10 Things You Think When You Move To Detroit

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I’m a native Houstonian, and I moved from the Greater Houston Area to the Metro Detroit area last August. I knew that things would be different – the winters would be colder, for one. However, there were some things that I didn’t anticipate. Take a glimpse into a non-Detroiter’s mind and find out some of the things we think upon moving to the city.

1. Why Can’t I Turn Left?

Courtesy of michiganhighways.org
Courtesy of michiganhighways.org

Fortunately, the Michigan left hasn’t caught on in the rest of the nation. However, that means that people who have never been to Michigan stare mystified at the signs that tell them to U-turn instead of just turning left. The Michigan left can also cause chronic frustration for the drivers fortunate enough to have grown up with a left turn, especially a protected left turn.

2. There’s More Cool To This Place Than Just Cars And Motown


Detroiters know that their city has more to offer than automobiles and Motown, but few people outside Michigan are aware of this. Moving to Detroit helps people realize that the city is actually a unique hodge podge of arts, dining, and entertainment. Places like MBAD’s African Bead Museum, the Detroit Puppet Theater, and Belle Isle all offer something different.

3. I Can See Canada From My House. Well, Kinda..


A day-trip to Canada was impossible when I lived in Houston, but moving to Detroit makes a day-trip to America’s Northern neighbor seem doable and enjoyable. Honeymooning in Windsor? Why not? You can even picnic across the Detroit River and see the city from an entirely new perspective. Just don’t forget your passport and bridge or tunnel fare.

4. Wow, There Are A Lot Of Abandoned Buildings Here

Abandoned Building In Detroit

Sadly, the recession left its mark on Detroit, and that mark is still visible. There are a lot of abandoned buildings scattered throughout the city. Fortunately, some of them have been put to good use. An abandoned warehouse was transformed into an artist residency program called Ponyride. However, many of the buildings could still use some TLC.

5. Where Are The Service Roads?


Houston has a pretty awesome interstate system, complete with multi-lane service roads that run parallel to the interstate for more than a half mile. Detroiters can argue that they have service roads, but their arguments wouldn’t make a very strong case. In Detroit, it’s not uncommon for drivers to exit onto side streets that quickly disappear or residential streets that appear out of nowhere. There are few streets that consistently run parallel to the interstate.

6. What’s With The Octopus?

Apparently, it’s tradition for Detroiters to throw octopi onto the ice at Red Wings games. Whether or not it actually brings good luck, Detroiters know and love this nuance. Unfortunately, most outsiders have no idea that this is even a thing. Some are just confused about it. Some pity the octopus. And some think it’s just plain gross.

7. The People Here Really Fight For Their City

Heidelberg Project

The recession knocked Detroit off its feet, but Detroiters made sure the city didn’t stay down long. They got back up and have fought for their city. Detroiters are still fighting in many ways. The city has embraced new business growth and has become a hotbed for startups, and a slew of nonprofits, like the Heidelberg Project, are strengthening the city through relentless neighborhood improvements.

8. There’s A Ton Of History Here

Alger Theater

Founded in 1701, Detroit has had over 300 years to make a name for itself. The city hasn’t held back, either. From Henry Ford’s sprawling automobile plants to James Vernors’s Ginger Ale, Detroit has left its mark on the nation. A quick drive around the city reveals unique buildings like the Guardian Building, Michigan Central Station, and Alger Theater, one of the two remaining neighborhood theaters in Detroit.

9. Detroiters Really Support Local Products

Eastern Market

Detroiters, and Michiganders in general, love to support their local farmers, manufacturers, businesses, and restaurants. It’s not uncommon for people around the nation to support locally-grown products, but Detroiters put everyone else to shame. Businesses tout their made-in-Detroit goods, and restaurants proudly serve grown-around-Detroit produce. It’s pretty awesome knowing that the money you’re spending is supporting local business.

10. Wait. Where is South Detroit?

South Detroit?

Steve Perry, the man who composed Journey’s 1981 hit “Don’t Stop Believin’” has convinced the entire nation, with the exception of Detroit, that there is a “South Detroit.” People who move to Detroit from other states expect to visit the city and see the area that inspired those iconic lyrics. They will probably be sorely disappointed, very wet, and in Canada.

It’s Home, Sweet Home

It does take a while for people to get used to their new city and settle in, so go ahead and show your new Detroiter the ins and outs of the city. It’s a good excuse to revisit your favorite places and show off just how awesome Detroit is.

  • Once again, outsiders think “the recession” was our downfall, but that was just the nail in the coffin. The abandoned buildings and houses have been decaying for decades. A lot of the new residents who are taking advantage of the low cost for housing and businesses are probably the same people who’ve made fun of the city in the past. Now they “love” Detroit. Too late.

    • At Liz- That’s really not what this writer was saying, yet again, you’ve proved the ignorant and insular mindset that most transplants despise when they move here. It’s comical to me, this idea of “Ah you never would have lived here years ago and probably made fun of the city, etc..”

      NO KIDDING LIZ, WAKE UP. But that doesn’t mean people can’t move here now and love it! What would you have, zero growth by perpetuating this attitude of being a hard core Detroiter through and through who scoffs at everyone else not from the D? Ignorance.


  • “South Detroit” LOL! Steve Perry needed a 3 syllable place name so he just made it up I guess! LOL

  • As a contrast, the service roads in Houston (and Dallas) always struck me as the weirdest thing!

    As for South Detroit, I always just picture Zug Island.

  • As a fellow native Houstonian that moved here in 2001…welcome! I’ve fallen in love with Michigan…sounds like you’re on you’re way.

    PS – I still miss feeder roads….not that anyone here knows them by that term.

  • Thanks for your piece… My conceptions of Texas are probably very similar to those of yours of Michigan before you moved here. I can only say that I’ve been the DFW and IAH.

    The Michigan left may take some getting used to, but it’s actually been proven to be the safest way to turn left. Avenues which don’t have a median do have dedicated left turn lanes, but big thoroughfares like Woodward have the Michigan left. Also have you noticed that traffic lights are timed in Metro Detroit, meaning that if you drive the speed limit, you’ll not have to stop?

    Welcome to Detroit… Kudos to you for moving Downtown. Thanks for your piece.

  • I am a transplant from Florida, and this is definitely a better fit for me. people truly are more friendly and reasonable here. I blame Florida’s stupidly hot weather for making everyone so irritable. 😉

  • Detroit has many pluses…including the wonderful old homes with vintage detail and low priced rentals. But, I have been told by people I know who actually live there…unless you live in a building with front desk security and a gated parking lot or below ground structure to park in…you must look over your shoulder and be super sensitive to everything going on around you. There are still parasites that make victims of residents and visitors who venture there and unfortunately no matter where you go in the city the nicer homes only last a few blocks and then you are in ghetto city all over again and it is ugly. Until the mindset of the bottom feeders that live there and do so by victimizing others Detroit will never change.

  • Steve Perry could sing Old McDonald and make it sound amazing. As for South Detroit, just let it go. There has to be a southermost part of the city, so just consider that and enjoy Steve Perry’s amazing voice. The dude could make puking sound freakin’ amazing.

  • I grew up in Lansing, just an hour & a few minutes west of Motown. Close, but so far. It was a world away, especially then. It was amazing on clear summer nights when we’d be lucky enough to pick up the “big city” radio stations from Detroit. We thought we were special. Coming to Detroit was a real occasion. The malls were bigger, the traffic was crazy, and the food was amazing. But Detroit was “scary”. Anyone that didn’t live there touted the murder rate whenever the city was mentioned. I remember hearing people say, “why would I go there?!” as if someone asked them if they’d been to the moon.

    Michigan’s largest city is certainly unique. I live here now, in Royal Oak, and I take full advantage of Detroit’s culture and livelihood. I’m a “go Detroit!” kinda guy. I’ve lived around the country a bit (SF, Seattle, San Diego, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, etc.) and I was always one of those people that would begrudgingly assist in making fun of Detroit – why be the odd man out? But now, since moving home, I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to be said for being an individual and sticking up for the underdog than going with the flow. Detroit isn’t what most people would be led to believe. Yes, we have our issues. But this is Michigan and nothing happens quickly here. We’re fixing our problems, albeit slowly. We tend to stand back and let the rest of the country work things out and take our queues from their mistakes. But we’ll get there. We’re not Dallas. Or Atlanta. Or even Chicago. And you know what? We don’t want to be.

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