A driving tour of the two Detroits
A city of 138 square miles with enough land mass to hold several other major cities within its boundaries.
From blight and burned out homes—to the very best neighborhoods—Bill McGraw has seen it all in his over 40 years of reporting in Detroit.
In 2007, McGraw drove every street in Detroit for a Detroit Free Press series entitled Driving Detroit.
Now, 6 years later, McGraw runs the website “Deadline Detroit”. He agreed to ride with us, revisiting some of those streets.
We started from downtown near his office in the Compuware Building and headed west on Michigan Avenue.
McGraw noted, “This was mostly, except for Slows, vacant when I drove through Detroit in 2007 and now every single space has something in it, something vibrant.”
And as we continued to drive: “There we go with the symbol of Detroit’s decline, the train station.”
And we continued further west on Michigan, crossing over the freeway. According to McGraw, “We’re in an area that unfortunately looks like the rest of Michigan Avenue for the next 2 or 3 miles until you get past Livernois and to a commercial district near the Dearborn border.”
“There’s a Hispanic church, ” he pointed out, “Strip clubs are one business that hasn’t gone away on Michigan Avenue. There’s four or five between Dearborn and downtown, and I might add, there’s two or three in Dearborn too, so for some reason, Michigan’s like a mini Eight mile when it comes to that.”
Then we got to an area that has improved since 1997, “Again, the further west you get past Livernois the more development there has been. Especially, I think, picking up in the last couple of years as the economy’s gotten a little better.”
But, as McGraw explained, “Despite the fact that there is some commercial activity and traffic and people, there’s a lot of poverty in this neighborhood, just like there’s a lot of poverty in a lot of Detroit neighborhoods.”
During our drive we also ventured into the neighborhoods– for instance, up 23rd Street where McGraw noted, “There’s lots of new residential development, that even in an area that overall, you would have to say is blighted, there’s like, this street, this house here, beautiful flowers that can be in many suburbs of Detroit.”
But, says McGraw, these are neighborhoods on the edge or in decline. Elmer Street certainly fits into that category. “This is a neighborhood that’s really fighting for survival.”
“This is a bit extreme because four or five houses burnt here in a very spectacular fire that as you can see, singed the siding on the houses across the street, but this neighborhood has a lot of abandonment and a lot of fires and that’s what I mean by it’s really struggling. There’s some streets that are very together, that are with beautiful gardens, that are kept up both by new people in the neighborhood and older residents, but overall, this neighborhood has really gone downhill since 2007.”
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