Book Review: Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli

Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis

I’m a little torn on this one. While an informative look at the very recent events and people attempting to make change in the city of Detroit, the title and description lead you to believe that this is a book about the good things happening in Detroit.

Yes, there are good things happening in Detroit.

Unfortunately, Binelli takes the route of re-telling the same stories of hard times and bad news through personal accounts of those living in and around the city. This isn’t a bad thing but its not what the book is marketed to be. The stories are incredibly personally and an accurate portrayal of Detroit’s residents’ histories but the whole thing is…sad.

I’m a huge fan of this city. a couple years back, before the famous Chrysler ‘Imported From Detroit’ Super Bowl commercial, I wrote a blog post, This Is My Hometownhosted by BuyMichiganNow discussing this very matter. I love grabbing friends that normally avoid certain areas and making them see it with their own eyes. Nights like that usually end in “See! It’s not so bad!”

It’s still a good read and I’d definitely recommend it to someone who is looking for a quick synopsis the current state of the Detroit area as a whole. The issue I have is that, in a book 300 pages long, entitled Detroit City is the Place to Be, it’s not until page 295 that the author really gets to any good news other than urban gardens mentioned in the opener. Any of the topics listed on page 295 (literally listed, in one paragraph) could’ve easily been fleshed out into at least a chapter or two each. The successful rebuilding of Midtown and Corktown are both barely mentioned, tossed out in a couple quick blurbs and then back to murder trials and ruin porn.

You can’t tell the story of Detroit without the bad things. I get that, i really do. This book was a chance to sell Detroit on its positive merits for once and it just didn’t meet that goal. He’s not wrong on anything that he wrote here – the city has more problems than anyone can realistically deal with and those problems won’t be resolved anytime soon without a limitless amount of money pouring in. Any good work that is being attempted or highlighted in these pages is followed up with a “yeah they’re trying but it probably won’t do any good.” And that’s too bad. People have made the choice to rededicate their lives to the projects they believe in, to the city they believe in, and Binelli chose instead to spend a large majority talking about murders and crime statistics. I wasn’t looking for a book that glossed over the reality – the horror show that is Detroit crime statistics – but there’s so much more than happening in this town. There are plenty of books that highlight the bad, is it so much to ask for one that highlights the good? A compare and contrast piece would’ve been better. “Here’s what we’re facing and here’s what we want to do about it.” Instead it’s “Here’s a list of obstacles that you’ll never overcome. Good luck with that.”

I’ll be spending tomorrow evening at a dive bar in Corktown that is too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter until the crowd shuffles in to the stage half of the Lager House and stands shoulder to shoulder listening to a group of Detroit boys sing songs about their experiences. Those songs that make it a Detroit experience – cursing your job, crying over being laid off, walking past homeless on the streets, celebrating the working class. All about half a block from the empty field where Tigers Stadium used to stand. Two blocks in any direction and you’re in a different world – either in burned down streets or on the floor of a multi-million dollar casino, depending on which way you turn. That’s the beauty of Detroit to me. The best and the worst, the highs and the lows, the mix of hope and despair, of triumph and failure. It’s all there. It’s your choice. See it how you want to see it. If you want to look for the bad, it’s easy to find. But the good is just as prevalent.

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