The Best Five Blocks in Detroit
If you live in Detroit, or even glanced at any random issue of the New York Times in the last five years, chances are good that you’ve heard of the great things happening in the city’s Downtown, Midtown and Corktown districts. These neighborhoods are now, at long last, as hot as any trendy, hipster-infused area can be.
But despite what your friends tell you (even that guy who swears he was way into the City “first”), chances are you haven’t seen the best of what Detroit has to offer. It’s an area whose feel is casually authentic. It’s got nothing to prove to you, but if you’re willing you’ll get it without even trying. If you’re new to the city, or if you’re an old head that wants to appreciate something real, do yourself a favor and head towards the train station – and drive right past it.
The best five block stretch in the city of Detroit can be found at Bagley between 16th and 21st. Why? You’ve got to go and see for yourself. But in the meantime, let me see what I can do to help…
Let’s start general and work down into the specific. Ok here’s the Big Idea: Cities can only be judged by the experiences they create. Accepting that to be true, then few areas offer more of an authentically Detroit experience than Mexicantown. It is a a great example of how a city of migrants and immigrants can forge something unique and beautiful in a dying town that once served as the throbbing heart of the Industrial Revolution.
And the heart of Mexicantown is the previously introduced Five Blocks of Bagley. Anchored by Detroit’s oldest Mexican restaurant, Mexican Village, these five blocks offer everything a city experience should: Culture, Walkability, and Potential.
It’s not original or profound to posit that people crave connection. That’s just basic. It’s the basis of family, society and culture. So what does it mean in this context? When you walk these Five Blocks of Bagley, you feel firmly anchored in a continuum of social and commercial connections. There’s nothing manufactured, marketed or packaged about it. When you walk from the restaurant that’s existed for 60 years to the tiny Super Mercado to the vacant lot that once bent to the will of people long gone, you can’t help but appreciate the sense of place. You leave knowing more, even if you didn’t speak a word or ask a question. That’s culture. You also learn that to appreciate it, you must experience it at ground level.
Life is most rich when it proceeds at the pace of a stroll. The Five Blocks allow you to jump back and forth between the Old World and the New, the African and the Latin, the abandoned and the renewed and from the savory to the sweet. And you can do this in environment built for humans, not vehicles.
The Five Blocks of Bagley are unfinished. There are areas that haven’t recovered from disinvestment and depopulation. There are parking lots that were once buildings and should be again. There are buildings that were built with the best of intentions but whose design and execution have failed us and themselves. But in all, there is so, so much potential. The best part of the Five Blocks of Bagley is that they are unfinished. That creates a wonderful opportunity for the community to continue its conversation of growth and it also allows us to share in the secret.
Do yourself a favor, get out and find Bagley and 16th and start walking west. And when you get to the end, turn around and do it once more. You won’t regret it.