Photo: rlassman/Shutterstock

19 Reasons Detroit Is the Most Underrated City in the US

Student Work
by Amanda Beyer Apr 2, 2015

1. We invented Techno.

Techno was invented in the suburbs of Detroit in the early 1980s. We celebrate this piece of music history with an annual electronic dance music festival every Memorial Day weekend since 2000. So the next time you’re shaking it at a dance club in Berlin, remember, you wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for Detroit.

2. We were the first to have residential phone numbers and we love our area code.

In 1879 the number of phones in the city was too much for the phone operators to manage, so the city began assigning households their own phone numbers. In 1947 we started using our beloved 313 area code, which Eminem immortalized in the movie “8 Mile” when he yelled to the crowd: “Now everybody from the 3-1-3, put your hands up and follow me.”

3. Tiny libraries.

And, not by coincidence, 313 is the number of tiny free libraries scheduled to pop up around the city. This project invites people to take and leave a book from one of the oversized and beautifully-crafted bird houses around the city that each hold around twenty books.

4. Two months before the March on Washington, Dr. King gave an early version of his “I Have a Dream” speech in Detroit.

On June 23, 1963, the Detroit Walk to Freedom drew in an estimated crowd of 125,000 and was the largest civil rights demonstration at the time.

5. We have a world class art museum.

The Detroit Institute of Art, established in 1885, is among the top six art collections in the United States. In 2012, the museum faced the threat of closing its doors due to the economic recession. Metro Detroiters voted to approve a ten year millage supporting the museum’s operational expenses. Every weekend in the Diego Rivera “Detroit Industry” mural room, the museum offers free performances by musicians from around the world ranging from bluegrass to Tuvan throat singing.

6. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

That’s right, Aretha Franklin grew up here!

7. We have the largest historic farmers’ market in the US.

Eastern Market had been in operation since 1891. Every Saturday it becomes a vibrant marketplace with hundreds of open-air stalls fruits, veggies, fresh-cut flowers, homemade jams, maple syrups, locally produced specialty food products, pasture and/or grass-fed meat and even an occasional goose or rabbit.

8. Each spring we chase an evil red imp out of town.

The legend of the Marche du Nain Rouge dates back to a fortune teller predicting that Detroit city founders would be constantly challenged by the little red imp if he choose to settle where Detroit now stands. The imp revels in all the crummy things that happen in the city, so for the past 300 years people from Detroit gather (in costume so the imp won’t recognize them) to chase the little devil out of town and celebrate all of the great things that happened over the past year in spite of the imp’s trickery.

9. Freezing your butt off in line for 5 hours on Paczki (POONCH-key) Day is totally worth every bite.

Around here, Fat Tuesday is known as “Paczki Day”. Paczkis are basically donuts filled with jelly, cream or custard. The earlier you can get in line for one of these, the better chances you’ll have of scoring one of the 10,000 plus paczkis sold on this day.

10. We do it up right when we celebrate Eid.

Hamtramck, a two square mile municipal enclave inside the Detroit city limits, has 34 mosques. When it comes to celebrating Eid, the city does it like no other. One of the mosques rents the city’s park and holds the morning prayer marking the end of Ramadan. Each mosque has its own little block party. The city is filled with delicious halal meat and Arabic sweets, bouncy houses, and pony rides.

11. We take DIY to a whole new level.

When something isn’t working we come up with our own solution. Public education is busted, we start our own schools. Public transportation sucks, we start our own bus system. The police don’t respond quickly enough, we’ll hire neighborhood security. The city doesn’t mow the lawn and pick up the trash, we organize volunteers and do it ourselves.

12. Our gangsters supplied 75% of the liquor during prohibition.

That’s right, 75% of the alcohol distributed in the U.S. during prohibition came through Detroit. For a while we earned the nickname “Whiskeytown” and had over 25,000 speakeasies.

13. So, of course, we know how to throw a great party.

We can defiantly hold our own when it comes to parties, with one of our favorites being Tigers Opening Day at Comerica Park. Anyone working in the city cuts out early that day, either to join the festivities or duck out of town to avoid the madness.

14. Detroit is a lot like a Tom Waits song.

Rough around the edges, but it has this magical beauty and hope when you dig in a little deeper.

15. We modernized city streets.

We were the first city to pave a road and we were the first city to have a 3-colored stoplight. We also took out the very useful streetcar system and pushed credit on people so they could purchase their own automobiles, and paved right over entire neighborhoods but…

16. We have a plan.

In 2010 thousands of Detroit community members came together to create Detroit Future City Plan. It’s a long-term strategic plan that provides a guideline for making sure that Detroit becomes the city its people want it to be. This plan lays out new zoning laws, civic engagement practices, blight clean up and plans for a much-needed new public transportation system.

17. We don’t ignore the data.

Imagine how great the world would be if we all just took a minute to really look at the data before shooting off our opinionated mouths. Nonprofits across the city have been busy doing just that. Let’s face it, the data coming out of Detroit recently has been rather bleak: drop-out rates, poverty, homelessness, foreclosures, infant mortality, etc. The thing is, we use that data to find the root of problems and come up with better solutions.

18. The people here are loyal to no end.

We don’t wear rose-colored glasses, but don’t you dare bad mouth our city or our sports teams. No matter how down-on-our-luck our teams or our city may be, you will be hard pressed to find anyone here who has lost one ounce of hometown loyalty.

19. Detroit can only get better.

When you hit rock bottom, the only option is to get better! Detroit is filled with change makers, idealists, and people willing to work to make our city as amazing as we know it can be. Little by little, Detroit is becoming a stronger, more vibrant version of itself.

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