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Say “Detroit” and many people’s thoughts turn negative: the U.S.’s failed-and-bailed auto industry, high crime and unemployment, historic buildings in derelict disrepair, ongoing population flight, “food desert” status (in which groceries have closed and residents have to travel far to obtain fresh produce). It’s true that those challenges are part of Detroit’s landscape, but despite the bad press, that’s not all there is to Michigan’s largest city. You don’t, for instance, feel unsafe while bar-hopping among downtown’s brewpubs, riding the two-car People Mover to a Red Wings game, or strolling along the rejuvenated riverfront, sun in your face. You don’t sense population loss when you peruse the sprawling Eastern Market on Saturdays, when it bulges with shoppers and vendors and local products; when area restaurants have lines out the door, even in winter. And you don’t hear nearly enough about the beautiful Art Deco buildings that are still there, or the historic institutions that have been saved—like the once-bankrupt Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, a jazz club that’s seen the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane grace its stage since 1934; or the wonderfully whimsical Heidelberg Project, which turns urban blight into exciting street art and has survived two partial demolitions over its 25-year lifetime. Moreover, Detroit has shown great strides in urban agriculture, as various scattered city farms, community groups, and young activists form co-ops and coalitions to increase local access to fresh food and reclaim the city’s abandoned, overgrown spaces—plans are even afoot to build the world’s largest urban farm. There’s still a long way to go, but many locals remain optimistic, so we are too.
However, don’t wait for Detroit’s rebirth to eat your way around Motor City. Thanks to its incredible ethnic diversity, the larger Metro Detroit area boasts a plethora of Polish cafes, Greek diners, Lebanese restaurants, Syrian bakeries, and more. Rich with locally produced foodstuffs and a terrific old-school public farmers market, the city has been locavore-friendly since before it was fashionable. And there are regional twists on everything from hot fudge sundaes to pizza. Come to think of it, you don’t hear too much about Detroit’s local food scene either. We’ll let that be our little secret.
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