More Love From the NYT: Imagining Detroit

Mark Bittman
New York Times

Detroit was once called the Paris of the West, but at this point it’s more reminiscent of Venice. Like Venice, its demise has been imminent for some time, as crucial businesses and huge chunks of the population flee.

And, like Venice, it has a singular look. Not everyone will find Detroit beautiful, but with its wide, often empty boulevards, its abandoned, ghost-like train station and high-rises, its semi-deserted neighborhoods and its once-celebrated downtown now jumbled by shuttered storefronts — and the hideous Renaissance Center — it creates a sense of disbelief bordering on fantasy. It’s either a vision of the future or, like Venice, an impossibly strange anomaly, its best days over.

But after spending some time here, I saw an alternative view of Detroit: a model for self-reliance and growth. Because while the lifeblood of Venice comes from outsiders, Detroit residents are looking within. They’d welcome help, but they’re not counting on it. Rather, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, they’re turning from seeing things as they are and asking, “Why?” to dreaming how they might be and wondering, “Why not?”

Food is central. Justice, security, a sense of community, and more intelligent land use have become integral to the food system. Here, local food isn’t just hip, it’s a unifying factor not only among African-Americans and whites but between them. Food is an issue on which it seems everyone can agree, and this is a lesson for all of us.

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