MY BIO: Bill McGraw, a former longtime journalist of the Detroit Free Press, drove down each of Detroit's 2,100 or so streets in 2007 as part of the newspaper’s “Driving Detroit” project. For the project’s 10-year anniversary, he returned to those communities and revisited the stories he told a decade earlier to measure Detroit’s progress. He is here to answer all your questions about the Motor City, including its downfall, its resurrection and the city’s culture, safety, education, lifestyle and more.


THE STORY: Here is our "Driving Detroit" project, where we ask: Has the Motor City's renaissance reached its streets?

How Detroit has changed over the past 10 years. Will the neighborhoods ever rebound?

10 key Detroit developments since 2007:

EDIT, 2:30 p.m.: Bill is signing off for now - but he may be back later to answer more questions. Thank you so much, all, for participating in the Detroit Free Press' first AMA! Be sure to follow us on Reddit here:

Comments: 3781 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

Your_Zombie_Crush5880 karma

Is it true that some places there you can buy a house for 5 dollars?

detroit_free_press8479 karma

I don't know about $5. I have read some people have bought a house for $100, and I know someone who bought one for $600, and that one required massive renovation.

Im-so-tired5064391 karma

My husband’s family is from Detroit. The last time we visited, it was interesting to see the city’s progress regarding demolition of abandoned homes. Many streets now have empty lots where homes used to be. His parents can’t believe how much the city has changed over their lifetime.

As a resident, what is it like seeing the vast changes going on in Detroit?

detroit_free_press5829 karma

The major changes have been amazing, but so far the new housing, restaurants etc are mostly located in about 8 square miles of the 139-square-mile city. Detroit is cleaner and better lit all over, but stats show it is the USA's poorest and most violent big city, so it's fair to say not every neighborhood is enjoying a renaissance.

rotting-brain2583 karma

How many cars did it take?

detroit_free_press5666 karma

I used company cars. You can treat them like off-road vehicles.

kkrowe1909 karma

Hi Bill, this isn't very specific, but after driving 2,100 roads in Detroit - what's one of the most unique or most interesting things you saw?

detroit_free_press5072 karma

For the most part I saw people just going about their lives, as they would be doing in any city or suburb in the country. I did come across a burning house, and people were screaming that a woman was trapped inside. The DFD rolled up and firefighters ran right into the house to try to find her. She was across the street, visiting a neighbor.

Uramon1301 karma

European (italian) here, i don't know much but read a lot of nasty things about Detroit on the internet and how urban degradation is widespread in the city. Is it really that bad as depicted? How is the situation changed in the last 20 years? What do the white and black communities think about the city?

detroit_free_press1809 karma

Detroit is a big place -- 139 square miles. There is everything: mansions, slums, blighted property, miles of middle-class housing. There have been many positive changes in the past 10 years, but abandoned housing remains a major problem, and is often the main thing visitors take away with them.

RyanTrevi780 karma

Did you see the chickens and peacock on 4th st?

detroit_free_press1182 karma

I didnt see chickens, but I certainly saw peacocks. I once wrote a story about a lovely peacock who had been shot with a long bullet from a crossbow pistol. The bullet lodged in the fleshly part of its neck, and it was caught and healed...

PsycholinguisticTor693 karma

Have things gotten better or worse for the outlying Detroit neighborhoods in the past 10 years? Were there streets then or now that you felt unsafe driving down?

detroit_free_press1093 karma

I never felt unsafe driving down any streets or talking to people, and I had no incidents. Blight continues to be a huge problem in many neighborhoods, but the streets are better lit and cleaner than they were 10 years ago.

rykki375 karma

What do you consider blight in Detroit?

detroit_free_press887 karma

Blight in Detroit is empty houses and commercial buildings, and there are tens of thousands of them, sadly.

BDoisneau600 karma

Is it going to be possible to keep the infrastructure running for the few people that remain in some of these areas? No matter how well kept, how can a city service just a few houses in what was once a neighborhood of hundreds of houses?

detroit_free_press678 karma

That is a huge question for politicians. As I write in the main story of today's package, how to deal with Detroit's empty land is difficult because many people hear "they're stealing my home" when the officeholders discuss shrinking the city. Right now there are approx 24 square miles of empty land in the city, and that figure is growing.

tomcruiseiscrazy190 karma

In your experience, has that 'empty land' approach to remove blight, group housing and possibly raise real estate pricing been approached effectively? What do city planners say? In 10 years will we be looking at diversified and thoughtful parks across the city or a hodgepodge of Urban Forrest cutting off communities from each other?

detroit_free_press360 karma

City planners in Detroit today are working to increase density. They don't want to continue to replicate single family homes, but rather build townhouses and apartments, like in many big cities. The question of what to do with all the empty land is complicated, but if you check out the Detroit Future City website, you'll see a coherent vision of how to handle the empty acres. Making that happen in real life is a challenge.

Lastly, there are a lot of small-scale Green Infrastructure projects underway. Emphasis on small.

Spooki62 karma

Holy cow, that’s more than half the size of San Francisco

milarso151 karma

Manhattan, San Fransisco and Boston could all fit comfortably into Detroit's city limits.

detroit_free_press93 karma

I think Manhattan, SF, Boston AND Paris could fit into Detroit.

Talpostal548 karma

Do you have any recommendations for under-the-radar things far outside of the immediate downtown core? I'm a big fan of Cadeiux Cafe and the Dakota Inn and I'm sure that there's more out there that I just don't know about.

detroit_free_press747 karma

Scotty's Fish and Chips on Fenkell in Brightmoor...

detroit_free_press534 karma

Check out our "Driving Detroit, 10 years later" project here, where we ask: Has the Motor City's renaissance reached its streets?

torgis30481 karma

I worked downtown Detroit from 2003-2016 and spent a lot of time driving around the city looking for cool things to see and photograph. Along the way, I saw my fair share of crazy stuff - burning houses (twice), burning cars (twice as well), a car that had smashed into a barricade and been abandoned with the engine still running, urban farms, and transient communities squatting in abandoned houses...

But one of the things that surprised me most was the amount of wildlife I've seen wandering freely through the city. I've seen deer, pheasants, grouse, a coyote, packs of wild dogs, and once, I swear to god, I thought I saw a peacock. No joke.

What has your experience been in this regard? What's the craziest animal you've seen wandering around the city?

detroit_free_press528 karma

With the way Detroit's buildings and homes have disappeared, nature has come roaring back, including trees growing on the tops of buildings and many animals. I've seen coyotes, bald eagles, deer, foxes, wild turkeys, peacocks, pheasants....I didn't see many wild dogs. The wild-dog issue in Detroit seems over-hyped.

meatboat2tunatown358 karma

In your estimation, what were the 3 leading root causes of Detroit's fall from prominence to the alleged decrepid contemporary state?

detroit_free_press838 karma

  1. Flight of business, especially heavy manufacturing, which started after WW II.
  2. Flight of white residents, which also started after WW II
  3. Inability of government at all levels to deal with the ensuing poverty in the city.

meatboat2tunatown158 karma

Thanks! But what caused #1 and #2, those were symptoms, not root causes, right? (5 Why Analysis)

detroit_free_press444 karma

I think #1 and #2 were root causes. For starters, Detroit lost something like 143,000 manufacturing jobs between 1947 and 1963. Those were the types of jobs that allowed you to have a nice house, send your kids to college and maybe buy a boat or small cottage. After 1963, the job loss continued.

TheFakeRPeezzie240 karma

Did you hit about 20 pot holes per day like I do driving around for work everyday?

detroit_free_press291 karma

The streets in Detroit are bad, but so are many streets in the suburbs.

Tr33207 karma

I recently "explored" Detroit using Google Street View. It's crazy how much empty space there is. With all of that empty space, is there any urban gardening for food production going on?

detroit_free_press249 karma

There are many farms, gardens etc. Just google Detroit and agriculture.

i_kunda_you179 karma

What is the biggest change you've noticed in Detroit in the last 10 years??

Maybe you could share one positive change and one negative change?


detroit_free_press357 karma

Positive: Virtually all of the city is better lit. Much of it is cleaner than 10 years ago, when we did the original "Driving Detroit."

Negative: Abandonment remains a massive problem, even as Mayor Duggan has presided over the demolition of more than 13,000 blighted homes.

Dillon_Davis157 karma

Hi, Bill. Suzette Hackney wrote a fascinating story for Politico a few years back asking, "Is There Room for Black People in the New Detroit?" She argues the city is making progress while also remaining cognizant of which demographics are seeing progress and which ones are being left behind. It's insightful. To what extent are you seeing Detroit's economic recovery outside of the city's downtown corridor? Have you felt the city's ongoing development efforts have been mindful of low-income residents and PoC? And what could city officials and developers do better to foster an environment of racial equity and ensure Detroit's culture isn't becoming gentrified in the process of its recovery?

detroit_free_press223 karma

This is a very good question that gets to the heart of Detroit's "recovery." While there have been many remarkable changes downtown, in Midtown and many adjacent neighborhoods, it's clear the money is not pouring into most areas of Detroit. The new Q Line streetcar, for example, serves the resurgent areas, but bus service remains wanting, and it's difficult to travel by bus from city to suburb. On the other hand, much of the city is cleaner and better lit since 2007.

-Boske-155 karma

Can you speak of Techno’s significance in Detroit? Do you know if the music industry, particularly this genre is causing any sort of positive economic growth in the city and if so to what degree?

detroit_free_press255 karma

Techno is very significant culturally, and it draws thousands of people from around the world to the annual techno fest in May on the riverfront. But I thunk it's safe to say techno is much more popular in Europe than it is in Detroit

MGoAzul144 karma

What's you take on the potential with Amazon; but even more so, what do you think the released proposal and incentive package says about the city to other companies considering opening or moving here, both from within the state, around the country, and around the world?

detroit_free_press262 karma

I think Detroit's -- and metro Detroit's -- horrible transit will make Amazon look elsewhere. I also have to read about the proposal that emerged this week. I've been busy finishing our "Driving Detroit" update

Vitaebat130 karma

My mother was born and raised in Detroit, and while I was born there I was not raised there. She has taken me through areas of Detroit where she grew up and I felt rather out of place, not afraid for my life, but feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb.

Were there areas in Detroit where you felt comfortable, or alternatively areas where you felt that your life was in danger?

detroit_free_press292 karma

I've worked in Detroit for more than 40 years and I literally have never felt in danger. I have always been treated with respect by anyone I met.

nickycheese95 karma

What neighborhoods piqued your interest in 2007 and again in 2017?

detroit_free_press189 karma

SW Detroit is always interesting because it has everything -- vibrant commerce, street life, interesting restaurants, good neighborhoods, a cool mix of people..but it also has crime, gangs and abandonment

stevestgermain87 karma

What neighborhood would you consider underrated or under-the-radar to most people? Which neighborhood has the most potential to come back in a meaningful way?

Also, whats your favorite street and why is it Woodward?

detroit_free_press145 karma

Ten years ago, I thought Milwaukee Junction -- north of I-94, east of Woodward and south of E Grand Blvd -- was poised for development because it had some housing and lots of empty buildings, plus it's next to Midtown. That is happening.

Favorite street: I have always liked Corktown, even long before it became hot. In 2007, I wrote that my favorite street was Vinewood in SW Detroit. I like the old houses on it.

theknightof8667 karma

What is “Mexicantown” in Detroit? I heard it’s a vibrant community in Detroit, but not sure what it is. Can you elaborate? Is it like Chinatown?

detroit_free_press142 karma

Mexicantown is a sprawling neighborhood in SW Detroit that stretches from the old train station virtually to the Dearborn city limits. The predominant ethnic group is Mexican, but it is also home to other Hispanic nationalities, whites, African Americans, plus poor, working class and middle-class residents. There are lots of restaurants and shops with an ethnic theme, and also hip venues like El Club, for all sorts of bands.

NewMexicoJoe57 karma

Did you play the 8 Mile soundtrack while on 8 Mile?

detroit_free_press88 karma

No, sorry, I listened to the radio

Geotherm_alt52 karma

How did you plan where you would go? Was it all pre-planned or did you just decide to cover a certain area each day?

detroit_free_press91 karma

I started testing the idea of driving the whole city on the far east side, from Alter Road and Mack up to Waveny and east to about Nottingham. Once I figured it was a do-able project, I hopped around the city from day to day, keeping track of everything on maps and notebooks. I skipped around to keep it interesting. And the west side is so big it seemed to never end.

rkiloquebec46 karma

Hi Bill, once a month my fiance and i leave our 9 mile bubble and drive to neighborhoods we have never been to before in Detroit. Do you have any recommendations for specific streets we should drive for any particular reason?

detroit_free_press74 karma

I would drive across Warren, starting in the east, at Mack (the GP city limits) and drive on Warren through Detroit to Dearborn, where it becomes the vibrant main street of Arab America, with restaurants, juice bars, shops etc. Warren in Detroit goes from very blighted to very vibrant.

MGoAzul42 karma

Transplant who moved downtown a year ago; what do you think is the next up and coming area in the next 5 ten years. Both those near the core city (like City Center, Near North, North Corktown, island view) and that a bit further out, Jefferson Chalmers, East English Village, etc.). Anything you see on the cusp of starting to grow but still in the early stages?

detroit_free_press53 karma

Jefferson Chalmers has a lot of things going for it -- near the water, next to GP, easy access downtown. There are definitely things happening there, but the neighborhood north of Jefferson is one of the most empty areas in Detroit.

Dvanpat40 karma

Where are the best hookers?

detroit_free_press188 karma

A prostitute chased me on her bike on Bellevue. I accelerated.

kitikitish21 karma

What's for dinner?

detroit_free_press69 karma

Coney islands.

BDoisneau20 karma

Hi Bill! I figured out how to do this. "Do you know where you are?"

detroit_free_press30 karma

160 W Fort Street, Detroit MI

truthinlies14 karma

Which block was the worst experience for you?

detroit_free_press56 karma

I didn't have any bad experiences, but many blocks were very forlorn and sad. I have two people whom I met rides. One guy turned out to have some mental health issues, but no problems ensued. The other person was a woman waiting for the bus at Grand River and W Grand Blvd on a blistering hot day. She was going to Motor City Casino. After she got in the car, I realized she was drunk. When I dropped her off, she got out of the car and promptly fell down.

KTheOneTrueKing0 karma

If you’ve driven down all the streets, how come you can only say there’s ROUGHLY 2100? Wouldn’t you know the exact amount?

detroit_free_press0 karma

Good question. I didn't count them, and the various sources -- city documents etc. -- don't give the same number. Streets also come and go. Some abandoned Detroit streets have actually been swallowed up by encroaching vegetation. They're called "feral streets."

LivingInTheVoid-1 karma

How did you not die?

detroit_free_press2 karma

Never even had a close call.

RoboticAquatics-4 karma

Is it true that the Detroit free press has a "blue wall" thats purpose is to promote positive articles on Michigan at the expenses of negative articles on MSU?

detroit_free_press2 karma


krLMM-5 karma

Did you meet Eminem?

detroit_free_press7 karma

Hi...Eminem lives in Oakland County these days, and I'm not sure how much time he spends in Detroit. I didn't meet him when I drove the streets in 2007.