Although Detroit’s official motto—Speramus meliora. Resurget cineribus.—resulted from a catastrophic fire that nearly destroyed the fledgling town in 1805, its meaning—We hope for better things. It will rise from the ashes.—could just as easily refer to modern times. This is a city, after all, that has witnessed its share of soaring highs and crushing lows, and yet has always managed to come back swinging.
Detroit truly hit the map when Henry Ford’s assembly line transformed the town—and the world—forever. With the assistance of the “Big Three” (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler), the Motor City thrived during the first half of the 20th century. Reliance on a single industry, however, inevitably led to downswings that mimicked those of the auto industry, plunging the racially divided metropolis into years of crime and unemployment—modern problems that have often been exaggerated by the national media.
But the Motor City is defined less by its adversity and more by its innovation and fortitude. Crime is not the crippling issue it once was, and development has helped to revitalize the downtown area. Unofficially nicknamed the Renaissance City in the 1970s, Detroit has finally begun to shed its troubled past. Although it’s still a work-in-progress, this tenacious town—also known for its Motown music, rock ’n’ roll vibe, and legendary sports figures—has improved its tarnished image since the turn of the new millennium, and nowhere is that more apparent than along the waterfront.
Dominating the Detroit skyline, the once-controversial Renaissance Center has undergone an extensive renovation, transforming the distinctive office, hotel, and retail complex into the world headquarters of General Motors. In addition, the city has embarked upon an ambitious development project along the Detroit River, which it shares with Windsor, Canada. When completed, the Detroit International Riverfront will comprise a new harbor, an expanded Tri-Centennial Park, and a network of biking and jogging trails. Other recent downtown enhancements include a new ballpark for the Detroit Tigers, an adjacent football stadium for the Detroit Lions, and three casino resorts.
Detroit’s many suburbs have also experienced a revival, marked by the opening of such attractions as the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills and the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, both of which celebrate the rich diversity of Detroit’s people. Beyond the greater Detroit metropolitan area, visitors will discover a wealth of activities in Southeast Michigan, from skiing on Mount Holly to watching the Woodward Dream Cruise. Despite decades of struggle, it seems that Detroit and its surrounding towns are finally on the upswing, once again affirming the city’s 200-year-old motto.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel