When we first started writing our set of near-future novels, we knew we needed an urban setting. We’ve always lived in Michigan and Detroit was the nearest big city, so it was the natural choice. As we wrote, we found that Detroit was not just our first choice, but also the best choice.
Upon hearing this, a friend quipped, “Detroit had better be the city of the future, because it sure ain’t the city of the present.”
But that’s exactly what writers love about it. Novels are about change, and places in flux are the most interesting places for stories to happen.
This isn’t some speculative future, but a future that’s already being made today. We see it in the TechTown area near Wayne State that focuses on entrepreneurial job creation. And in the Garden Resource Program that provides seeds for community gardens. And in the 555 gallery, offering low-cost studio space for artists. And a hundred other examples of people doing right, changing things for the better.
There’s a proposal on the table to shrink the city’s footprint, moving the citizens to a new center area surrounded by a greenbelt. The urban planners only see the best when they dream of the Detroit that will be. But more than any government effort, it’s really the growing class of young, creative people who are transforming the city. To them, Detroit is not an urban wasteland. It’s a place of unlimited potential.
If Detroit were already a perfect city, with perfect government and perfect schools and perfect roads and perfect people living in it, no writer would come near it. We’re not saying we love Detroit because of its flaws. Nobody does. A permanently-broken city would be a terrible place to live and a terrible place to set a novel. We love Detroit because it is growing out of those flaws, one building, one garden, one citizen at a time. It’s in that growth that fiction lives.
Of course, it’s not completely wonderful in the imagined Detroit where our novels take place. There is still crime. There is still corruption. Highway traffic is still horrific. And, just like today, the weather is always too hot or too cold. More importantly, in our fictional Detroit, the shrunken border has left a ring of poverty circling the city like a noose, and that affects everything that happens to our characters.
Regardless of whether all, some, or none of our predictions come true, we know this: the Detroit of the future will be even more interesting than the Detroit of the present. We love imagining this place.