Timely time to visit Detroit given Mitt Romney’s ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt’ infamous op-ed. The appeal of Detroit is, however, its DIY revival; the slow but steady emergence of independent bars, clubs, arts, restaurants, greening and community projects. If you stay at the MGM Grand or the MotorCity Casino it’s going to take longer to get orientated and find the gems in the rough. But alternative accommodation is hard to find and pretty much unmapped, and, if you are completely ignorant about Detroit, like me, it’s hard to know where to start a hotel / B&B hunt.
There’s a lot of information online that’s detailed, helpful . . . and off-putting. One person posting on where to stay in the city on the Lonely Planet Travel Forum recommends Downtown, adding it’s “probably the safest place in Detroit, it’s generally safe during the day, but I wouldn’t attempt it at night.” Cityboy2010 goes on to say:
“As far as safety and security, it’s sad to say that all of Detroit (with the exception of Downtown and the adjacent areas of Greektown, Corktown, and Mexicantown) is likely to be very dangerous . . . it should be said that most residential areas in Detroit are extremely dangerous. Be very vigilant, and don’t carry anything of value around. There are a few pretty safe neighborhoods, but these are in the minority, unfortunately. The following are, based on my experience as well as Detroit crime stats, the worst areas in the city that I avoid at all times, even in the day:
- Anything from Coleman A. Young Airport, all the way to the northeast city limits.
- Highland Park (probably worse than Detroit, it’s an independent city surrounded by Detroit)
- The area within a 30-block radius or so from the Joy Road and Evergreen St intersection
- Most places right off the freeways.
- Where the Davison and Lodge Freeway meet.
Of course these aren’t the only bad areas, those are just the ones that you shouldn’t go into at all because of their high violent crime and homicide rate.”
Fair enough. It all sounds very complicated. And as there aren’t any small hotels embracing the designer ethic and emblazoned with vibrant local art anyway, the best course of action is to track down someone who lives in the city, knows it well and loves it, and stay with them. Travel blogger, Meghan McEwen, offers two chic rooms across from the abandoned Michigan Central Station at Honor & Folly in Corktown ($165). Further north, Nathan Andren offers super-affordable rooms and a wealth of knowledge about his native Detroit at the Detroit Loves You Guesthouse (bookable through Airbnb from $39 to $199 for the whole property), and a few blocks away there’s two rooms available at the Detroit Homestead (also through Airbnb). These last two properties aren’t in neighbourhoods generally regarded as ‘good’, but neither are they ‘bad’. They’ve been down, and now the majority of local residents are working hard to bring them up.
Having spent many idle moments when I was supposed to be working, trawling through Detroit property listings, dreaming about buying a couple of houses for a couple of thousand dollars, relocating and spending the rest of my life doodling and doing good works, it was the fact that the Homestead owners, Alyssa and Matt, were new arrivals from Pittsburgh, that swung it for me. They’d fallen in love with the city during the course of long bike-riding visits, made loads of friends and chucked in their jobs to ‘engage in Detroit’s renaissance’, buying and renovating a property and opening it to guests to recoup their investment. They were now full of dreams and plans ranging from raising ducks, emu and pygmy goats, to running a bike rental and repair business, and offering facilities for aquaponics, music and beer and cheese making. I like this enthusiasm!