I’m completely comfortable with admitting my love of the 90’s film Ten Things I Hate About You, the film from which the above clip was taken. I mean, the cast in this film was, like, oh-so-dreamy: Heath Ledger. Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Julia Stiles. And, of course, how could we forget the cameo appearance of that guy from the Isuzu commercials?
Julia Stiles’ character in this clip has discovered that Mr. Ledger, who originally was paid to feign interest in the off-putting Stiles, was never truly interested in her — or at least she thought. This poem reflects an outburst of frustration from a woman that felt betrayed, duped, and embarrassed by such treachery.
Recently I spent two weeks in Chicago, a city in which many of my close friends live and served as my home for a summer back in 2008. While my time there is always enjoyable, this visit was a bit more painful as I continued to discover how far behind Detroit really is. And while my reasons for doing so don’t entirely line up with the girl in the video clip, I felt moved to draw up my own list of the ten things I hate about Detroit. As a lover of what this city has to offer, I owe myself a bit of a vent session; it allows me to breathe normally, and it reminds me that a battered city needs to be honest with itself. (Disclaimer: most of these observations are tongue-in-cheek, but leave some breathing room for my sarcasm. 🙂 )
1. I hate your “public transit”. The People Mover is a form of transit inasmuch as the Zipper at those sketchy state fairs is a roller coaster. I once attempted to determine the expected commute time from my Corktown apartment to my place of work if I chose to take Detoit public transit, and I realized I could walk there faster.
Oh, and you know things are bad when a 3.4 mile stretch of light rail that drops you off in the middle of nowhere is considered “progress”.
2. I hate your municipal tax. My firm’s office is in Troy — perhaps America’s Most Boring City, like, Ever — and I recently inquired as to why we didn’t have an office downtown. Reason Numero Uno centered around the 1.25-percent income tax that Detroit non-residents must pay if they work in the city. Some companies have resorted to simply giving their employees a raise in order to offset the lost income, but in the meantime it results in most companies not giving a second thought to moving their operations into the city.
3. I hate your singles scene. Chicago has Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Bucktown, Wicker Park, Gold Coast, and River North, each of which is teeming with young, successful, single professionals that come from the world’s top schools. The lion’s share of people that have these qualities in Metro Detroit live in Royal Oak, Birmingham, and Ann Arbor — suburbs that span nearly a 45-mile radius. Trying to date someone that fits these qualities requires the same amount of driving a pharmaceutical sales rep makes in a given day. As a result, most women I’ve met in the area are either married or willing to settle for one of the wholly-abundant cookie-cutter douchebags roaming the streets of Royal Oak looking for “friendship”.
4. I hate it when your politicians choose greed, corruption, and stupidity over becoming a better civil servant. Kwame. Need I say more?
No, but I will: Detroit’s City Council is more adept at discussing Ken Cockerel’s resemblance to Shrek than actually solving the city’s problems. (Oh, and should I mention that Monica Conyers, the Shrek-er, is a convicted felon? I have a substantial amount of faith in Dave Bing, mainly because he isn’t a card-carrying member of a powerful political family in the city, but this village we call Detroit has never been a one-man show — unless it’s for the worse.
5. I hate how you choose politics and petty racism over providing your children a proper education. This little tidbit ran in the Detroit News earlier this week on a recent, attempted donation to Detroit Public Schools. I realize that Special K was partially to blame, but there’s another politician that played a special little role in this…
6. I hate that you reside in a state with inept governance and horrible leadership. Ah, Jennifer Granholm. How do I love thee? I had such hope when you were selected as my commencement speaker in 2003 and was willing to forgive you for attending The Michigan of the West (Berkeley) and The Michigan of the East (Harvard). But, things have changed a wee bit, haven’t they?
You essentially resorted to sucking up to Obama during your introductory speech at this year’s commencement, and you stood by the wayside when Michigan’s economy tanked, choosing to beg for handouts rather than make the necessary investments in new technologies to attract — and retain — young professionals in its more dire time of need. I could go on about this, but let me just say that I’m not shedding any tears over your departure.
…And then we have Andrew Shirvell. I’ll let him dig his own political grave.
7. I hate how people view your suburbs as a refuge. In my conversations with civic leaders, fellow young professionals, and public policy analysts, it seems that there’s a misconception about Metro Detroit: suburbs good, city bad. In essence, this is somewhat evolved from the massive waves of flight that have occurred here since the 1950’s, but even the most simple skim of statistics show that as Detroit goes, so do the suburbs. There’s an integral link between the Motor City and its offspring, but most uninformed visitors assume that Detroit can continue living as a shell of a city while the outskirts thrive. If anyone can name an area in which a “failed” city is sustainably surrounded by a ring of successful suburbs, I’m all ears.
8. I hate your weather. I’m from South Dakota, so I’m not allowed to complain much about this.
9. I hate that you don’t take advantage of your natural beauty. In the 1960’s, 29 of the Detroit River’s 31 miles was considered unsafe for any sort of “water contact” sport — including boating, fishing, swimming, and being dragged along in a banana boat. This sparked a gargantuan cleanup effort that now makes the River one of the cleanest urban rivers in the country and a hotbed for fishing. An abundance of orchards, lakes, and freshwater streams makes Detroit a great launching point for an outdoor excursion. And the Metroparks system is simply fantastic. But the perception amongst most people I know — both from my time in Ann Arbor and elsewhere — is that the D is an urban trap. Hell, I didn’t even know Belle Isle existed until a few years ago.
10. I hate that you expect more of me than a normal city does. There’s a little tinge of jealousy inside me, one that makes me wonder why I didn’t take that job in Berlin, Chicago, New York, San Francisco…and live the healthy, vibrant lives that my dear friends currently experience there. It unnerves when I read an article stating that affluent, young professionals are moving back into the city in small droves: it’s not that I don’t want these things to happen. It’s the fact that these things have to happen in order for Detroit to survive. Moving to Wrigleyville requires a realtor, a deposit, and a moving truck; moving to Detroit requires intent.
It’s exhausting living here sometimes, because the city tugs at your pant leg, asking you to do and give and help. There’s no Summer-Weekday-in-Chicago jaunts to Cubs games on the Red Line. There’s no bar hopping on Sunday Funday. There’s no Lollapalooza. But there’s volunteering at Focus Hope, attending conferences, signing declarations to bring the city back from the ashes, and Imagination Stations. These activities were supplemental during my time in Chicago; in Detroit, they are what you do. And once in a while, you realize that this isn’t the sort of life your friends are living in other cities. It makes you wonder if something’s out of whack around these parts, and there’s a consistent concern that your life could be more lively, exciting, and joyful somewhere else.
I hate that feeling sometimes. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade it — and all Detroit has yet to become — for anything else in the world right now. Damn you, D.