Speramus meliora; resurgent cineribus.
I have asserted, over the past few days, that Detroit is in the midst of a radical transformation. Before this, the operative part of that motto was the first part. “We hope for better things.” Now, the focus is truly on the second half–and there’s a twist to this I’ve just noticed. All of the translations that state that that second part reads “It shall rise from the ashes” are incorrect. It’s plural: THEY shall rise from the ashes. This is so incredibly apt, because it’s the revitalization of hundreds of individual properties, from the huge to the tiny, that are fueling this change.
But it’s one thing to read articles, to look at maps and photos, and make this assertion. It’s another to talk about how this feels. I don’t live in Detroit, but I know how it felt in 1985, and in 2000, and in 2008, and in 2013 and 2014. I couldn’t know this until I went there myself.
And now I know.
Brush Park is not the same place at all. The stretch along Woodward Avenue has been radically remade, with the Little Caesars Arena along the west side and new homes along the east. That arena now collects this tract with Comerica Park and Ford Field to the south. Back behind those lines of new townhouses, Brush Park itself is one massive construction site. There are still windswept empty lots—for now. The few remaining mansions are now mostly either restored or on the way there, and they contrast starkly with the modern style of the new construction. Part of me misses the old dilapidated tumbledown houses in romantic decline, but the energy is absolutely palpable. What’s more, Woodward Avenue itself is no longer a landscape of boarded up storefronts punctuated by liquor stores and wig shops. There are still boarded up buildings, but you sense they won’t be that way much longer. As you cross into downtown, everywhere you see construction. The old Hudson’s site is no longer a gaping hole. The once-vacant skyscrapers are hotels and condos, with restaurants and shops on the ground floor. A new streetcar line runs north. There are people on the streets, and no one seemed to be looking about furtively. Things are happening. A critical mass has been achieved, and the balance has tipped.
And yes, it feels different. This area of the old city felt like a great bejewelled statue that had been smashed. Here and there, a gem still gleamed, but it was ruined. Beyond all hope. The new Detroit acknowledges that. Those gems that can be saved have been honoured, cherished, but a new setting was needed.
Dare I say it? This place feels fun. Still rough around the edges, still shabby, but proud of its past, proud of what it had been, about what it has survived, and where it is going.
Now all we need is for the Red Wings to rise again as well. We have seen those better days, and we hope for them again. Resurgent cineribus.