Sarah Klein, a former Metro Times scribe and noted burlesque dancer, was killed in a car crash in California earlier this week. For the past few days, Detroiters have been reminiscing about her work from her seven-year stint at the alt-weekly.
When I was a 20-year-old student at Michigan State who thought I knew Detroit inside and out, Klein penned a cover story for MT titled "Paradise Regained," a short history of burlesque dancers in Paradise Valley, a once-thriving black entertainment district adjacent to the famous Black Bottom, where my great-grandmother settled after migrating from rural Alabama in the 1940s. Both areas were lost when then-new I-75 was built and "suburb in the city" Lafayette Park was built nearby. I knew about Paradise Valley. I didn't know its history included saucy dancers, some of whom are still around today.
That's my favorite Sarah Klein story and, admittedly, the only one I could clearly remember off the top of my head when news spread of her death. I went looking for more of Klein's work and ran across her final column for MT, written in December 2006 precluding her move to California. And there's nothing there said in 2006 that can't be said today in 2013.
A few excerpts:
While most Detroiters have a love-hate relationship with the city, in the past few years, mine has devolved into a hate-hate one. There comes a time in everyone's life when they need to break free of their own self-designed containments, but I'll spare you all the Hallmarkian bullshit and get straight to the point: People are leaving Detroit — in droves.
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People are fed up.
Our state economy sucks.
For every step Detroit takes forward, it never seems enough.
But the incredible people who fill this city aren't enough to keep me, or my fellow expats, here. You need things like, oh, basic city services. Roads that don't crumble. Being able to walk out to your car in the morning without wondering if the windows will be broken this time. That all wears down on you after a while, and eventually it can become a weight too great to bear any longer.
I'm still here in Detroit, and I'm the same age Klein was when she wrote this column. No, I'm not trying to allude to some otherworldy spiritual connection with Klein. (We've never met.) But I know I'm not alone in this boat of almost-30-somethings wondering whether to stick it out here or head somewhere greener.
In 2006, Chrysler and GM hadn't gone bankrupt yet, Kwame Kilpatrick's text-messaging scandal and other dominoes had yet to fall in his undoing, and the population was still hovering around one million residents. If Klein thought life was rough in Detroit then, then she had no idea what was to come.
Most striking about Klein's observations in 2006, though, is something I've been trying to
beat you over the head with say for a minute now:
Why should we spend money getting creative people to live in designer lofts downtown when our public school system is decaying, basic city services are practically nonexistent and you can't even walk down the street without being accosted by homeless people? It's a sound question — but there needs to be some kind of balance.
In seven years, things have changed for the worse. The public school system — two of them, now — has completely decayed. City services still are hanging by a thread, and apparently the city has taken to other means to deal with the homeless population.
But Klein references failed initiatives (Michigan's "Cool Cities," anyone?) at redefining Detroit that didn't change the city much at all. Sure, the creatives came and we might have gotten a few public art installations out of the deal, but schools and services didn't improve. It's the reason why there's cynicism about a $40,000 RoboCop statue coming at the same time when billions of dollars of far more respected art could be flying out the back door.
Speaking of that RoboCop statue. I remember seeing the sentiments of "if we can raise money for this, we can raise money for anything" passed around. I'm still waiting on the "let's buy one of these empty DPS schools and start a new after-school art education to make up for the art classes being cut from DPS" Kickstarter.
Anyhow. There is plenty to be excited about Detroit's future and we're all trying to be patient. It's just a question of how much longer are we willing to wait.
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