In the city's oldest neighborhood, a different kind of Motor City emerges
- Last Updated: 5:47 PM, June 13, 2011
- Posted: 6:16 PM, June 8, 2011
IN most cities, the opening of a youth hostel might not be all that big a deal. But Detroit isn't most cities, and in an era when most of the news is bad, new things, positive things — well, the locals pay attention.
A lot of it was about being in the right place at the right time. Hostel Detroit (it sounds like the title of an upcoming Eli Roth movie, but it's really not) made its debut this spring in Corktown, Detroit's oldest neighborhood. Once a bastion of traditional Irish-American culture, Corktown has become a place to see Detroit at its coolest.
In this historic section of the city, settled nearly 200 years ago, you can see a Detroit that is on the verge not just of renewal, but also in the process of forging a whole new identity. In a town that most people identify with the old lunchpail, punch in, punch out mentality, an explosion of DIY is leading Corktown (and the city at large) into the future.
Here, you can now see artists working to re-appropriate forgotten spaces as public art. You have urban farmers making productive use of vacant land, taking the idea of eating local to the extreme. You have the city's most talked-about restaurant (an excellent barbecue joint), a record store, a Martiniquais (by way of Paris, Brazil and Brooklyn) making crepes, a cool little vintage boutique, two brothers selling freshly-made bagels out of their apartment, a sustainable food truck and, soon, a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge and a third-wave coffee bar.
And then there’s the occasional energetic redhead, brimming with enthusiasm, who decides to open a youth hostel.
“I was hosting a lot of couch surfers,” says Emily Doerr, a neighborhood resident who dreamed up the hostel idea and made it a reality. “I had 100 strangers coming in and out and thought, you know what?”
Doerr found a building, on a desolate (or quiet, depending whom you ask) block of North Corktown. She worked with business advocates, city inspectors and hordes of tireless volunteers (who are all honored on a plaque at the hostel’s entrance) to formed the nonprofit’s board of directors. It opened its doors within six months.
“There’s a lot of for-profit hostels but I didn’t want to be for-profit,” she explains. “I wanted it to serve the community and be of the community, that way everybody knows I’m not making a dime off this. This is very much a thing we’re doing to help Detroit and show people what there is here.”
They provide affordable private-room and dorm-style lodging with easy access to public buses. They will also offer ambassador programs for out-of-town guests.