When I tell people I'm a native Chicagoan living in Detroit, the response usually is, "Why?" And that's coming from the Detroit natives.
The short answer is: I love it.
I've moved to the Motor City not once but twice. In 2004, I was hired at The Detroit News. After a brief stint working for RedEye, I moved back to the D (that's Detroit, for the uninitiated) in 2009 after joining AmeriCorps.
I have met some of my closest friends here. I have been inspired to pursue a new career after working in AmeriCorps' cooking-based nutrition education program Cooking Matters. Even though I was born and raised in Chicago (the North Side, not Hoffmann Estates), a huge part of my adulthood has been spent, nurtured and formed in Detroit.
So after I saw Forbes' "most miserable city" story taking aim at everyone's favorite scapegoat, I shrugged it off. But when I read the RedEye column titled "Even Detroit knows that Detroit sucks," written by a native Detroiter, I took umbrage—especially to the statement that we have nothing.
I guess music (Motown, Eminem, White Stripes, techno) is nothing. Or cultural institutions such as the renowned Detroit Institute of the Arts. Or top restaurants that lure foodies in from all over the country. Or cars. What a useless contribution to society.
My experience with AmeriCorps opened my eyes to the spirit of Detroit. What surrounded me was not misery but the opposite: families empowered to help nourish their loved ones; passionate co-workers dedicated to these families; and the activism among community-based groups working toward affecting change in Detroit.
Detroit is again at the forefront of a new movement: a more sustainable food system that can address issues of food access and provide residents with fresh, nutritious food. The urban farming systems being pioneered here could serve as a model for the rest of the country, where there are more than 50 million food-insecure Americans. Out of those 50 million are more than 16 million kids going hungry. Detroit can be and is part of the solution to this problem.
Another example of the thriving food community can be seen in the photo that runs with this column (and with the column that inspired this one). Just a few years ago, no one wanted to be in Corktown. But after one guy with an idea to open a barbecue restaurant in the shadow of the Michigan Central Depot (you know what it is; you've seen it in all the ruin porn), the neighborhood was revitalized. It is now home to a craft cocktail bar that surpasses Chicago's finest, a coffee shop that is always packed with people working on the next great idea and many residents who have moved into this flourishing community. There are other neighborhoods seeing the same kind of revival, such as Midtown, where a Whole Foods is opening in June.
I am not blind to the fact that Detroit is in a financial emergency. You can fit Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco into its total square mileage, and yet many parts of the city are abandoned. Corruption has brought down the city (and if you think the corruption here is bad, I have one word for you: Blagojevich).
There are many complex problems contributing to Detroit's decline, but as someone who moved here, I believe a huge factor is because many people abandoned their city. But the hallmark of Detroit is its spirit of innovation, and there are many here who still carry that tradition.
If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Here, you are a big fish in a little pond, faced with incredible opportunity to have major impact. The potential here has attracted entrepreneurs and artists who decide to move here because it's a great place to live if you have a good idea.
When people ask me where I'm from, I say without a hint of misery, "I am from Detroit."
Special contributor Dorothy Hernandez is a former RedEye copy editor who now works for The Detroit News.
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