Living in a Changing Detroit

by Kinsey Clarke

I grew up right off East Jefferson.  During my childhood on the East side of the city, I experienced the phenomenon many other 90’s and early 2000’s DPS students will remember as “the whistle/bicycle man” – the man who rode his bike hands-free past elementary, middle, and high schools while blowing on a police whistle regardless of the weather or the season. I remember this man distinctly not only because of his outlandish style and loud whistle, but because he rode his bike on the sidewalk: causing anyone standing about to jump out of his way.  I attended Chrysler Elementary on East Lafayette, and there wasn’t a place for this man to ride his bike without nearly running over any person in his path.  The road was clustered with cars during the daytime, and the sidewalk was full of milling children waiting for the bell to sound. It was a nuisance and an inconvenience for everyone involved. 

Fast forward ten years into the future: on a weekend trip back home from college, I noticed something curious – bike lanes.  They were fresh, and I could tell that their application was recent.  Now a pack of cyclists five deep can traverse the street without much of a hassle to pedestrians or automobiles in contrast to ten years ago when it would not have been an option. Of course, these lanes ran right into the prestigious Indian Village/West Village neighborhoods, which have been undergoing a recent change of face in the past five years.  In addition to the lanes, there’s a new craft beer bar and grill, and a vegan restaurant accompanying it.  None of these additions are bad things by themselves, of course, but the recent demographic shift in the area has been telling: in Indian Village, the bike lane is kept visible by the prominent streetlights.  Five blocks over on East Grand Boulevard, the street sits in complete darkness from Jefferson to Charlevoix. 

This has gotten me thinking: is change only going to happen in the city when the face of the majority has changed?  Will we only see improvements when we’re erased from the very city made famous for the tenacity of its long term residents?  The emergence of the new booming downtown and midtown areas have started renovations and rebuilding that was seemingly sparked by suburban “discovery” of the jewels of the city, and is eerily reminiscent of the gentrification of Brooklyn. While I live in this changing Detroit, I can’t help but wonder if these changes are going to increase and encompass those of us who have been here, or if we too will be left behind.

Posted on February 1, 2015 .