|Laura McDermott for The New York Times|
The traveler’s brain is programmed to recognize arrival in a major city using certain previously identified patterns: dense settlement, heavy traffic, pedestrian bustle.
Detroit does not compute, at least at first. Long-known associations (auto industry, Motown, cherished sports franchises) give way to first impressions: vast stretches of empty lots, surreal semi-ruins, traffic so shockingly light that streets of the Motor City might as well be one big bike lane.
But upon exploration, signs of the recent Detroit revival emerge — artists snapping up foreclosed homes, a thriving culinary scene, major housing developments, the oft-praised RiverWalk with views across to Windsor, Ontario (to the south, just to throw the brain an added twist). And more than anything, energetic mini-neighborhoods vibrant with commercial, creative and civic activity. It’s not just the houses that are inexpensive but, with some exceptions, the city as a whole. I was impressed, and sometimes shocked ($3 local IPAs!) by the low cost of a visit — if you avoid the fancier new spots serving $4.50 coffees, that is.
That revival, and its budget-friendly status, have made Detroit an attraction for more than just domestic tourists.
“Everyone in Berlin wants to visit Detroit,” said Leen, an Englishwoman who lives in Berlin whom I met on the RiverWalk, during one of several free tours given by Detroit Experience Factory. (They are a good introduction to the city.) She noted that Detroit was the birthplace of techno, and Berlin was where it grew up. There’s another parallel, of course: A few decades ago parts of Berlin, too, emptied out, and the vacuum was filled with a brand of young people not entirely unlike those coming into Detroit today.
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