by Erin Einhorn
I say this because it’s true and because I just read a column by Aaron Foley that offered a bleak – if sarcastic – warning to New Yorkers attracted by the Move to Detroit billboards. He cites shoddy schools, rising rents — as well as beer gardens without kids’ menus – as reasons why New York parents should ignore those catchy billboards and cross Detroit off their list. And he makes some valid points (though not his points about beer gardens because who needs a beer more than a parent?) But as a mom of two who quit her job in New York last year and moved to Detroit to be a part of its future, I’m here to tell Foley he’s wrong.
It’s true that there are no public playgrounds in my downtown Detroit neighborhood and that school options here are extremely limited. In Detroit, I don’t have the elaborate parent network I had in Brooklyn from which I could get advice or borrow baby gear. But I’m sending two kids to preschool for roughly half of what that cost in Brooklyn. We’re living in an apartment that’s significantly larger than the shoebox we shared in Brooklyn, for a much lower price, and I’m no longer commuting long distances and working the kind of marathon hours that were required for me to afford my life in New York. In Detroit, I spend much more time with my children than I ever did in family-friendly Brooklyn because here I’m not working all the time.
There aren’t dozens of sing-a-longs a week here or mommy-and-me yoga classes. As far as I know, none of Detroit’s hipster entrepreneurs have considered opening a Baby DJ class (not that I’m advocating for that). But there’s a beach in the middle of a city park a few blocks from my Detroit apartment where moms and dads can drink beer while their little ones play in the sand. There’s a fantastic science center that we basically moved into every weekend this winter. There’s a RiverWalk and ballparks and a lovely little aquarium. And all of these things are much more enjoyable in Detroit than they would be in Brooklyn because they’re not jam-packed with hundreds of cooped-up children whose parents are desperate to get them out of their tiny apartments. If there were a beach in Brooklyn where parents could drink while their kids played in the sand, there would be a three-hour wait to get in and the kids would be crowded so close together, they’d be throwing sand at each other, no doubt contaminating the locally sourced craft beers their beleaguered parents were trying to enjoy.
Foley was obviously being snarky to make a serious point about disturbing problems in Detroit. He’s right that the constant onslaught of happy headlines about new restaurants and boutique hotels is tedious at a time when the city is consistently failing to deliver on basic city services like schools and transportation. But while it’s fun to mock New Yorkers drawn to Detroit for its hipster cred (or baby-friendly beach bars), people who move here aren’t oblivious to the work that needs to be done to make this city a more viable, functioning place. We’re just people who want to be part of this extraordinary city at this extraordinary time in its history. And for those of us who happen to be parents, that means joining with the parents already here to advocate for better schools and better options for our kids.
For the record, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the school options in Detroit and am hopeful that as my children get closer to kindergarten, I will be able to find a school for them that will provide the kind of public education that they – and all Detroit children – deserve. It’s true that these options are limited and parents must jump through hoops to finagle spots in an insufficient number of decent schools but this isn’t a problem that’s exclusive to Detroit. I covered schools in Philadelphia and New York and know that parents in both of those cities go to extreme lengths – from lying about their addresses to forcing their four-year-olds to cram for the gifted test – to land coveted spots in far-too-few sought-after schools. In smaller communities, parents must either accept their local school or move to another town. So people who love where they live have to make choices. We make the best choices we can for our families and, for some of us, that choice is Detroit. So if you live in New York and you’ve seen a billboard urging you to move to Detroit, maybe you should think about it. We’ve got some pretty great things going on here. And some of those things are even great for kids.
Photograph by Aaron Waterman