Letter: Visitor finds downtown Detroit friendly, clean

Dear Detroit,

My girlfriend and I made the trip from Albany, Oregon, to Detroit to watch a football game in Ann Arbor last weekend. I chose to stay in Detroit four of the five nights because I wanted to experience the personality of the city.

I have been hearing stories of bankruptcy, high crime and urban blight regularly on the news. I was curious about how one of the great American industrial cities could have fallen into such decline and I wanted to see if what I was hearing was true.

I was immediately surprised (or not) by what I found. I stayed the four nights at the Roberts Riverwalk Hotel on the east side of downtown. All the employees at the establishment were warm and inviting — much more than when I take a weekend at the Oregon coast or to the high desert volcanoes 80 miles to the east of my home. It was a good quality hotel on the river, so I figured it was just good people doing their job well and I wasn’t anywhere near the troubled part of Detroit.

On Friday morning, I went to search for my morning caffeine, traveling east on Jefferson. I didn’t find any espresso stands selling lattes and diet Rockstar like you do every other corner in my hometown.

I stopped at a convenience store/gas station to get our morning wake-up stuff and was greeted by good mornings from everyone I walked past. What was this friendliness? It hadn’t stopped since we checked in at the hotel, to walking around the RiverWalk, to going to a gas station one block from burned-out and abandoned houses. It didn’t compute, but maybe it was just a first couple of lucky days.

On my last full day in Detroit, I walked the RiverWalk and drove around in the burned-out neighborhoods on the east side. The RiverWalk was very clean and safe. By clean I mean really clean. The RiverWalk in Portland, Oregon, is extremely dirty and littered with garbage. I saw nothing like that in Detroit. Downtown Detroit was also clean, safe but a little quieter than any other larger city I have traveled to. It was very obvious the city was making a strong effort to clean up every day, whether it is for their neighbors or visitors. Either way, I was very impressed.

What is this city that oozes confidence and respect for everyone while having literally square miles of burned-out, decaying neighborhoods? I never felt scared or uncomfortable. I have never been in a city where every person I walked by said hi or good morning. It was truly my pleasure to visit one of the great (if not the greatest) American cities.

Mike Kuntzelman

Albany, Oregon