The Decayed Decadence of Detroit

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If you ever want to know what the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse might feel like, go to Detroit. On a bright Wednesday in May, moving vehicles in the financial district are rare birds. Most of the cars I see are parked, as if abandoned. The gridlock, hurried pedestrians and noisy construction to signal big-city living are eerily absent. It’s too still for downtown, so quiet I can hear tree leaves rustling.

Walking down Woodward Avenue, sandwiched by gorgeous historic buildings, I can imagine Detroit’s former glory. This was probably their Champs-Élysées or 5th Avenue. But where is everybody now?

When I seek refuge (and lunch) in the Grand Trunk Pub, a former railroad ticket office, I feel as if I’ve stumbled across a secret meeting place where people actually congregate. Throughout the 36 hours I’m here, I discover hidden gem after hidden gem; the whole city is a giant hidden gem.

I’m here for the Babymetal concert with my sister. Shows were sold out in every city except at The Fillmore Detroit. While I’ve heard stirrings of Detroit’s revival, outsiders are still hesitant about visiting. Reputation as the nation’s murder capital and images of abandoned semi-ruined buildings and burned down crack houses in the media doesn’t exactly help tourism.

But the more I see of Detroit, the more sympathy I share with Tommey Walker, who designed the ubiquitous Detroit vs. Everybody T-shirts because he was sick of everyone shitting on his city despite the contributions its locals make to the world.

Detroiters are friendly, helpful and unpretentious. Even cat callers are polite. Once I return their hellos, they carry on their way. This is an artsy city without the hipsters. Everything is cheap, which is attractive to artists. Graffiti art and murals, commissioned by the city, is everywhere. The Belt is an alley transformed by murals of professional artists, and there’s the 30-year-old Heidelberg Project that’s the most uncanny display of junk I’ve ever seen.

The Fillmore is a gold and chandelier-ed Italian Renaissance theatre with original seats still in the mezzanine and balcony levels. Now a popular music venue, the main floor has standing capacity. At the Babymetal concert, kawaii girls in gothic lolita getups and hardcore metalheads come together to thrash to three teenage Japanese popstars singing hits like “Gimme Chocolate!!” backed by a legit heavy metal band.

After the concert, everyone pours out onto the street. This is the most amount of people I’ve seen in Detroit outside. I wonder how many of them are actually locals. I’m confident Detroiters will not let their city decay. Brick by brick, the people are going to make it beautiful again. I love this ghost town already, and it’s only a matter of time before others catch on. For now, I like having Detroit as my little secret.

Places Visited

The Belt | Eastern Market | The Fillmore Detroit | Geoschel Building | Grand Trunk Pub | Greektown | Guardian Building | The Heidelberg Project | Krema | Museum of Contemporary Art Detroittraffic island beach | Woodward Avenue

Photography by Annie Zhu


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