September 20, 2012

Detroit and Ann Arbor

After a relaxing few days on the Lake Michigan shoreline, we drove inland, crossed the state of Michigan and found an RV park in the Ann Arbor outskirts. We were 40 minutes outside of Detroit and that was just fine with us.

The first night we drove into Ann Arbor to visit the University of Michigan campus and to walk the city itself. Ann Arbor did not disappoint. The town of just over 110,000 people was large enough to feel metropolitan, yet small enough to feel quaint. Ann Arbor had a feeling of old wealth to it, which was not surprising after the upscale communities we'd discovered on the western side of the state.The UM campus was bustling with student life when we walked through on the Diag, a diagonal sidewalk that crosses the campus. Ann Arbor itself was surprisingly busy for a Tuesday afternoon, and we saw lots of folks enjoying after work cocktails on outdoor patios on Main street.

Walking on the Diag on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor
Walking on the Diag on the University of Michigan campus 
Walking on the Diag on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor
On the UofM campus
Walking around downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
Walking around Ann Arbor
Walking around downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
Main street in Ann Arbor
Walking around downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
Walking around Ann Arbor
The following morning we had planned to go into Detroit, but we woke up to rain. That morning really reminded me of all the days I'd woken up to go to work on a rainy morning and wished I could just stay in bed and cuddle under the covers. That realization that we didn't have to go to work, we could stay home and do exactly what we wanted, really brought home for me once again just how lucky we are to have this opportunity. Instead of staying home though, we ate a long hot breakfast and then put on our raincoats and went hiking at a local park, the North Bay Park.

Walking on the boardwalk in North Bay Park near Ann Arbor, Michigan
Walking the boardwalk in North Bay Park
The weather improved by the next day, so we set out early to drive into Detroit. Detroit, sometimes called Motown or Motor City, lies on the eastern edge of the state of Michigan, and is across the Detroit River from Windsor, Ontario (Canada). The city's riverfront is known as the International Riverfront for this reason. Here is an interesting trivia fact about Detroit: it is the only city in the US where you have to drive South to get to Canada!

Tunnel to Canada sign in downtown Detroit, Michigan
The tunnel to Canada from Detroit
The city's economy is closely tied to the automotive industry, and the latest economic depression has really hit the city hard. Detroit was once a bustling center, the fifth largest city in the US. In the last decade the city population dropped by 25%, and by almost 60% since its heyday in the 1950s. There is a startling amount of vacant and abandoned buildings and skyscrapers in downtown. One of the buildings we saw with a "For Lease/Sale" sign out front was the type of building you would imagine housing the central library or the county courthouse, and it was right in the middle of downtown. While walking along the riverfront we saw numerous of forgotten factory buildings, now standing with broken windows and graffiti.

Building for sale in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Building for lease/sale in downtown Detroit
Vacant building in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Abandoned factory on the Riverwalk
Vacant building in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Views on the Riverwalk
Vacant building in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Long forgotten buildings
Abandoned condominium project in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Abandoned plans for a condo building on the Riverwalk
The downtown skyline is dominated by the Renaissance Center, a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers right on the riverfront. The world headquarters of General Motors is housed in this center. The central tower, the Marriott, is the tallest all-hotel skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, and is also the tallest building in Michigan. The center offers free tours of its interesting interior, so we joined in and learned quite a lot about the city and General Motors. The tour guide was quite optimistic about Detroit during the whole tour, but finished with "Please say nice things about Detroit!", which really reminded us about the sad state of the city's decline.

View of downtown Detroit, Michigan from Belle Isle
Detroit downtown view from Belle Isle
Inside the Renaissance Center atrium in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Inside the Renaissance Center
Inside the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan
GM cars on display in the Renaissance Center 
Inside the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Inside the Renaissance Center
Borealis Statue inside the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, Michigan
The Borealis Statue in the Renaissance Center
There is a beautiful city park located on Belle Isle, right in the middle of the Detroit River between the US and Canada. This park was designed by the same park architect who designed Central Park in New York City. Walking around this park we could really appreciate how beautiful it must have once been. We visited the Whitcomb Conservatory and botanical gardens and saw the now closed Detroit Aquarium. As we drove around the park we saw so many sad signs of under-funding. All of the public bathroom doors were welded shut. The James Scott Memorial Fountain stood quiet. The steps leading up to many of the statues had grass growing through the cracks. Seeing these signs of neglect made me really appreciate the amount of money and time that goes into upkeep of public amenities and attractions.

Whitcomb conservatory on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan
Whitcomb Conservatory
Inside the Whitcomb conservatory on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan
Inside the Whitcomb Conservatory
The aquarium on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan
Closed Aquarium
Nancy Brown Peace Carillon on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan
Grass growing on the steps of the Nancy Brown  Peace Carillon 
James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan
Dry James Scott Memorial Fountain
On our way out of the city we stopped by Detroit's Central Station. This grand building has stood empty for almost 30 years, and has been on the verge of demolition several times. At the time of its construction it was the tallest rail station in the world. Now this looming structure stands surrounded by a 10 foot wire fence in the middle of an overgrown grass field. If there is one part of Detroit that really symbolizes its descent, this would be it.

Grand Central Station in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Detroit's Grand Central Station
Grand Central Station in downtown Detroit, Michigan
Grand Central Station up close
We were really apprehensive about going into the Nation's 2nd most dangerous city (second to Flint Michigan). We spent 6 hours walking around downtown and probably walked just over 6 miles. What I found was that the city didn't feel any more dangerous that the other larger cities we'd been to. At the end of the day all I felt was just sadness. Here was a captivating city full of fascinating buildings and a beautiful park, just waiting to regain life. I saw so much potential in Detroit, so many parts that could be brought back to their glory. What I also saw was the lack of collective initiative and ability to do so. I think this was the saddest part of all.

The Detroit Fist statue in downtown Detroit, Michigan
The Detroit Fist
To see more pictures of Detroit, click here. To see more pictures of Ann Arbor, click here.

Happy hopes for future revival,

M.

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1 comment:

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