home in Soho or the Meatpacking District (it’s pronounced Shine-ola).
I have yet to stop making comparisons to New York.
The neighborhood’s really changed, A. says. I have heard others say the same both here and in Brooklyn. Though in Detroit the words seem to be spoken with a more neutral affect, or maybe cautious optimism, or maybe something more complex, conflicting, like what one feels upon seeing their kid grow up too fast.
Not that fast, though, and maybe that’s New York talking again. I’m not used to how empty the streets are. I tell my friend this and he says It’s a lot busier than when he was here. You’d walk down these same blocks and see maybe two people.
I feel my frames of reference shifting. Or at least new ones being erected alongside. But right now, one week in, I am still pleasantly surprised to find street parking.