Detroit: From “Sugar to Shit”

I wanted to see the different neighborhoods in and surrounding Detroit.  Wealthy, middle class, and poor.  I looked up the highest crime rate neighborhoods of Detroit, and outlined a triangular route.  The wedding was at 5pm in Ann Arbor, and I would need to eat and get showered.  My itinerary was this:


To the west of Detroit you have Ann Arbor, cutesy classic town, gorgeous old style homes of brick, stone, wood. Graffiti here is commissioned, colorful, inspired.  This is where I began.

To the north of Ann Arbor is:


Apparently one of the devastated towns.  I am trying to find beauty in urbanity, and this photo below is one of my efforts.


The neighborhoods, however, began to be scattered with these kinds of houses:


Stairs always seem to be the first to go.  Fired houses are common (white newspaper readers say it’s for collecting the insurance that they are burned; a poor black man who lives in these neighborhoods say those who live there barely have enough to pay the mortgage, they don’t have insurance; these get torched for Halloween fun).


I wondered why this man, and later a teen, was walking in the middle of the street.  It was quiet, but still, why not use the sidewalk?


Further beyond this man on the one-way street was this mattress discarded on the side of the road, and a broken TV.  I wanted to take a photo, so looped around, parked, and got out of the car.


Then I found myself walking in the streets.  Where are the sidewalks?  I spent a moment actually looking for them.



In the same neighborhood, someone is very much trying to keep people out.


Between Flint, Michigan and Detroit is Bloomfield Hills.  The internet said there were mansions here, 25 minutes north of Detroit.  There are not merely mansions; there are castles, too.  South some is more middle class.  Then you get to the north/south, white/black divider:


8 Mile Road goes from nicer on the west, to seedier in the east as it gets closer to downtown Detroit.  The sex industry increases as you continue east along the road.  But it was not so severe, from what I saw; it reminded me of Holt Boulevard in Ontario, California.

My map routed me through the six highest crime neighborhoods of Detroit.  This emptiness is common, swaths of it.  Everywhere seems pretty quiet, but everywhere too, I do see people living their daily lives.


In these neighborhoods, 30-75% of the houses are abandoned, deteriorating, and of those usually one has been burned.  On a street of about 10 houses, 6 were abandoned.  I mostly saw women and children, on porches or in the shade playing on the street or sidewalks.


All three of these houses are abandoned; they are at my back when I took the picture above.


There is an attempt to hide trash.  And people do still seem to take pride and keep their own house areas neat.


In another neighborhood, I got out and asked a group of men relaxing with beers about their neighborhood.  One of them, Johnny, gave me a tour of the nearby houses marked for demolition.  He grew up in this neighborhood, lived in a few of these houses in the past; it’s gone from “sugar to shit”, he says.  Houses go on sale for $500 – “Wait, $500?” – yes – but because it’s $20,000 worth of work to fix it up, people cannot afford that.  (Whereas in my world, at that price, most people I know could purchase the block.)   Johnny said he will mow the lawn of abandoned houses  like these, just to keep the neighborhood looking nicer.  He lives across the street from this house; his mother lives one house over.


He showed me inside; it reminded me of Bodie, California.  Only it’s not Bodie, because real people are living in these near-ghost towns.

I am not sure which damage or leftovers are the original owners, the crackheads who squat here, the 30 dogs he said took over the house at one point, rats, or weather, all of which Johnny identified as adding to the derelict state of these buildings.





I could still envision the charm and elegance this house had at one point; not in the photo, bay windows to the left.



I asked Johnny: Where do these people go?  What do they tell their kids?  He didn’t have answers, just guesses.

The back building to the house.


Fuller view of the back building.


I left for another neighborhood.  Here, as in all the places I wandered in Detroit, I was impressed with the low amounts of graffiti everywhere; only the paint colors are muted, the marks are mostly uninspired; no vibrant color nor storytelling like the approved graffiti wall in Ann Arbor.


This neighborhood had a good example of something else I saw: besides stairs, porch roofs were often collapsed.


Johnny had also told me that there were abandoned schools that had been looted.  A couple of neighborhoods later, I saw what he meant.





The bulletin boards still retain their vivid color.


I wondered if this was written before or after the school was abandoned.


And as I left one of the neighborhoods, I saw the local issues, discussion, and frustration, written on the walls.


That is what I saw in Detroit.