Moving house

My brother and his wife recently bought their first house, so I drove over there from Ann Arbor and helped clean their old place and shuttle the last of the boxes to the new one with them and my parents this weekend. I’ve lived in houses most of my life, so I guess I’ve sort of swallowed the great American myth that home ownership is the key to successful living and responsible citizenship. I recognize that there’s all sorts of problems with that myth, that the suburban, mid-century neighborhood my brother lives in is a product of the privilege, power and politics that underlay the myth at the height of white flight from Detroit. However, home ownership itself is typically a good thing; people take care of what is theirs, which is why ownership is a high priority for organizations that work on low-income housing and neighborhood stabilization.

Buying a house and moving—and this is not a metaphor—are about investing money, time and affection, about committing to take care of a place, and about jettisoning all the things you’ve collected in one space and taking only the important things with you, then starting your collection again in earnest. Houses take a lot of work, but they also build wealth, security, and autonomy.

I won’t buy a house any time soon, and right now I’m looking for a small, cheap apartment with a month-by-month lease. This is good, since I don’t know where I’ll be in 5 months. But maybe I can find someone who will let me help them pick out paint colors, fix the faucet, plant the garden…

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2 responses to “Moving house

  1. I think this is a pretty unfair characterization of our fair town. Ferndale may have represented some of the problems you talk about in the 40’s, when it was being populated.

    But the people who move here now are moving from farther flung suburbs that have proliferated over the decades because they want an urban, walkable living experience. They want the culture and entertainment in their backyards that Ferndale offers. And, part of it I think, is that they want to be close to Detroit.

    Thanks to my cannon for an arm, we literally live within a stone’s throw from Detroit. We are in Detroit every week. Hopefully, most of our shopping will be in Detroit in the near future.

    “8 Mile is getting closer every day” is a mantra for a lot of folks in the tri-county who continue to move further and further out of the city. But that is not the attitude of everyone who chooses to live in a different municipality than Detroit (many live where they work, of course, which urbanists usually applaud).

    A lot of others very much want the C.O.D. to succeed, but do not live there for practical reasons. If we worked in Detroit, we would probably live there. As it is, we made two offers there. I’d like to retire there. There are things about Detroit that make it very attractive — and those have to be the basis of a sustained recovery, not appeals to benevolence. But it’s difficult to ask people — and particular when it’s outsiders doing the asking — to pay more in rent or taxes for decidedly inferior services, not to mention car and home insurance rates.

    Overall what’s good for Detroit proper is good for metro-Detroit and so is the inverse. So I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that because we choose to live in a great neighborhood several hundred yards from the C.O.D. line, that we are part of the problem in this region rather than part of the solution.

  2. I think that’s fair, and though I haven’t spent that much time in Ferndale, everything you say about it being walkable and hip seems true. Plus, almost every time I visit you there we end up going into Detroit, so I understand that it’s good for the city.

    I just wanted to acknowledge the relationship between ‘the American Dream’ and white flight. If this was targeted at all it was at Pops since I wanted to help pick paint colors for the new house. 🙂

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