April 17, 2017
Jefferson Avenue was one of the two first roads laid out after the Detroit fire of 1805, along with Woodward. I started at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit, and walked east along Jefferson to the Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township.
Walking this route led me through four distinct types of communities. First, the commercial strip in Detroit went past the Renaissance Center, the world headquarters of GM, as well as the U.S. Detention and Deportation Center, the U.S. Border Patrol, and a friend’s studio/gallery storefront.
Then came Alter Road, the border between Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park. The set of four Grosse Pointes that Jefferson Avenue passes through – Grosse Pointe Park, Grosse Pointe, Grosse Pointe Farms, Grosse Pointe Shores – together with the fifth, Grosse Pointe Woods, make up some of the wealthiest municipalities in the U.S. They are thought of as where the “old money” of Detroit lives. At one point, realtors and homeowners worked together to rate potential homebuyers on race, nationality, occupation, and “degree of swarthiness,” with Jews, southern Europeans, and Poles requiring different cutoff numbers in order to be accepted. That’s after excluding African Americans and Asian Americans entirely.
After rounding the corner from the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House (Edsel Ford was the son of Henry Ford), you get into St. Clair Shores, where the houses and lots shrink down from mansion-size to regular middle class suburban size. People have asked whether I feel safe while I'm walking. The most I have been concerned so far was in St. Clair Shores, when I saw a sign on a house that said: “If you can’t get behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them.” As someone from a country with people who both stood with and against U.S. troops, that gave me a visceral feeling of unease.
After St. Clair Shores, Jefferson gets into Harrison Township. This part felt almost rural, with scattered housing developments and the disappearance of sidewalks.
The housing stock, the types of businesses, and the people on the street in each type of community gave me a sense of the demographics, which were confirmed afterward when I looked up census figures. You can see the divisions in the built environment, but more than that, you can feel them.
- Reynolds Farley, Sheldon Danziger and Harry J. Holzer. Detroit Divided. Russell Sage Foundation, 2000.
Some photos taken by Min-Jen Chang.