|Photo by Ara Howra|
The New York Times
The rooftop party was in full swing when midnight approached on a warm Friday evening. Kerry Doman, 29, founder of an event planning business; Justin Jacobs, 28, head of a citywide recreational sports league, and Ara Howrani, 29, a photographer who runs a commercial studio, knocked back beers, while a group of office friends from a nearby dot-com chatted about the scratch-and-sniff wallpaper in their colorful new headquarters.
In another circle, a group of real estate brokers excitedly discussed the renovation of a 1920s office tower called the Broderick into a 127-unit apartment building with a restaurant, lounge and retail stores.
“I want the penthouse,” Jeffrey Hillman, 37, said jokingly as he pointed to the building’s ornate Baroque-style top in the distance. “I’ll fight you for it,” retorted Hank Winchester, 37, a local TV reporter.
The scene might have been run of the mill in Seattle or Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or other urban enclaves that draw the young, the entrepreneurial and the hip. But this was downtown Detroit, far better known in recent years for crime, blight and economic decline.
Recent census figures show that Detroit’s overall population shrank by 25 percent in the last 10 years. But another figure tells a different and more intriguing story: During the same time period, downtown Detroit experienced a 59 percent increase in the number of college-educated residents under the age of 35, nearly 30 percent more than two-thirds of the nation’s 51 largest cities.
These days the word “movement” is often heard to describe the influx of socially aware hipsters and artists now roaming the streets of Detroit. Not unlike Berlin, which was revitalized in the 1990s by young artists migrating there for the cheap studio space, Detroit may have this new generation of what city leaders are calling “creatives” to thank if it comes through its transition from a one-industry.
With these new residents have come the trappings of a thriving youth culture: trendy bars and restaurants that have brought pedestrians back to once-empty streets. Places like the Grand Trunk pub, Raw Cafe, Le Petit Zinc and Avalon Bakery mingle with shops with names like City Bird, Sole Sisters and the Bureau of Urban Living.
Those familiar with past neighborhoods-of-the-moment recognize the mood. “It feels like TriBeCa back in the early days, before double strollers, sidewalk cafes and Whole Foods,” said Amy Moore, 50, a film producer working on three Detroit projects. “There is a buzz here that is real, and the kids drip with talent and commitment, and aren’t spoiled.”
The rooftop party was hosted by a group called Move Detroit 11/11/11, started with the aim of getting 1,100 new people to move to Detroit by November.
“The Broderick project is huge because, believe it or not, there is not enough housing in the greater downtown area for all the young people moving to Detroit,” said Kevin Wobbe, 37, a founder of the group.
Kendyll Myles, 24, is one example of a new arrival. “I am mentoring young schoolgirls after work, modeling for a new fashion design company, and if I wanted, could be out every night at a different launch party or cultural event,” she said.
After finishing her master’s degree in public health last year, Ms. Myles had job offers from hospitals all over the country, including in Washington. Her family urged her to go anywhere but Detroit. “They thought I would be robbed and shot here,” she said.
But when she saw IAmYoungDetroit.com, a Web site profiling residents under age 40, she decided Detroit was the city for her. Those featured on the site (which she found after typing into Google “anything positive about Detroit?”) included Emily Doerr, 26, an M.B.A. candidate who recently opened Hostel Detroit, where guests pay as little as $18 a night for a bed; and Sean Gray, 29, who reimaged a British slogan, “Keep calm and carry on,” into posters and T-shirts for Detroiters. The site’s publisher, Margarita Barry, 26, this month will open “71 POP,” a retail gallery showcasing the work of 71 emerging artists and designers on the ground floor of a previously abandoned building that now has 30 environmentally friendly lofts and artists’ studios. (Rents start at $710 a month.)
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