Behind graffiti-laden walls and deteriorated structures lies a story filled with mystery and historical lore. And that story begins in 1701 when Detroit was founded by the French explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and a group of settlers. The city, conveniently nestled along the river front, quickly became an important industrial hub.
The American automobile industry flourished, and Detroit’s population skyrocketed. By the turn of the century, Detroit emerged as one of the most significant cities in the US. But the golden years didn’t last long. Industrial restructuring, corruption, suburbanization, and loss of jobs in the auto industry led Detroit into a state of decline after the 1970s. Businesses failed, and people fled the city. In 2013, the state of Michigan declared a financial emergency for Detroit, and c’est la vie.
Upon exiting its state of emergency in December of 2014, significant efforts were made to revive the city. And in just two years, Detroit has been on the up and up. Many historical buildings and monuments, many of which fell into disrepair after the 1960s, have been restored, including Fox Theatre, the Guardian Building, and a fire department-turned-boutique hotel. And although some neighborhoods remain abandoned, Downtown and Midtown have seen a vital rise in population.
The riverfront has been revitalized, including the newly added West Riverfront Park – great for running, biking, and fishing – new sports stadiums have been built, new bike lanes added, and hotels have been improved, including a multi-million dollar renovation of the Marriott. Michigan also received its first Aloft Hotel, set within the historic David Whitney Building, and over 100 new restaurants, breweries, and distilleries have opened in just two years time.
But Detroit’s revival extends beyond that. As the birthplace of Motown Records, Detroit is getting back to its cultural roots. The Detroit Jazz Fest, the Downtown Hoedown, the Movement Electronic Music Festival, and Dally in the Alley pay homage to the city’s once-famous musical history. The annual Detroit Design Festival draws artists from around the world. The Detroit Institute of the Arts, famous for Diego Riviera’s auto industry-inspired murals, has received a new curator and is on the rise of a major rebirth. And just this year, UNESCO named Detroit as a ‘city of design‘ – an initiative aimed ‘to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.’
The city is a center for street artists, hosting the first-ever mural art festival where dozens of street artists from across the globe were invited to paint the Eastern Market, as well as teaming up with Mexico City’s Fifty24MX to bring Mexican and Mexican-American artists to paint murals throughout Southwest Detroit. Infamous Shepard Fairey, known for his ‘Obey Giant’ tags and work on the Obama administration election campaign, has painted his largest mural to date on the walls of Detroit’s One Woodward building.