The Idea of Detroit: Exportation of A City’s Hubris and Importation of Insecurities.

The idea of Detroit is that of a Detroit tough.(1) That Detroit Hustles Harder.(2) That a good day is a GameDay Detroit.(3) The idea of Detroit is an easy look when its Made in Detroit.(4) The idea of Detroit is of a gritty, rough city with a turbulent history, preceding and leading the twenty-first century. Ignoring its industrial past is made possible by the dwindling population of a generation of Detroiters that made the city their home, enjoying a pre-rebellion (5) economic autonomy, as well as the architectural and commercial enterprises undertaken by the Detroit Renaissance Group that shortly followed after starting in 1971.


For now there is a highly publicized “revitalization” of that economic and cultural autonomy that is contested in many circles, re-emerging discussions on the future of a city that, for quite some time, was thought to have extinguished the possibility of that future, either through economic mismanagement, municipal scandal, and discouraging crime statistics. This setting leading into the economic recession of 2008, and the resignation of mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, was the same year that the first series of “Detroit Hustles Harder” t-shirts were produced.  As Skyler Murray in his Metro Times Article put it,


“This tagline has become the unofficial motto of Detroit and its comeback as it embodies the city’s entrepreneurial and relentless spirit.”(6) 


This particular hyper-marketable aesthetic of urban hardiness lies in a visual tradition of hip-hop graphics and fashion that now is exported by rapper Eminem and modeled by a Sir Richard Branson, for example. 


Ignoring the ties to labor and labor movements when talking about fashion in Detroit and its influence on the city’s exported identity is also difficult to do when, at the time of this being written, Carhartt (7) has introduced a new line of streetwear fashion under their winter collection in 2018, Vanity Fair reviewed the collection and broader trends of 2019, stating:

“The working clothes compliment the other kind of prep - doomsday prep - in its utilitarianism, too, with a fetish for the salt of the earth.”(8)

Given the class fetishism that is dominating the current fashion sphere, a comparison can be made between the exported identity of Detroit drawing critiques that this “revitalization” is merely a product of an aesthetic interest/fetishization of working class identity. The Idea of Detroit, under this framework, could easily be argued as being a product of fetishized working class and minority aesthetics. It would no longer be the have versus the have not, but is now the have looking at the have Not.


Italo Calvino, in his book Invisible Cities described a process of cities changing identity in a section titled Cities and Names 2.


“The true essence of Leandra is the subject of endless debate. The Penates believe they are the city's soul, even if they arrived last year; and they believe they take Leandra with them when they emigrate. The Lares consider the Penates temporary guests, importunate, intrusive; the real Leandra is theirs, which gives form to all it contains, the Leandra that was there before all these upstarts arrived and that will remain when all have gone away.” (9)


This conflict describes the conflicting idea and formulation of a city’s identity that mirrors Detroit and the changes that have been subject to the same debate. This ideological inconsistency fuels the cultural cognitive dissonance that can plague the representation of a city in a global stage, manifesting in scandal, and critique. The inconsistency of representation has already become a pointed subject of critique, with pressure to represent the city accurately, mediating this cognitive dissonance becomes important in retaining accurate representations of a city. Proposing engagement among populations becomes an easy solution in theory, however the encouragement of personal interactions become lost as the representation of a city becomes one sided. A new emphasis on the aesthetics of diversity have been emphasized in resolving this representation and the implications of which are explained by University of Kansas psychology professor Chris Crandall,


“The recognition that interactions between the same individuals can change from interpersonal to intergroup and back again as the contextual salience of group memberships shifts. Thus, even intimate friends may find themselves responding to each other on the basis of group memberships when situational cues make social identities salient.”(10)


Take the ideas of Peter Ackroyd’s, London: The Biography (11), looking at the city as a body, it can’t be confidently said that the idea of a city, as well as its aesthetic reflections, can be considered an appendage on this metaphorical body, but it can certainly be said that it is a matter of municipal hygiene, with the day to day representations being largely negligible, but the broader practice of taking control of the idea of the city being of utmost importance to the health of that city in the far off future. If this is undertaken by agents of cultural change in conversation/ collaboration with governing officials, the future of a city can be maintained and tangible for the population it contains.

End Notes

1: Gym located on Beech St. Detroit MI.

2: Fashion line operating under Division Street Boutique, located on Division St. Detroit MI.

3:Gift and clothing boutique Located in both Great Lakes Crossing Mall, and Twelve Oaks mall, both in suburban Detroit.

4: Clothing brand manufactured in Clarkston MI, and a restaurant in the Little Caesars Arena.

5: Detroit rebellion of 1967 as a part of a larger, national civil unrest that took place during the “Long, Hot Summer of 1967”

6: Skyler Murray, 10 years later, Detroit Hustles Harder is still hustlin’, (Detroit, Metro Times, 2017), 1.

7: Founded in 1889 in Detroit by Hamilton Carhartt.

8: Kenzie Bryant, Warring trends to take men’s wear in 2019, (New York, Vanity Fair, 2019)

9: Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver, (Turin, Italy, Giulio Einaudi, 1974)

10: Chris Crandall, Social Psychology of Prejudice: Historical and Contemporary Issues, (Lawrence, Kansas, Lewinian Press, 2004)

11:Peter Ackroyd, London: The Biography, (London, Chatto & Windus, 2000).