At the Motown Café and Grill on East Jefferson Avenue one
October morning last year, a small group gathers in a booth near
the window. The visitors peer out, studying with some interest
the wide roadway in front of the diner. Minutes pass between
solitary cars. The six lanes of East Jefferson Avenue—as wide as
most interstate highways—are for the most part empty.
For people who do what we do,” says one of the visitors, a
man from Ohio, “this city is amazing.” Around the Motown,
eyebrows are raised. It is a description that, in recent times, is
not often heard here in Detroit.
This particular spot on East Jefferson occupies a meaningful
place in the living history of the city. Eber BrockWard—steel, iron,
steamship and railway magnate, and Detroit’s first millionaire—is
buried just a block north of here in the Eastside Historic Cemetery
District. So, too, are Jerome Cavanagh and Coleman Young, both
mayors of Detroit during cataclysmic moments in the city’s history.
Cavanagh led the city during the 1967 riots. The tenure of Young,
Detroit’s first African-American mayor, was marked by both a
dramatic rise in downtown development and crime rates, and the
beginning of an exodus of the white middle class to the suburbs.
This stretch used to be one of the city’s most prosperous com-
mercial areas. Its story of decline, the city’s story of decline, has
by force of repetition and simplification become a defining trait
of the place for many who have never been here.
But for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), and our peers and
partners in Michigan, there are other stories in this city, other
moments and achievements to describe the people who live here
and to illuminate the landscape, physical and otherwise.
Made In
Joe Gall
Energy, Optimism and the
Resurgence of America’s Motor City
By Jake Lynch