Everyone can think of a grim anecdote about Detroit—the highest murder rate in the country, 70,000 abandoned buildings—that they saw in a magazine article or in a news report. The city is an easy punch line, a convenient example to use when citing how America’s good fortune is running out.
There’s a larger truth. A city does not reach this state without a story behind its decline. And what about the thousands who live and work in Detroit, who must grow tired of being viewed as targets of pity or weary subjects for magazine features?
Rolling Stone contributing editor Mark Binelli’s Detroit City Is the Place to Be is part history, part explanation and part profile of a city he knows intimately—he grew up in the Detroit area. Sounds complex? It is, and it should be. The city doesn’t need any more labels or quick summaries. It needs someone to put a face on Detroit, to show that it’s not rolling over and playing dead. Binelli proves he’s up to the task in this refreshing, intriguing work.
What’s most apparent in Binelli’s thorough reporting is that Detroit is in constant battle mode. With so much unused land in the city, urban farming has become popular, but there are also those who want to make this neighborhood unifier into a corporate endeavor. Neighborhoods have become havens for creative types, but the changes brought by this influx “were miniscule in comparison with the problems facing the rest of the city,” Binelli reports. The American auto industry has created some noteworthy cars in recent years, but the unions are in the middle of a slow, endless death.
Binelli actually lived in Detroit while writing the book, and he talks to dozens of residents. It feels like he’s invested in Detroit’s future, not just reveling in the relevancy. He wants to understand what happened and what will happen. By looking beyond the troubling headlines and promises of politicians, Binelli discovers what determines a city’s fate: people who care. Detroit has more than you might expect.