One of the things that is wonderful about living in a 300-plus year old city is the history. Not just the history of the buildings, but the history of the people, a history all too often forgotten in the numerous books written that focus mostly on architectural details and demolition dates.
Obviously, things change — the only constant is change — but there are some things that are part of our identity as a city. For instance, our motto. Our Spirit of Detroit. And our names.
When we saw this piece in dBusiness, our ears perked up. The name “SoCo” felt absurd to describe this part of Detroit (the development is at 10th and Lafayette) that most call Corktown. For our team, most of whom live in the city, the word “SoCo” hadn’t hit our ears except for ordering a SoCo Manhattan at the bar.
After all, Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood has a long history that’s tied into the psyche of Metro Detroit. It was the home of Tiger Stadium and numerous other icons as one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods.
Urban renewal — a program that displaced whole neighborhoods and countless families, as well as the character of some Detroit neighborhoods — also flattened the area in question because mismatched homes were considered “blight” by what we now know are backward standards.
To be technical, the area was Corktown before it was technically renamed the unimaginative “West Side Industrial” during renewal, but few in practice use that name. For instance, the Corktown Hotel near the address in question is named that and not the “West Side Industrial Hotel.” Le Petit Zinc, just around the block, clearly says it’s in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit.
Why it matters
Think about your name. It’s something that helps define you in people’s minds, and with yourself. If someone changed your name on your behalf, it wouldn’t feel right, would it?
When you have situations like the slow but definite expunging of “Cass Corridor” for “Midtown,” or this example where there’s a hint of replacing part of “Corktown” with “SoCo” there’s a problem in this. It gets at an issue we need to watch for with Detroit’s redevelopment.
Are we replacing, or are we transforming?
It may not be intentional, but the when you change the name of something you’re sending a sign to people that you’re replacing what is there; and what we should be doing is transforming. Transformation is making Detroit better with investment, which is needed, but also keeping in mind and acting upon the concept of inclusion. Not replacing our city with four letter abbreviations where you lose the history and character of a place in the pursuit of froyo and higher rents.
We as a community should not repeat the mistakes of the planners of the 1950s and 60s in this city, where renewal meant replacement instead of transformation. See the section of town in question’s destruction by bad city planners below.
Real estate folks, no doubt, know the power of these names. Who can forget the countless suburban developments across this country that are basically named after the nature they plowed under. Whispering Woods, Land by the Lakes, all of that.
Imagine if Detroiters started rolling up to the suburbs and start declaring new names. People would lose their mind.
Maybe we should start shortening the names of well-known suburbs.
Grosse Pointe could be turned to the five letters, “GROPE.” Or maybe, Clinton Township, Harper Woods and Eastpointe could merge services and become “Clint Eastwood.” See? Not as short but definitely catchy. Ferndale just needs four letters. “Fale.” West Bloomfield? Easily abbreviated to “WeBlo.”
Our point with these funny names is not to denigrate those suburbs. It is to the make the point these name changes are absurd.
Names matter. They are part of Detroit’s identity. And our identity and our unique qualities are part of what make us who we are. After all, if we’re going to make it so easy to lose our identity, what’s the point of being involved in this place called “Detroit,” anyway?