Belle Isle to 7 Mile: What We Talk About When We Talk About 'Neighborhoods'

April 01, 2014, 8:26 AM

In Model D, Aaron Foley, a local freelance writer and the force behind Jalponik Detroit, explores the meaning of "neighborhoods" when metro Detroiters use the word.

Here's a sample:

It seemed like back in the day, every Detroit rapper had to have this one phrase in their bars: "Belle Isle to 7 Mile." Or maybe vice versa. It's so easy to rhyme, and so representative of the city that it became such a catch-all back then. Nowadays, such a phrase would make a politically correct cartographer weep, but you might catch me dropping a "Belle Isle to 7 Mile" in conversation every now and then. Why? Because it's an easy way of encompassing Detroit without the implied borders.

You don't hear "Belle Isle to 7 Mile" anymore because now, more than ever, Detroit is separating. It's one thing to rep your neighborhood (or, as so often the case in Detroit is, your cross streets). It's another to separate your neighborhood from the city completely.

I've been seeing this phrase a lot lately: "The neighborhoods." It usually falls into this context: When talking development or re-development in Detroit, it's always something like "Downtown and Midtown...and then there are the neighborhoods." Or worse, when visitors ask where to go in Detroit. "You'll like Corktown, but stay away from the neighborhoods."

Everyone uses it. It's been said by politicians, repeated by journalists, enforced by community organizers. I'm guilty of using it myself. But what do we mean by saying "the neighborhoods"? If we were to be completely honest and look at the context it's used in the most, white people say "the neighborhoods" when they're uplifting Downtown, Midtown and Corktown; black people say "the neighborhoods" when they're downplaying Downtown, Midtown and Corktown.

Read more:  Model D

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