Buffalo takes on Detroit: 36 Hours In The Motor City by Bernice Radle

You have stolen my heart, Detroit.

Bernice Radle at the Michigan Central Station
The Michigan Central Station

Here is what happens when you put four people who love planning, cities, buildings and the rust belt together in a car. We drive 5 hours to Detroit, rent out a kick ass industrial loft space, wander around town checking out bars, shops and historic sites, tour a once forgotten Kresge Mansion now being renovated by a 30 year old and meet with Mark Nickita (architect, owner of Pure Detroit and Mayor of Birmingham MI), inside the Guardian building – an art deco masterpiece! It was a trip for the memory books. You can see photos from our trip here.

Here are my top three take aways from our 36 hours in Detroit.

Buffalo is Detroit’s sister city. Hands down. Our radial street grid, friendly mid western attitude and blue collar approach to life is nearly identical. We both can see Canada from our windows, we share Lake Erie and we share similar boom / bust  / rebirth stories. Detroit is definitely Buffalo’s older, bigger Brother – the industrial strength attitude is very masculine, IMO. Sure, Detroit is bigger in size and in population but we can learn a lot from one another and we are only a 5 hour drive away!

TRUE GRIT. With slogans like “Detroit Hustles Harder” and “Detroit Vs. Everybody”, it is clear that Detroit has embraced their true grit and entrepreneurial spirit and that nothing, including their steep decline, will stop them. A rising tide raises all the boats, was the mentality from many of the local folks we spoke with. Sure, there is a long way to go and a lot to accomplish but we left feeling a great deal of confidence in the future of the Motor City. Detroit is tough and resilient!

Detroit is ALIVE. All the articles you’ve read about the vacancy and decline is true however, many fail to notice or mention the incredible amount of life that Detroit has. We saw signs of it everywhere – from a 30 year old buying a Kresge Mansion to the emerging Michigan Avenue retail corridor… the entrepreneur spirit is alive and well in the Motor City.  The downtown is beautiful – the storefronts are lit up with lights, the ice skating rink was packed at midnight and even their top millionaires are working together to privately pay for a light rail system along Woodward Avenue. Heck, even billionaires own community gardens in Detroit.

In case you want to travel to Detroit and don’t know what to do, here is a list of all the places we went to in 36 hours. It was a true sprint!!

  • Industrial Loft Space – Check In (Air B&B)
  • Corktown Tavern
  • Gaelic Irish Center
  • Slows BBQ
  • Michigan Central Station
  • Mercury Bar
  • Motor City Wine Bar
  • UFO Bar
  • Downtown Detroit – Ice Rink / Fox Theatre / Woodward Avenue
  • Detroit Institute of Bagels
  • Brush Park
  • Kresge Mansion Tour – Arden Park
  • Eastern Market
  • Guardian Building / Talk with Mark Nikida
  • Mid Town – City Bird / Nest / Shinola
  • Traffic Jam Restaurant
  • Greektown – “Detroit Vs. Everybody” Store

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