A man in silhouette in the doorway of a house in Detroit, Michigan, chatting with neighbors
Joshua Lott/Reuters

Who will love, and take care of, my neighborhood the way the older residents have?

This essay appears in the forthcoming Detroit Neighborhood Guidebook from Belt Publishing, and is excerpted here with permission.

The first month I lived in Minock Park, my new neighbors would stop while I tackled the endless yard work to introduce themselves, and always had the same reaction. I’d watch as a look of surprise and maybe mild amusement would cross their faces. They would then shrug and smile and give a warm introduction. The interaction would always end the same way—with phone numbers exchanged and a serious, heartfelt promise: “We look out for each other here.”

I lost count of how many times I heard that phrase in my first few months of owning a home in Minock Park. As for the shocked faces, I understood their initial disbelief. Minock Park is the smallest neighborhood in Grandmont-Rosedale, a collection of five neighborhoods on the northwest side of the city. It’s not hip. Here, homes range from stately five-bedroom brick beauties to crumbling cinder-block shacks with sagging corrugated tin roofs. There aren’t any bars, or farm-to-table restaurants. There are about 1,200 people in tiny Minock Park, the vast majority of whom are black.

Now I’ve lived here less than a year. I’m no expert on the flavor of all five neighborhoods. But from what I’ve observed, it was my age that surprised my neighbors more than the color of my skin. Grandmont-Rosedale is full of people who count their time in their homes by the decade. Grown children and grandchildren are introduced with pride and joint pain is always a hot topic of conversation. (For the record, fifteen minutes of heat, fifteen minutes of cold, and two aspirins usually does the trick.)

At my first neighborhood community meeting, I faced nine worn, black faces and two white ones. I was easily the youngest person there by thirty years. I suddenly felt foolish, like a kid old enough to know better caught playing pretend. I was introduced and there was a moment of silence before a man with white hair in a worn UAW jacket said, “Hopefully, she can convince more brave, young people to come and save our neighborhood.”

Saving anything was never my intention. I’m not one of those cringeworthy people who claim “saving the city” as their motivation for living here. That attitude ignores the agency and devotion of the people who have already spent their lives making Detroit what it is now. I moved to Minock Park because my dream house, like the kind I wanted to live in when I was a little, was up for sale. I had had enough of the crooked landlords in Corktown and the other central neighborhoods. My intention was to live respectfully, pay my taxes, mow my lawn, and use the power of my vote to make Detroit a better place. You know, like a resident of any place should feel compelled to do.

The Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhoods have weathered Detroit’s declines thanks in some part to the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation. Many neighborhoods in the city have such corporations, but the GRDC is one of the most successful. It was this organization that restored my charming home. The GRDC maintains the only neighborhood center not funded by the city. They get volunteers together to clean up parks and organize parties. There’s even a young professionals group for we few Millennials who have started to creep back into the area. But the GRDC’s most important mission is simply keeping the five neighborhoods populated. And at that they’ve been very successful.

Rosedale Park, North Rosedale, Minock Park, Grandmont, and the enigmatically named Grandmont #1 all share borders with some of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the city of distant gunshots. Because distant and sometimes close by, gunshots are common. But the neighborhoods themselves maintain a parklike charm most of the time. As my friend, a young mother, warned me the week I moved in, ”things still happen here.“ This summer, I was jolted out of sleep when my boyfriend threw his body over mine as five loud pops sounded off on our block. Only a few weeks ago, I was walking my dog in the middle of a weekday when a neighbor urged me to get inside. He had just confronted a pair of masked men prowling the street just a block or two from where we were standing. He had just called into work, faking sick so he could stand watch and make sure everyone on our block was okay. He repeated the Minock Park oath: “Well, you know, we look out for each other here.”

I still feel comfortable walking my dog every day. My neighbor street-parks her Mercedes. I hear ”it gets better every year” all the time from my neighbors—especially since the streetlights went up on Outer Drive. I like to bring my friends from West Village to see the beautiful Art Deco homes lining streets shaded by huge oak and maple trees. There are plans to turn Grand River from a five-lane road into a walkable boulevard. We have a great independent bookstore, amazing fried food carryout joints, a coffee shop, and soon we’ll have a vegan restaurant. It seems like things are on the upswing.

The older residents are still wary, though. Soon, they won’t be there to keep the lawns immaculate, or mow the few empty lots. The last generation did the work of holding up Grandmont-Rosedale. Is all that love going to be lost when they personally could no longer bend to plant flowers in the medians on Outer Drive? Or when their joints rebelled and they could no long climb the stairs in their bungalows and instead opted for the one post-war ranch housing of Redford or Warren? I can’t imagine the proud older women on my street in nursing homes, much less the suburbs, but that must be in at least some of their futures soon. Who will love this place the way they have?

Grandmont-Rosedale, and especially little Minock Park, isn’t super cool. It’s not the place to dance and drink the night away. And just like living anywhere in the city, there can be some peril involved. It can seem overwhelming, but the good news is, the burden isn’t yours to carry alone. You’ll have help. After all, we look out for each other here.

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