Woodward Avenue

March 29, 2017

Woodward Avenue was my first walk, as I wanted to start with the most iconic avenue of them all. It is designated as Michigan state highway 1 (M-1), a Pure Michigan Byway, and an All-American Road by the Federal Highway Administration. Named after Augustus Woodward, the first Chief Justice of Michigan and architect of the Detroit city plan after the fire of 1805, it was one of the first two roads built after the fire, laid out to roughly follow a Native American path called the Saginaw Trail.

Woodward Avenue marks the border between Detroit's East and West sides. It is the soul of the region's car industry, with Ford, Chrysler and GM plants located close by the road at different points in time. It had the first mile of concrete highway in the world and the first three-color traffic light in the nation. It is the site of the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, a celebration of classic cars billed as the world's largest one-day automotive event. It is the road where Vincent Chin was beaten to death in 1982 by two white auto industry workers yelling racist epithets. Woodward Avenue is also the location of Cranbrook Educational Community, the home institution of Cranbrook Academy of Art where I am attending school. So, you can see, this road is a big deal.

I decided to start in Pontiac and end in Detroit, as a symbol of my journey from the suburban location of Cranbrook to the city. I started at the corner of Woodward and North Saginaw Street, and took the west side of the loop around downtown Pontiac. It was sunny and deserted in Pontiac. The walk went from Pontiac through Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Royal Oak, Berkley, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Ferndale, Detroit, through Highland Park, and back into Detroit. I ended in Hart Plaza, by the Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad. The walk took 11 hours.

The hardest part of the journey was in Bloomfield Hills, where there are no sidewalks. I walked on the grass by the side of the road, hugging trees and bushes in order to avoid the cars speeding past at 50 miles an hour.

The suburbs seemed interminable, mile after mile of storefronts. These are older suburbs though, so there actually were storefronts of small non-chain businesses, not just mini-malls and franchises. After I finished the walk, people asked me whether I talked to other pedestrians along the way, but my response was that there were very few. I did greet the ones I passed. Only one person asked me about my dress, an older African American woman in Highland Park. Highland Park is also the only place I got racially harassed, from a distance, by a group of teenage boys at a bus stop.

I won't lie, the last hour was hard. The back of my knees hurt, and it started to get dark. The thought passed through my mind that if I took the bus, no one would know. But I kept walking, and after passing the construction site of what I later found out is Little Caesars Arena, I finally reached downtown. In Hart Plaza, looking across the Detroit River to Canada, it struck me how much this border is a non-event, compared to the rabid rhetoric about the U.S. border in the south.

There are a lot of contradictions here.

Sources:

Some photos taken by Lyndsi Schuesler, Brandon Bullard and Angela Eastman.

 

Back to Walking Detroit page.