Inquiring minds want to know. Why are you buying a house in Detroit? Some are mildly curious, some are intrigued, some are scornful. It’s the first question out of the mouths of most people we run into these days — those who’ve followed our house hunt and Detroit explorations on Facebook, anyway. And the question usually comes at a party or gathering where I have a few moments at best to answer them.
I wrangle words for a living, but I find it flat impossible to convey in any real way what it is that draws us to Detroit. Not only is it too much to distill into a soundbite, but it’s complicated. Not least because it’s only financially feasible for us because of the economic devastation that’s fallen on others. Yes, houses are cheap. But this isn’t a clearance sale at Filene’s Bargain Basement. This a city chock full of houses where people used to make a a life. And a whole new set of people is pouring in now — I’m conflicted to be among them. Mark Binelli puts it well in Detroit City is The Place to Be:
So I joined the wagon train, alongside the hustlers and the do-gooders, the preachers and the criminals, the big dreamers looking to make names for themselves and the heavily armed zealots awaiting the end of the world. They — we! — came like pilgrims, to witness, to profit from, to somehow influence the story of the century. It might very well turn out to be the story of the last century, the death rattle of the twentieth-century definition of the American Dream. But there could also be another story emerging, the story of the first great postindustrial city of our new century. Who knows? Crazier things have happened in Detroit.
Where do we fall in there with our own dreams? And which dream is driving us? I want to witness the story, yes. What about profit? I want to not lose everything (a cheap house still costs a lot to maintain) so even if we run a moderately successful airbnb rental, profit is a ghost of a dream at this point. Does that leave me a hustler or a do-gooder? I don’t know — I just want people to come to Detroit. I want all our friends and family to come up and stay in our house and see what I see.
As for what I see — that’s what I have such a hard time explaining in the midst of a bustling bar. It’s what I’ll spend thousands of words and many months (hopefully longer) working out for myself here on this blog. Detroit is like nowhere I’ve ever been. But that can’t be all. It’s also the spirit of the people who haven’t fled that humbles me and the creativity of the people on the wagon train rolling in that inspires me. I want a little of both for myself. It’s the possibility and the reality. I don’t want to just read about what’s happening in Detroit, and I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I want to be part of it. So until I figure out how to answer ‘why’ in 140 characters or less, from now on my answer to why? is the phrase that kept popping up during our visit last month when were talking late into the night with our airbnb hosts and fellow traveler.
Why? Because Detroit.