Destination Information - Detroit, Michigan, USA
Visitors to Detroit are often led to expect a sprawling industrial centre blighted by urban decay and crime yet surrounded by lavish suburbs. This is a biased vision of Detroit, the product of media exaggeration. While it is true that the Downtown core for a long time has not been as vibrant as perhaps it could be, new investments are starting to benefit the area, and Detroit as a whole possesses a thriving culture and economy. After all, it is still the 10th largest city in the United States and the automotive capital of the world.
Founded next to a narrow strait (d’etroit), in 1701, by the French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Detroit is the oldest city in the Midwest. It began life as a trading post and by 1800 had not significantly outgrown this identity. All of this changed, however, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. Automobile empires were established by families like Ford, Olds, Chevrolet and Dodge – names which to this day remain as some of the nation’s top brands. The advent of the assembly line cemented Detroit’s grandeur and importance as the automobile capital of America.
While car culture may be what the city is best known for, the ‘Mo(tor)town’s’ contribution to American music takes a close second. The Motown label was begun in Detroit in the late 1950s and went on to define an entire new genre of black music, with artists such as The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. More recently, Detroit has again influenced the world of popular dance music with its development of techno, the hard-edged sound that has greatly influenced club culture in the last decade.
Unfortunately, Detroit’s history is not entirely one of industrial expansion and cultural development. Its industrial strength led to the development of vast ghettos of workers and a neglected Downtown. Tensions finally came to a head in the summer of 1967 when the United States witnessed its bloodiest civil unrest in half a century. Forty people perished and over a thousand buildings were razed; yet even this did not serve to call attention to the city’s problems – it only accelerated flight to the suburbs.
More recently, along with its near neighbours Cleveland and Chicago, Detroit is experiencing something of a renaissance. Its reputation for violence is at least 10 years out of date, and wealthier residents of the suburbs are once again returning to the city at night to enjoy ice hockey games during its chilly winters or to relax outdoors during its warm summers. The city’s culture continues to flourish with a lively classical music scene, theatre community, vibrant nightclubs and one of the best art galleries in the country.
The city’s confidence in its Downtown has been demonstrated by the construction of two new sports stadiums – Comerica Park, new home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team, and Ford Field, home to the Detroit Lions football team.