They live in many of the city’s old repurposed buildings such as the low rise Wayne County Building on Randolph Street in the financial district — formerly the Wayne County administrative offices — or opt to pay US$700 a month to reside in a 290-square-foot micro-apartment inside the 38-storey David Stott Building on Griswold Street.
Or, they might choose to rent one of the 279 units available at the newly developed Orleans Landing here on the Dequindre Cut Greenway.
"For US$1,000 a month you can live in a one-bedroom or for US$2,800 you can have three bedrooms," explains Pasco, who is optimistic about the recent rise in Detroit’s population (now around 700,000), the decrease in unemployment rates and a downtown core that is 99 per cent full.
With that in mind, one might be inclined to compare the city’s current economy with that of 1955, an era when Detroit was reaping the benefits of a prosperous automotive manufacturing industry. But Pasco says this is unreasonable.
"The ‘50s are gone," he says. "So let’s move on and reinvent ourselves, continue with the path we’re on, the trajectory that we’re on and create a new glory era, or a golden age, if you will."
For now, our two-wheeling trail is restricting us to the right side of a busy two-lane roadway as we say farewell to the quietness and safety of the Dequindre Cut Greenway and pass into the gentrified McDougall-Hunt neighbourhood on the city’s east side. We cautiously veer right past empty grassy lots, ramshackle buildings and abandoned homes and find ourselves at a bizarre outdoor exhibit by Detroit’s Tyree Guyton (tyreeguyton.com), a local painter and sculptor who developed his idiosyncratic environment as a creative response to ongoing blight and decay in the neighbourhood he grew up in.
A stroll down Heidelberg Street, which attracts more than 200,000 tourists a year, is like walking into an open-air art gallery that is sullied and has no decorum. It’s kind of like a neighbourhood garage sale gone astray. A leaning wire fence at its entrance is covered in hundreds of previously worn shoes (clearly a sentiment to the area’s lost souls) and the modest, clapboard homes along its length are painted in a splendour of colourful numbers and dots. Thousands of used, tattered items — doors, clocks, tires, appliances, furniture, clothes, televisions — are scattered on its sidewalks and boulevards, communicating subliminal messages of time spent and wasted.
The Heidelberg Project is said to be a powerful symbol of how a few communities in this recovering metropolis have ended up discarded. A post on the project’s Facebook page alongside an image of discarded television sets says: "Art can be a catalyst for positive change and help breathe new life into neighbourhoods that have been virtually forgotten."
It’s a hopeful way of thinking that might sadly be set aside in the next couple of years when the Heidelberg Project in McDougall-Hunt is dismantled and laid to rest, not unlike the fallen Civil War generals and other dead Detroiters who are buried at our next stop, the park-like Elmwood Cemetery, on the city’s east side.
Built in 1841, the 86-acre Elmwood Cemetery on Elmwood Avenue is a tranquil must-see stop, especially at a steady pace on a two-wheeler, which allows time to chat and learn about the history of this fascinating place.
Formerly farmland situated on the outskirts of Detroit, the tranquil non-denominational Elmwood Cemetery is presently a woodland of over 1,400 trees that represent more than 90 species. Kavanaugh says regular pruning of the black locusts, hawthorn, beech, willow, ash, American plum, domestic pear and other woody plants helps conserve the natural beauty of the grounds, which is splendidly enhanced by hundreds of statues and limestone monuments like the Gothic Revival chapel, constructed in 1856, and the Gothic-inspired gatehouse, built in 1876.
Recently, the cemetery, which also happens to be the final resting place of some of Detroit’s most distinguished people, became the city’s first accredited arboretum, a botanical garden of sorts that is similar to our final destination.
As we zip past Earthworks Urban Farm, an urban agricultural site on Meldrum Street in the near east side neighbourhood, Kavanaugh is quick to point out that it’s only one of 1,400 urban gardens and farms found in and around the city that sprouted from swathes of vacant land.
Kim Rusinow, owner and operator of Destination Detroit Tours, adds that the city’s increasing economic challenges and declining population also compelled community developers to begin to think critically and collaboratively on ways to address the abundance of vacant land.
"We viewed vacant land as an opportunity, not further demise," says Rusinow, who offers extensive tours of Detroit, including Downtown, Midtown, Eastern Market, Greektown, Corktown and the riverfront, as well as special places like the Heidelberg Project and Grand River. "We brought a better understanding of how the vacant land repurposing might be used to better life in the communities through jobs, healthily food and sustainability and improving the overall way the community looks and feels."
And like the partially constructed Inner Circle Greenway, a 42-kilometre non-motorized loop that Kavanaugh says will be completed in the next few years, Earthworks Urban Farm will continue connecting Detroit neighbourhoods, communities and people.