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October 01, 2008 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2008-10-01

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Overcoming a childhood of horror stories,
some University alumni move to Detroit - it's
urban life on the cheap in a city that could
really use the interest

or the past half-century, urban flight has
shaped Detroit's grand narrative -a
departure of people, jobs and businesses
from the cityto the suburbs.
Now, some recent University graduates are
heading back to the city that in many cases their
parents and grandparents left behind.
Oren Goldenberg, 25, started a documentary
about the Detroit Public School system during
his last year at the University. He commuted
back and forth between Ann Arbor and the city
he grewup outside of-his familylived at10 Mile
and Woodward - but had rarely visited. To com-
plete the project, he moved to Detroit a year ago.
"So many people are going to Brooklyn," Gold-
enberg said. "In Detroit, you actually have space
to do your art and show your art and the resourc-
es (to do so) just in terms of spatial availability."
In this regard, Detroit is similar to how Phila-
delphia was two decades ago, when School of Art
and Design Prof. Nick Tobier moved there after
college.
"If you go to New York and Chicago, there are
already places to slot yourself into," said Tobier,
who worked with University students in the city
this summer. "One of my neighbors in Detroit
this summer said, 'Detroit is a place for creative
revolutions.'"

Rent is spectacularly cheap there: $300-400
will start you off with an apartment in Midtown,
near Wayne State University. The art and social
scenes prove impressive if you know where to
look, with neighborhood festivals seemingly
every summer weekend and events at the Con-
temporary Art Institute of Detroit or watering
holes like D'Mongo's and Bronx Bar to choose
from. In Detroit, to run into internationally
known DJs spinning after-hours parties is not
uncommon.
"It's sort of the perfect confluence of really
cheap living and a lot of creative, exciting things
going on in the community," said John Notori-
anni, 24, who moved to Detroit after graduating
from the University in 2006. He lived there for
a year, working for radio station WDET, before
taking a job with National Public Radio in Bal-
timore; he now describes himself as "a longing
expat."
"I miss the really fierce sense of community
people have there," he said. "The people who
were there were there for a reason."
A 'FIERCE SENSE OF COMMUNITY'
The greatest part of the appeal for these Uni-
versity graduates is this sense of community, and
the potential to help change (and be changed by)

a city that has lost so much - particularly in pop-
ulation and business - to its sprawlingsuburbs.
Stephen Ward, a professor in the Residential
College and the Center for Afro-American and
African Studies, researches and teaches classes
involving Detroit.
Many students who choose Detroit after grad-
uation grew up in the surrounding suburbs, he
said, and more often than not, they also grew up
with the idea of an undesirable -. if not down-
right dangerous - Detroit.
. "In general, (these students) grew up in the
metro Detroit area, with this narrative from their
parents or grandparents who perhaps grew up in
Detroit, about Detroit having once been a great
city and now it's fallen," Ward said. "The city
declined and their families left. And now they go
to the city for shows or sporting events or to hear
music, otherwisethey have a sensethatDetroitis
a dangerous place or a place to avoid."
When Notorianni and his older sister started
hanging out in Detroit as teenagers, their parents
weren't thrilled.
"They thought it was crazy," said Notorianni,
who grew up in Farmington Hills. "They still
had the idea of what Detroit was in the mid-'80s,
when my father was working downtown alot."
Those who ultimately move to Detroit hear

other sides of the story the morethey actually go
down there, and sometimes through classes such
as Ward's (whose urban and community studies
core course through the RC inspired Semester
in Detroit) and American Culture Prof. Scott
Kurashige's (who is a research fellow at Harvard
University this year, but usually lives in and stud-
ies Detroit).
"By the time (students) graduate they have a
different view of the city," Ward said. "It's a place
with problems but also there's opportunity, in
terms ofrebuilding but also for them as individu-
als to be involved in something."
LIVING FOR THE CITY
Many members of this demographic -
20-something, college-educated, socially con-
scious - are white. Not to ignore people of color
who have moved to or are considering Detroit
(myself included), but the fact that white people
are moving to Detroit now stands out in this
greater
narrative.
This is a
metropol-
itan area
whose
decades-

old grudges find root (depending on who's
complaining) in white flight, segregation or
Coleman Young's quotas.
"I think race is the fundamental stumbling
block that our country faces," Tobier said. "If you
are white and privileged you can insulate your-
self from questions and conflicts that arise from
race, everyday. But.if you don't have that luxury,
you can't."
Moving to a majority-black city like Detroit,
for a white person, then, is a decision to jump
back into the questions society has yet to fully-
confront.
"I appreciate the fact that I'm an ethnic
minority in a city... I look around and I don't see
a reminderofmy ownethnic heritage in the faces
around me AndI didn't realize that I would value
that so highly," said Jack VanDyke, who complet-
ed both his undergraduate and masters degrees
at the University, and now lives in the city. "I
wouldn't know what I was missing (if I didn'tlive
here)."
But in
the case
of Uni-
versity
graduates
moving

to Detroit, it's more than a construction of black
versus white, or even city versus suburb.
"Sometimes the idea is that people at universi-
ties come with all the answers, and it'sjust a mat-
ter of implementing them -that's far from the
truth," Kurashige said. "There's also a lot going
on in Detroit that people need to learn from." .
To do community work and activism, whether
in food justice or the environment and human
rights, is certainly a reason to move to Detroit.
But there is challenge in creating what can be
seen as a comfortable, college-educated class of
missionaries.
"They should be trying to work themselves out
of a job," said Malik Yakini, a lifelong Detroiter,
educator and activist, "Try to empower the com-
munity in which they are working, so that the
people in that community can takecthose jobs and
empower others (in turn)."
To become part of the city, you must "tran-
scend your whiteness," as Tobier said, but more
than that, break out from what is associated with
whiteness: a certain collegiate and suburban
comfort.
Betsy Palazzolo, 23, graduated from the Uni-
versity in 2007 and now lives near the Wayne
State University campus. Her neighborhood now
See DETROIT, Page 7B

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