After the Detroit Silverdome/Pontiac Silverdome dustup between Jalopnik Detroit and Gawker this weekend, quite a few readers questioned why Detroiters got so offended if a city in question is technically part of the metro area. There's a reason for that: Most cities in Metro Detroit are worlds apart.
We've been down a similar path trying to deconstruct the city of Detroit, so let's travel a bit further into the suburbs.
So, what exactly is Metro Detroit?
Generally speaking, I like to classify Metro Detroit as the tri-county area that includes Wayne County, Oakland County and Macomb County. Detroit is obviously the anchor of the area. It's in Wayne County.
The Wikipedia Mafia will be quick to point out that certain census designations include other counties like Washtenaw, Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston and Monroe. But if we're talking cultural similarities, driving distances, the evolution of the city and its suburbs and little things like "Hi, I'm from _____," the tri-county definition is the way to go.
Lansing (Michigan's capital), Flint, Toledo (a completely different state) and Windsor (a different country!) are all nearby but not at all considered Metro Detroit.
Is Ann Arbor part of Metro Detroit?
It really, really depends on who you talk to. The world knows Ann Arbor as the home of the University of Michigan, so it sort of has its own identity. It's the nucleus of Washtenaw County, surrounded by smaller cities like Ypsilanti, Saline, Whitmore Lake and Milan. To some extent, Brighton and the southern part of Livingston County could be distant attachments to Ann Arbor — or maybe they're just further-flung suburbs of Detroit. Ann Arbor has enough social, cultural and financial capital to stand on its own as a metro area.
That said. If you live in Ann Arbor, you're watching Detroit news stations. You might subscribe to the Detroit Free Press or The Detroit News because The Ann Arbor News wasn't published daily. It's 30 minutes away from Detroit in a neighboring county. You fly out of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport when you travel. Like I said, there are some people who would consider Ann Arbor to be part of the Detroit area. I lean toward the former argument that it stands on its own.
Your closest comparison to Ann Arbor and Detroit would probably be Cambridge and Boston, but if someone can think of a better example I'm all ears.
So why do people get all offended about mistaking Detroit and [insert suburb here]?
Like a lot of things around here, it's tied to the race and class divisions that were drawn decades ago. If someone's from Highland Park, TX, they're going to say they're from Dallas. If someone's from Highland Park, MI, they're going to say they're from Highland Park.
It's not as easy to say "I'm from Detroit" when so many politicians and residents over the years have done all they could to disassociate themselves from the city. And as I've pointed out several times here, Detroiters themselves have an odd complex about identifying themselves that's a mix of city pride and stubborn resistance.
The easy example to point to is Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who for years has trashed Detroit in favor of protecting the (very white, very wealthy) Oakland County. Even though there are parts of Oakland County that aren't so white and wealthy. Like Pontiac! So no one from Oakland County is going to say they're from Oakland County, or Detroit. They're going to tell you exactly what their address is.
The example I like to point to is Eastpointe, a small city in Macomb County. Years ago, the city was known as East Detroit (despite the fact that it's geographically north of Detroit.) The city changed its name to Eastpointe to associate itself with the wealthy Grosse Pointe suburbs (although neither East Detroit nor its current incarnate were ever wealthy), thus removing all trace of "Detroit" from its history — except the schools, because the high school alumni association wanted to preserve the name of where they graduated from. It's that sort of mentality — "I'm not from Detroit, I'm from _____" — that runs deep here.
Is South Detroit a real place?
Only to Journey fans.
Someone once told me they were from Downriver. Where and what is that?
Ah, Downriver. Downriver is the catch-all term for the Wayne County suburbs immediately south of Detroit. (It is "down" the Detroit River.) There is no city called Downriver. Now here's something Wikipedia actually sums up pretty well.
There's a certain stereotype to Downriver depending on who you talk to in Michigan, so to some people it can be seen as derogatory. The area is largely working-class, mostly white, leans conservative, and has several residents who migrated from the South. So yeah, you're going to hear the non-PC "hillbilly" and "redneck" come out of some people's mouths when describing people from Downriver. (The region's largest city, Taylor, is sometimes called Taylortucky, for instance.)
In recent years, however, Downriver appears to be moving past its stereotype. It's also a lot less white as black and Latino residents from Detroit move elsewhere. It's a mixed bag that gets a bad rep, but it's really just a mix of bland suburbs. Taylor's a bit McMansion-y, Melvindale and Lincoln Park have their bungalows, Flat Rock and some of the other southern 'burbs have acres and acres of open land. I think Wyandotte is underrated — good downtown on the riverfront, with cheap living? Why aren't you hipsters moving there instead?
I heard that Detroit is home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the country.
That would be Dearborn, a city just outside Detroit that's home to the largest Middle Eastern population outside the Middle East. (For Jalops, it's also home of Ford's headquarters.) That said, Dearborn is also very Muslim — which causes it to attract a lot of 9/11 truthers and right-winger pastors who campaign for the protection of 'MURICA! on the grounds of several of the city's mosques.
(Confesson: Lately I — and others — find myself describing Dearborn as a place to get some great Middle Eastern food, which is a shame. I shouldn't boil down a city with a rich culture to just food, and neither should you, my fellow Detroiters. I apologize.)
Because Dearborn has built up quite a bit of cultural cachet, no one's going to say they're from Detroit. They'll say they're from Dearborn. Dearborn, however, is not to be confused with Dearborn Heights, a different municipality that's currently in the news because of the forthcoming Renisha McBride trial.
OK, so what are these "Grosse Pointes" I've heard of?
"The Virgin Suicides," "Grosse Pointe Blank" and a short-lived WB drama of the same name all take inspiration from the Grosse Pointe suburbs that include Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Woods, Grosse Pointe Shores and Grosse Pointe Park. It does not include Grosse Ile, a Downriver suburb on an island.
Built on Industrial Age wealth, the Grosse Pointes had a long, long, WASP-y reputation of keeping out minorities by any means, especially minorities from Detroit. Now I've heard that reputation is disappearing, and the Grosse Pointes is home to a few famous blacks like Anita Baker and such, but some of that old mentality manifests in different ways. Take the Grosse Pointe North/Grosse Pointe South high school debacle, for example, and how some parents are using the most coded of coded languages to complain about the number of black students arriving in the district.
It is still among the wealthiest areas in Metro Detroit — if not the wealthiest — and was immune to some of the recent economic challenges. Unless you count lowering the entry fee to some country clubs as an economic challenge. If someone is from Grosse Pointe Shores, Woods, Farms or Park, they'll say they're from Grosse Pointe. And if someone from Grosse Pointe is from Grosse Pointe, they'll say they're from Grosse Pointe. Nobody in the Pointes will say they're from Detroit.
Is Oakland County rich?
You may have read some stats that Oakland County, directly north of Detroit, is among the richest counties in the nation. But how can this be if it's right next to Detroit? I don't know, how the fuck is Oakland so poor and Atherton is so rich? I guess metro areas have different levels of wealth, huh?
Oakland County is indeed home to a number of wealthy communities (Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Bingham Farms, Franklin, Commerce Township, Troy and so on). That said, the price of entry isn't inaccessible to all. You've got Ferndale, the trendy suburb that's either a benchwarmer for future Detroit residents or a springboard into Royal Oak. Royal Oak is college after college, a city full of bars where 30-somethings get blackout drunk. Southfield is home to a high population of middle-class African-Americans (though to be fair, you can find middle-class and upper-class blacks everywhere in Metro Detroit — surprise! We're not all poor!) that gets a bad rep from Detroiters because it tried to become downtown Detroit back in the day.
Then you've got the not-so-rich, not-so-trendy areas like Pontiac and Royal Oak Township. And then everywhere else in Michigan's O.C. is everything in between. Oak Park — bungalows! Farmington Hills — subdivisions! Waterford — we're not Pontiac!
Again, none of these people will say they're from Detroit — unless they live in Ferndale.
I noticed that a running theme here is bland suburbs and subdivisions and such.
Well, yeah. Metro Detroit is full of those. We haven't even gotten into Western Wayne County. Like Canton, for example. Canton is a giant strip mall of a city; there is literally nothing you can't find on Ford Road. (It's also home to the region's only IKEA.) I guess there wouldn't be that much difference between Metro Detroit and some other areas.
Someone from Canton, Westland, Inkster, Belleville, Garden City, Northville, Plymouth or the other Western Wayne suburbs might say they're from Detroit, but chances are they won't.
How about Macomb County?
Macomb County is north of Detroit and the site of uncomfortable sprawl as residents move further and further north away from Detroit. Other than the Chrysler 200, Macomb County's most famous export is Kid Rock.
Every experience I've ever had with Macomb County involves racism of some sort. A friend of mine in Roseville described an experience where one of her white friends complained about the number of n-words moving in. Another friend writing for our college paper talked about his Shelby Township friend casually using the term porch monkey to describe athletes. Whenever you hear of a hate crime, like people leaving KKK newsletters on the porches of interracial families, where is it usually happening?
This is not to say that every single person in Macomb County is racist and that racism does not exist anywhere else in the city and disclaimer, disclaimer, et cetera, et cetera. It's just that if you talk to a number of black people in and from Detroit about Macomb County and you might hear something similar. Or hell, talk to a couple of white people who have moved from Macomb County into the city over the last few years.
(I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Mount Clemens, home to a significant black enclave in Macomb County that has subsisted for years. But still.)
That said. Much like Dearborn, Macomb County is home to a growing Arab-American population. The doors that closed off to blacks and other minorities were broken down by the economic crisis, as inner-ring suburbs like Eastpointe (remember, formerly East Detroit?), St. Clair Shores and Warren get more and more diverse. Hall Road running through Utica and Clinton Township, is a giant strip mall like Ford Road in Canton.
Because Warren is Michigan's third-largest city, and most other cities in Macomb County have some kind of unique identifier amidst their otherwise bland suburbanness, nobody in Macomb County will say they're from Detroit. Unless they're Kid Rock.
And there are cities inside the city of Detroit, right?
That would be Highland Park, home to the original Model T plant (and birthplace of the American assembly line) and Hamtramck, a tiny little melting pot where everyone gets along swell despite some of the divisions elsewhere in the region. They're not from Detroit, they're from Highland Park and Hamtramck.
I'm so confused. If you're from Metro Detroit, can't you just say you're from Detroit?
NO, BECAUSE THAT'S NOT THE WAY IT WORKS HERE. WE'RE DIFFERENT! And yes, it's frustrating to explain. But that's the way it is. Blame history, not me.
Is there a scene from a popular movie about Detroit that sums this up?
Feel free to ask me any ridiculous question you'd like down below.
Photos via AP, Wikipedia Commons