Happy Birthday, Detroit!
Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus
We hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes
By Sawyer Lipari, Senior Director
Father Gabriel Richard penned Detroit’s motto after the Great Fire of 1805, which caused the entire city to burn except for one building—Fort Lernoult (also known as Fort Detroit and then Fort Shelby). While many of us may not be familiar with our city’s history, as we celebrate Detroit’s 320th birthday, it feels appropriate to reflect on how this saying holds true and to look back on why this city remains one of the greats.
I’m not from here—not from in or around Detroit and not even a Michigander. I hail from the East Coast and spent seven years living and working in New York City before making my way to the Midwest five years ago now. Detroit and NYC differ significantly, from density and land mass to affordability and transportation to history and even pizza (!). For me though, I’m pretty certain I would not have been afforded the same experiences and opportunities in New York as I have had in Detroit—serving on nonprofit boards, building new networks and creating connections throughout the city and state, organizing citywide and community events, and simply witnessing a revitalization in such a historical place.
And while I’m still exploring and learning about the many hidden gems of both the city and the state, I can confidently say, Detroit residents’ love, passion and pride for their city is unwavering. The city and its people have been through and seen a lot, both good and bad—yet Detroit continues to persevere. From the ups to the downs, its people continue to push through and rise up, always hoping for the better and proving that its city can and will come back.
Yes, there are many comeback cities throughout the United States—Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Ala., Oklahoma City and Boston to name a few— they have all had re-emergences of their own. But to me, Detroit’s story is unique both in terms of its scope and its timeline.
Since Detroit’s exit from bankruptcy in 2014, efforts to revitalize and rebuild were immediate. Investments came in, new developments were sparked, and community initiatives launched from a multitude of individuals and both for- and non-profit organizations. With this energy came a share of the spotlight.
Detroit became the new “it” city—with Lonely Planet naming it the no. 2 place in the world to visit in 2018. Outside money and creativity poured into the city.
But as is the case in every boom, interest eventually moved on to the next “hot” location. That’s fine; we’re good either way. One of Detroit’s strengths is its durability of spirit. Regardless of what’s thrown our way, the support for Detroit’s comeback continues. We recognize the sheer volume of opportunity this city has to offer residents, entrepreneurs, businesses, students and families alike, and we celebrate it.
So, as we celebrate the big 3-2-0, I reflect on—and am amazed at—the growth I’ve witnessed since my U-Haul first entered Detroit city limits in June of 2016: the ground-up development of the Little Caesar’s Arena, which is now a top-10 sports and concert venue worldwide; the Q-Line; the explosion of residential and commercial developments, as well as the small businesses and new restaurants in Detroit proper; and then some. In this city, I’ve also become a first-time homeowner, started a family and, alongside the rest of Detroit, experienced the impact of a global pandemic. Thus, while my “birth roots” might not be in Detroit—nor Michigan—this city will always have a piece of my heart and so many memories I could not be more grateful for.
Happy birthday to you, Detroit! As you hope for the better, may you always get the best, and may you always rise up, no matter what comes your way.
P.S. Here are a few fun facts in honor of Detroit’s birthday:
- Why is it called Motor City—aside from it being headquarters to the Big 3? Detroit was the first city in the United States to pave a road, making it easier for cars to travel. The very first mile of concrete is located at Woodward Avenue between 6 Mile and 7 Mile. Detroit is also home to the first four-way three-color traffic light and the world’s first urban freeway.
- Belle Isle is the largest island park in the United States.
- In addition to Motown, techno also originated in Detroit.
- Vernors is the oldest surviving ginger ale brand—and the oldest soda or should I say pop—in the nation.
- Detroit has the most registered bowlers anywhere in the United States.
- Nearly 1,200 feet below the city, there are more than 1,500 acres of salt—called the Detroit Salt Mine. The mine is older than automobiles and contains salt deposits older than the dinosaurs!
- This city is considered the potato chip consumption capital of the country with Detroiters consuming an average of 7 pounds of chips per year!