By John Corvino
This column is dedicated to the memory of Doug McIntosh, who died suddenly on July 11 in the Julius Melchers House, the West Village Detroit home he and his partner, Scotty, painstakingly restored. Doug not only loved his chosen city; he worked to make it better. We can all learn from his example.
It happens so often it no longer surprises me. I was out of town (in Chicago, this time), and someone asked me where I’m from.
“Detroit,” I replied, waiting for the inevitable follow-up.
“Are you really from Detroit, or do you live in Oakland County?” he asked smugly.
“No, Detroit. In the City. South of 8 Mile.” At which point my questioner looked at me with a strange fascination, as if I had told him that I live in an enclave of talking sponges at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
At least he wasn’t obnoxious about it. Sometimes when I tell people that I’m from Detroit, they respond, “Oooh, I’m sorry” – to which I’ve developed an icy retort:
“Don’t be. At least people there aren’t rude, the way you just were.” (Miss Manners wouldn’t approve, but it makes me feel better.)
I have lived in the City of Detroit since moving to Michigan eight years ago. I like it here. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I might move to a nicer house (there’s a Mediterranean villa in Palmer Woods I’ve got my eye on), but I wouldn’t leave the city.
Part of the reason is aesthetic: I live in a neighborhood of beautifully crafted homes, surrounded by massive trees (the oak in my backyard is over 200 years old), in a unique 1930s Tudor. The neighborhood has a feeling of permanence that’s difficult to reproduce.
Part of the reason is financial: If you were to move my house to, say, Birmingham, it would cost at least three times what I paid for it. Even when you factor in Detroit’s higher tax rates and higher insurance costs, the homes are an unmatched bargain.
But the main reason is personal: I like the people here. My neighborhood is genuinely diverse: not just racially, but also in terms of family structure, age, occupations, and so on. I have a pastor living on one side of me and a playwright on the other. As in many of Detroit’s historic neighborhoods, there are an increasing number of gays, who coexist peacefully with the African-American professionals who have lived here for decades. We look out for each other and for the neighborhood we love.
And so I beamed with pride when, in a recent issue of Metro Parent magazine, one of our (straight) neighborhood board members enthusiastically noted that among the diverse groups living here in Sherwood Forest is a gay contingent. That issue included a pair of articles – one, “The Lure of City Living,” the other, “The Appeal of Exurbia” – about raising children inside and outside of cities.
The “City” article profiled some neighbors of mine – a social worker and a landscape contractor – who are probably the most gay-friendly straight people I know. The “Exurbia” article profiled a New Haven family who had left Ferndale because, among other horrors, they were “uneasy about the gay couples moving into the area.”
Memo to Exurbia: You can keep ’em.
Admittedly, part of the reason we city-dwellers bond so well is unity in adversity. Detroit’s city services often leave much to be desired. But they noticeably improve when people cooperate to make their voices heard, and so we do – gay and straight, black and white, young and old.
At the same time, city services in the established neighborhoods are a far cry better than some suburbanites seem to believe. When some friends recently bought a house on 7 Mile, they were told, “Aren’t you worried about safety? You’re in the ‘hood, you know.”
To which they responded, “Congressman Conyers lives across the street. It’s not exactly ‘the hood.'”
It’s worth noting that the people who make such ignorant comments often haven’t set foot south of 8 Mile in years, and when they do, it’s only to go to a ball game. Which is sad, because the city has so many other things to offer as well: restaurants and art galleries and museums and architectural wonders and really cool neighborhoods with some of the most interesting and creative people you’ll find in the metro area.
People sometimes ask me, “Don’t you wish Detroit had a gay neighborhood, like Chicago’s Boys Town?” I don’t, really. Personally, I prefer neighborhoods where gays rub elbows with everyone else: pastors and playwrights, congressmen and contractors. I’m proud to call the city my home.