Lost in Detroit: A Gentrifier's Story

Let me say, as a young gentrifier, it's not that easy. Aside from my daily struggle of squeezing my legs into my skinny jeans, life is not a trust-fund joyride when you're a partially employed member of Detroit's creative class.
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I am against gentrification in Detroit. I don't want my rent to increase. I don't want my neighbors driven out. And I don't want the city to lose its culture only to be replaced by a generic and trendy gluten free economy. The only problem with this is that I am a cause of gentrification in Detroit. And I am not unique. And that's okay.

There seems to be this impression that there is this group of young white hipsters moving into Detroit and living these sweet, lush, and upper middle class lives. Well let me say, as a young gentrifier, it's not that easy. Aside from my daily struggle of squeezing my legs into my skinny jeans, life is not a trust-fund joyride when you're a partially employed member of Detroit's creative class. Because with all of the recent investments that have gone into the city, there still seems to be a lack of entry-level positions. And for some reason, none of these companies believe me when I tell them I'm ready for a senior position. So what we have is a city of partially employed gentrifiers who are, unlike other city's gentrifiers, struggling to get by. And I could vacate the state like the overwhelming majority of my undergraduate classmates, look for employment in areas where jobs are more ample, and post pictures of myself in a Tiger's hat while at a White Sox game. But I decided to stay. Why? Because I like it here.

Why? Because I finished my undergraduate career at MSU unsure what I wanted to do with my life, and Detroit seemed like this land of opportunity and opened space. Because I grew up in the suburbs and was mystified by the allure of being a part of the revitalization of Detroit. Because something about the city just spoke to me, the nightlife, the culture, the connection to my family's history. And because in 2007, when I told the college counselor that I still didn't know what type of career to pursue, she told me not to worry about it. She advised to take some time to figure things out. So, instead of backpacking around the world or hiding away in a shack on a mountain, I moved to the Woodbridge neighborhood to be a writer and figure out where my life would go. A year later, while I was still figuring things out, the country entered a great recession, and this luxury of time had disappeared without me even knowing it.

Now, grant you, as a result of living in Detroit, I've been able to do things I would not as easily accomplish in other cities. I am a main stage writer and actor at Detroit's finest improv theatre, Go Comedy!, which is actually in Ferndale, though I'm not sure if anyone in Ferndale is aware that Ferndale is a separate city and not a neighborhood within Detroit.

And while this narrative of young artists taking over Detroit has been played out over and over, there has not been much attention drawn to the long-term inevitability: we, the creatives, need jobs. And while I hope I do not have to argue the importance of a city providing employment, I will clarify that I am not simply talking about any job, but a job that allows a young person like myself to put my education and creativity to good use. A job that one day allows me to be qualified for the senior positions currently out of my reach (despite my best efforts).

In my multi-year long quest to find full time employment, I have job-shadowed and met with several people in the field that I am hoping to pursue, and they've all told me of this fruitful time when they came out of college like me, bounced around for a while like me, yet were then able to find full time work due to the overabundance of available positions. They called this time the 90s, and it sounds magical.

Let me be clear, this is not a plea for sympathy, though I am never against receiving any, but instead a desire to point out a larger problem -- that if a college-educated person who grew up in a middle-class family can't find a job, what hope is there for the rest of my generation? I am not asking for handouts, and I am not saying you should feel worse for me than the single working mother we hear politicians speak about who has to decide between buying medication for her ailing mother or food for her children. I am simply saying that I want to be an employee. I am well qualified and hardworking. I have a master's degree. I have put out over 20 job applications and the most I have heard back is that a few HR departments are "assessing their needs," and they'll get back to me when the right opportunity opens up.

In other cities, gentrifiers move into neighborhoods, buy their houses and sell them five years later for a profit. In Detroit gentrifiers move in, become a part of their neighborhood, support their local businesses, and work hard like everyone else. In most cities the gentrifiers move to the city because of a job, but in Detroit we move to the city because of the city, and then hope to find a job.

So while I have no trouble complaining normal gentrified complaints -- like the fact that there is no Apple store in downtown Detroit. Or that no one seems to notice the lack of convenient bike racks near Ford Field. Or the fact that the organic food section at my local grocery store is way smaller than I would prefer it to be -- as a gentrifier in Detroit I am also concerned with whether I will ever have an occupation that provides health care for me. And how will I pay my rent two months from now? And what would I do if my car were to get stolen?

So yes, I want a job. And not just for me, but for my droves of partially employed friends, who are also gentrifying Detroit. And yes, if more entry-level jobs come into the city, more of the vacant spaces will become occupied and communities will become more walkable, and all of this will lead to a more gentrified-looking Detroit. But due to the different mentality of those currently gentrifying, I am confident that we will be able to work together as a city to enact protections for the rights of the current residents.

In the end, the main purpose of this article is to hope that there is an employer out there interested in hiring me. But, the secondary purpose is to acknowledge that gentrifiers in Detroit are not moving into the city in order to make a fast profit, but because we like being a part of the city. That includes listening to and respecting the current residents, while also taking advantage of the unique surrounding. And that when it comes down to it, we are like every other Detroiter; we want good jobs, safe communities, and a city that fits our lifestyle. We are not moving into Detroit to turn it into Portland, but to keep it Detroit, just with a few more employed residents.

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