Over the Fourth of July weekend we were in Detroit for the 2017 National Tae Kwon Do Championships. Aside from the martial arts extravaganza, one of the things I've always enjoyed about these types of events is that it can provide an opportunity to see places you otherwise might not.
But seriously - Detroit?
Still, that's where the tournament was, so that's where we were going. I pictured spending a lot of time in the hotel room in-between formal events (the hotel was a different story - is there a Crowne Plaza in the nation that has been re-decorated later than 1987...?).
Turns out that Detroit - or at least the broad downtown section that contains the Cobo Center - is under revitalization. And it shows. While there are a handful of buildings that are in very poor condition, those that we encountered are under construction. And the city has built a downtown park - called Campus Martius Park - which puts a lovely central focus point on the region.
The Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument sits at one entry point to the park. The park itself contains many of the things that one would expect - trees, tables, fountains, a bandshell, people reading, talking, playing chess. It also contains a huge sandbox (called "the beach") and an outdoor bar. This, as one might suspect, makes it a lovely space for people of all ages to congregate, and the park was well attended. This was lovely enough that we chose to spend time there on a couple of different days that we had open.
This area is also very bike-friendly, and the city has recently incorporated a bike-sharing system similar to that found in other cities. There are multiple restaurants within a short walk of the park, including a Hard Rock Café, a marvelous breakfast place called The Dime Store, and a little further down, the Detroit Beer Company, a local brewpub.
We also took a ride on the Detroit People Mover, did a walk-thru at the General Motors building, and spent a short period of time walking through the small Greektown the city offers.
The experience wasn't flawless. The city does have a homelessness problem, and when walking to breakfast we encountered one man laying splayed on the sidewalk such that it was unclear whether he was sleeping, or waiting for someone to make a chalk outline around him. He was gone when we passed back that way, so it was likely the former.
The city probably benefitted somewhat from low expectations - I wouldn't recommend it as a vacation destination by itself - but all in all, the experience was much different than I expected, and far more pleasant.