Moving to Detroit: How do I Midwest?
January 22, 2019 1:59 PM   Subscribe

We're moving to Detroit! I've never lived in Michigan or the Midwest before, though she has. What did you wish you knew before you moved to a snowy Rust Belt city?

Well, after a long and interesting year, we've decided that: 1) We're sick of paying Seattle prices; 2) my wife wants to get an MSW; and 3) we like Detroit a lot.

She lived there for six years and has a pretty good network of close friends who can help us pick good neighborhoods and so forth. We'll probably be gravitating to the Ferndale area, as that's where my wife's friends mostly live. We're looking for jobs now, and we have enough equity that we're not stressing about housing.

As a lifelong Pacific Northwesterner, I'm more curious about any hidden pointers about adjusting to the different culture and climate of Michigan. I know it's cold and snowy there, and people drink a lot for entertainment. We don't drink, we like to spend a lot of time on the water paddling, and out walking. I used to do a lot of cross-country skiing, which looks pretty accessible out there.

Sorry I'm not focused enough in this question, but I'm not sure what I don't know. So I suppose my big asks are:

1) What were your biggest surprises moving to Detroit/Michigan/the Midwest?
2) What do you do around there without drinking?
3) Is there a good sober network present?

and as a bonus,
4) Is your neighborhood super cool? Why is that?

Thanks so much!
posted by skookumsaurus rex to Travel & Transportation around Detroit, MI (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I lived in California for most of my life and moved to SE Michigan (but not Detroit) a couple years ago. I haven't noticed that people drink more here. That may be partially because of my social circle - mostly people with young kids - but I am confident that you'll be able to easily find people who don't drink heavily.

Biggest surprises, hmm. I don't have anything major that surprised me, but I was utterly delighted when I moved here and was able to drive to a store two miles away in five minutes then park only a few rows away from the entrance! It's not that there isn't ever traffic here, but coming from LA there is a huge difference.

Regular grocery stores here have waaaaaay more beer options and lots of local ones. I realize you don't drink - and I'm not really much of a beer drinker myself - but I was surprised by the variety!

I was also surprised by how much clothing I had to buy the first winter; this may be less of an issue for you since Seattle actually gets cold. When I moved here I owned like three pairs of ankle socks and zero warm socks. I also had to significantly change my summer clothing - I wore a lot of close fitting cotton tops in LA that were fine for dry heat, but miserable for humid heat (looser fits and linen are where it's at!)
posted by insectosaurus at 2:22 PM on January 22, 2019

Best answer: For what it's worth, I have a couple of family members who have lived near where you'd be living (Royal Oak and Birmingham, respectively) and I worked for a number of years in Dearborn (while commuting from Ann Arbor) and never found that socializing was explicitly alcohol-linked. Maybe things have changed since I moved the other direction (I used to be Michigan; moved to the PNW) but I wouldn't assume that's the only way to have a social life.

As long as you don't turn into the proverbial suburbanites who are afraid to go into the city (wow, I worked with so many during my days at Ford..) you'll find lots of access to museums (the DIA and Henry Ford are both national-level treasures, IMHO), cinema, live entertainment, restaurants, farm fresh seasonal foods, and as a bonus will get to enjoy four wholly distinct seasons!

You won't have access to the sort of spectacular outdoor recreation opportunities that one can experience in a reasonably short drive from Seattle but Michigan isn't awful for outdoor recreation. Actually, it's pretty good -- it's just not western Washington.

Toronto and Chicago are both very reasonable long-weekend getaway destinations for when you want a change of scene from Detroit and you should plan on spending some of your summer and fall weekends exploring Michigan's beach and farm towns.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:26 PM on January 22, 2019

People drive a lot to get to their entertainment. Get a car you like driving. People do walk and hike and ski and showshoe for fun - but be prepared to drive to where you want to walk.

All the maps are very square. I grew up rural (a place with winding roads that follow rivers and hills) and moving to Seattle was my first introduction to the Streets/Avenues number grid map system. Then moving to Michigan, I was stunned to find that the grid extends across the state - the (primary) back-country roads are straight lines with 90-degree intersections! People have heard of 8-Mile Rd through Ferndale, but the same grid extends 20-40 miles into the county around each metro area.
posted by aimedwander at 4:42 PM on January 22, 2019

Best answer: So, Ferndale is not Detroit. It's not even in Wayne County. People, especially non-POC, saying they are from Detroit when they aren't is even more irritating now that it has a wee bit of cachet, so please don't do that.

That said, people do for fun...the same things you do elsewhere. Ferndale is pretty progressive and young. Movies, restaurants, Eastern Market, museums, bookstores, concerts, sports, they are all not too far off. There are casinos downtown and also across the river in Windsor, if that's your thing. Ann Arbor is always a fun visit. Michigan has some great outdoor activities (though not much in the way of downhill skiing, alas), but you will have to drive further to them than in the PNW (it's roughly 8 hours to drive from one end of Michigan to the furthest point). Public transit is generally quite poor, though; you should expect to be driving most places.

It'll be colder than you think. Warm waterproof boots are a must.
posted by praemunire at 4:51 PM on January 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Speaking as someone from SE Michigan (grew up closer to Flint, went to school in Rochester, farther north than Ferndale) who lived in Seattle for a few years, nthing that drinking isn't necessarily the center for every group event: we drank more in Seattle than Michigan.

You probably already know this (and depending on where in the Seattle area this probably isn't much of a change), but you pretty much need at least one car in Michigan (my sibling who lived In Ferndale shared one care with spouse as they could coordinate work schedules).

When we moved back to the MW (both Michigan and now Chicago), we noticed people are more... interactive? Smiling at people as you walk by in the neighborhood, friendly chatting on the elevators (more relevant in Chicago high rises), actively checking in if you seem lost/confused. We didn't notice it's absence in Seattle so much as getting it back when we returned home (oh! That's right, we smile and nod at strangers), so it's not a night and day difference.

Detroit city water is pretty good. That of course depends a bit on the pipes leading to your particular house, but with good pipes I didn't bother using a filter like I did in Seattle (which isn't bad) or the well water I grew up on.

Seconding go into the city and everywhere else. DIA is phenomenal. Sporting events are fun if that's your thing (and winning isn't important *sob*). The upper peninsula is gorgeous if you like being out in the middle of no where. It's along drive from Ferndale, but people bmake it regularly in the summer.

North bound 75 is a zoo Friday nights (although considering where you're coming from it may just feel like normal rush hour) in the summer (and then southbound on Sundays is heavy). Growing up we'd try to make our trips to the UP Monday through Friday.

The roads are crap too. And salt is hard on cars.

Winter is so dry! You may want a humidifier.

And re: the grid system: the mile roads have another name depending on where you are. I think this is more common in the very northern suburbs than in Ferndale though.
posted by ghost phoneme at 5:15 PM on January 22, 2019

Oh, Detroit has no real opera to speak of. That's a change from Seattle. DSO is pretty solid, though.
posted by praemunire at 5:31 PM on January 22, 2019

I live in Ann Arbor. Would not say it's a region where people drink way more than the NW - I've never lived in the latter but my daughter did for many years. Lot of good live music in Ferndale/Royal Oak - also in Ann Arbor. Plenty of nice places to paddle - out my way the Huron River. Kensington Metropark. Limiting factor on x-country skiing is less consistent snow than we used to have - I skied yesterday and the day before and we're having an ice storm right now. That said it is MUCH colder here than in the Seattle area so you will need more stuff.

I live in a cool part of AA - if you work in tech it's a good city to look at and the University of Michigan's social work dept is currently the top rated one in the country.
posted by leslies at 5:39 PM on January 22, 2019

Best answer: First, as praemunire says, please don't say you're moving to or living in Detroit if you live in Ferndale or the surrounding suburbs, for exactly the reasons they mentioned! It'll raise hackles, it definitely did mine.

I'm a Michigander who now lives in the PNW, but I moved back to MI midway through my decade out here for a time and these were the things I had to re-learn:
— How to safely drive in the winter (keep safety supplies in the car, don't let your gas tank go too low in case you get stuck, add in plenty of extra time for snow removal and then for driving more slowly)
— Ditto to everyone who mentions the need for a car, which is annoying, but also all! the! parking! is a perk
— It's not a drinking culture more so than anywhere else! In addition, Michigan has more people who don't drink for religious reasons than I've encountered elsewhere. (Much like the PNW, there are a lot of a breweries and there is a culture around that, but the nice thing about all those breweries is that they usually have great food and it's not at all strange to go and not drink.)
— Michigan is a beautiful state with many distinct areas and sadly, many people judge it solely by the SE area, or may compare it to other parts of the country that aren't so, um, flat. It has a lot of offer. One thing you can do for fun is explore the rest of it (though you'll have to drive a lot to do so)! Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Ann Arbor, the entire U.P. (enjoy pasties anywhere near the Mackinac Bridge), all the water. Sadly, winter travel doesn't make this easy but you have plenty to explore close to home.
— Winter in Michigan is hard. I actually moved away again because I forgot how much I hate dealing with snow. To harken back to my first tip, driving is more dangerous, even if you know what to do in case of black ice and how to handle a slide. Cross country skiing is a great way to pass the time! Don't ignore the tips from everyone above me talking about winter gear and you'll be fine.
— People are friendly and I find that they are far more interested in making and maintaining friendships. Folks in Michigan are chatty with strangers (can you tell by my comment?) and that can take adjusting to if you're on the more introverted or shy side. I have found that after being immersed in a liberal culture for so long that I am often taken aback by hearing someone use words I find offensive or being more overtly religious than I am used to when I am visiting, but I do enjoy the genuine warmth of folks.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 5:53 PM on January 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh coffee! Coffee is much more consistent in Seattle. Don't get me wrong, Michigan has some good coffee (my favorite coffee place is in Rochester, MI). But a lot of places don't care about their coffee.
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:03 PM on January 22, 2019

Best answer: I currently live about 15 minutes from Ferndale and have only spent a week in PNW, but the first thing that comes to mind - it's INCREDIBLY DRY in the winter most of the time. Hand cream is important. Contact lenses are a pipe dream. Nosebleeds. (I see this has been mentioned up thread, it really is a battle)

I think you're used to the crippling grayness of the winter coming from Seattle, but it's hard. Similar amount of daylight there, I think, too? That's also hard in the winter but awesome in the summer.

Roads as have been mentioned up thread are an issue and they literally closed I-75 for a 12 mile stretch yesterday for emergency pothole repair. I understood this more when the economy was so bad but it seems like this shouldn't be such an issue anymore?

My Texan husband does not think people are particularly warm here. I think Michiganders are cordial but we don't go over the top about it. Maybe we just don't like Texans ;)

4) I live in Farmington Hills which is not hip at all but is centrally located to all the highways and is safe. Ferndale is much hipper. We went with where we could find a rental house. 1) That brings me to what surprises me about living here - lots of Baby Boomers (and up). I'll be damned if I retire somewhere where it's so cold and crappy for so many months!

As others have said, maybe not say "I'm moving to Detroit" to locals here and just go with "Detroitish" which is what I have said all my life - and now it's a bumper sticker. ;)
posted by getawaysticks at 6:19 PM on January 22, 2019

Damn it, I knew I'd forget something. Car insurance is ~60% higher here than it was in Texas. It's because of the unlimited medical, but it's still shocking.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:20 PM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for weighing in, folks. I want to hear more, but I wanted to apologize for two missteps on my part. The first is regarding drinking culture. My wife recalls her time in Ferndale involving frequent and heavy drinking as a common activity for her circle of friends, which was what I experienced when I flew back with her two years ago to visit. It looks like I just had a limited sample, and I want to apologize to anyone offended by my question. I have drunk to excess in many regions of the country, without the geography changing the activity that much.

The second thing to apologize for is the hackles I raised by confusing Ferndale and Detroit. Most of her friends live in Ferndale, and I am still building my mental model of the metro area. I understand that there are geography, race, and class issues in my error.

We would like to move within the city limits of Detroit. I work in health care and she is planning to work in social services. We are curious on where we can live that we can afford without much renovation (we are Comically bad at DIY), where we feel reasonably safe and can set down roots without displacing anyone. We've heard that the University District and Hamtramck may fit the bill. Does anyone know other great neighborhoods we should look to?
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 7:06 PM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forgot to mention above that I know Hamtramck is not part of the City of Detroit. Put my foot in my mouth again.
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 7:15 PM on January 22, 2019

Best answer: To some degree it depends on what you're looking for. Detroit is, unfortunately, an object lesson in how not to build sustainable city growth. If you want an experience similar to living in a busy part of downtown Seattle, with at least decent walkability and foot traffic on into the evening, I think you're largely stuck with certain areas in and around downtown. If you are interested in living in a more purely residential neighborhood--by which I mean you will have to drive just to get to a coffee shop--you have more options.

P.S. Just say "metro area," you'll be fine, no one will mind.
posted by praemunire at 7:57 PM on January 22, 2019

Best answer: > Does anyone know other great neighborhoods we should look to?

some thoughts on neighborhoods, starting with your suggestions:

- University District is a pretty upscale neighborhood for the city; relatively walkable depending on how far you are from the main commercial drag, Livernois. The northern end (closer to 7 Mile) is generally considered a bit nicer & safer in my mind. Plus if you've got people in Ferndale it's a short bike ride away.

- Hamtramck is a city-within-Detroit that is immigrant-heavy: Bangladeshi, Yemeni, Polish & more. It's relatively cheap & walkable, with quite a few arts and music venues. It's definitely hipper than University District, but quite a bit more property crime.

- Islandview/the Villages (broadly, the neighborhoods near Belle Isle) are also a hot spot for transplants. Not too many businesses or nightlife yet, but growing & but there's a lot of available renovations. Also very close to downtown & Belle Isle.

- Southwest Detroit is an older & more densely populated part of the city. It's also where the Mexican population is located. Close to downtown with a lot of neighborhood businesses. Somewhat similar to Hamtramck in terms of housing cost and relative safety. Two great neighborhood parks in Clark and Patton.

- Rosedale Park is farther west in the city, good housing stock and a nice commercial corridor along Grand River. Not so much nightlife as the other four.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 10:05 PM on January 22, 2019

Best answer: Expect to explain to lots of folks why you would move from somewhere like Seattle to somewhere uncool and less economically prosperous like Detroit. This is doubly so if neither you nor your spouse are not natives.
posted by greatalleycat at 11:39 PM on January 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: At the risk of threadsitting, does anyone have any opinions on the Bagley neighborhood?
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 5:25 AM on January 23, 2019

Best answer: A much, much smaller thing than neighborhoods and winter driving and such but also the most unexpected when I moved to SE Michigan as an adult, the first time I ever lived in the Midwest: euchre! Be prepared to play some euchre. So many grownups, in so many different social settings, were just ready to start playing at the drop of a hat. I'd had no exposure to games like that and at first thought I'd just stumbled into a crowd of 18th-century aficionados, and that whist or a quadrille would come next--but no, euchre is a widespread casual pastime that you can kinda play while having a conversation about something else, once you know the rules & lingo well enough.
posted by miles per flower at 7:00 AM on January 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I moved from the PNW to SE Michigan about 20 years ago. The two biggest surprises were 1) I had to replace my umbrella, which had rusted shut in Portland. When it rains here, it rains hard. 2) I had to get sunglasses. Everyone and their dog will tell you that it's grey all Winter. But if it's a snowy winter, everything is reflecting. The snow is white. The houses are white. So bright!

I also found that the prices of everything were higher, from rental housing to fresh vegetables in Michigan.

There's still neighborhoods in Detroit with burnt-out buildings and houses with every window broken.
posted by SandiBeech at 10:01 AM on January 23, 2019

Best answer: What they're calling "Islandview" now is a great example of what I'm talking about. Beautiful old houses, if desperately in need of TLC and often surrounded by vacant lots (which are preferable to the hulks that were there before), but you can go blocks and blocks without meaningful retail, especially as you move away from Jefferson.

Something to be quite conscious of when looking at any neighborhood is grocery store location (and, frankly, quality). Like, seriously, figure out where the nearest grocery store would be and GO TO IT. It may be further away than you are expecting, and you may be shocked at the general cleanliness and limited inventory (quality & quantity).
posted by praemunire at 10:48 AM on January 23, 2019

Best answer: Um, SandiBeech, the cost of living in metro Detroit is much less expensive than the PNW, whether it's Portland or Seattle or surrounding areas, but to be generous I'm linking to a cost of living comparison in Portland instead of the more expensive Seattle. I was especially thrilled that the cost of a CSA (community supported agriculture) share was so much cheaper in mid-Michigan compared to the PNW. Housing is very reasonable. Gas is cheaper. Entertainment is cheaper. Taxes are cheaper. A lot has changed in 20 years.

skookumsaurus rex, I agree with miles per flower, learn euchre and you will never lack for friends! :)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 11:33 AM on January 23, 2019

Best answer: Congratulations on your decision to move to Detroit!

Are you planning to rent a while before you set down roots? That might be the best way you can get a feel for the city and where you might be most comfortable based on your needs and interests. I have a friend who just moved back to the city and, conversely, knows exactly where she wants to be, but the right place isn't available yet. So she is renting an apartment in Lafayette Towers.

Another factor...does your wife know where she wants to get her MSW? I see you don't have jobs lined up yet, so that is another consideration for maybe waiting to find permanent digs until you are settled. While Detroit's traffic is perhaps not as bad as someplace like LA, you also have to consider your tolerance for the daily commute. And unlike LA, Detroit has snow and ice as a complicating factor. If you choose a neighborhood near Ferndale but then you end up working/going to school downtown, is it more important to be close to your wife's friends or close to your work/school locations? Detroit doesn't have the best snow removal, so that can complicate moving long distances on a daily basis in the winter. Don't underestimate the daily grind of making your way across town through snow, ice, and slush (all of which we are dealing with this week).
posted by Preserver at 11:37 AM on January 23, 2019

Best answer: I lived in nearby Troy for 3 years, decades ago. Two fond memories:

Michigan is at the far western end of the Eastern Time Zone. Summer evenings are very long.

There are lots of pleasant lake recreation areas, such as Pontiac Lake, that are not too far off.
posted by JimN2TAW at 12:03 PM on January 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks folks! In response to questions, we are likely going to rent for a short time to feel it out. We'll go out for several days in February, and probably again before we pick a launch date. My wife has her heart pretty set on Wayne State for her MSW, and will plan on working a corporate job, likely downtown, until we establish residency. It looks like my job prospects will mostly be in New Center, Midtown, and Downtown. If that helps with neighborhood recommendations, bring it on!
posted by skookumsaurus rex at 4:50 PM on January 23, 2019

I also noticed that it's more unusual to be a vegetarian in Michigan -- there were potlucks where every dish, including the salads, included meat. Drivers in Michigan are more aggressive to pedestrians -- there's backlash against a newish law in Ann Arbor that drivers must yield to pedestrians trying to cross at a crosswalk.

"Um, SandiBeech, the cost of living in metro Detroit is much less expensive than the PNW" the thorn bushes have roses.

That must be true for most people. Maybe the difference is whether Ann Arbor is considered part of Metro Detroit or not, (which is somewhat controversial according to wikipedia)? I was very curious so I poked around on the web a bit finding that rent on my old apartment in Portland seems to still be a bit less than the much shabbier apartment that I lived in when I first moved to Michigan. While I did manage to move from a place walking distance to Fred Meyer to a place walking distance to Zingerman's :), comparing the prices published online for that Fred Meyer to the Kroger that I currently shop, it is still a bit less expensive in Portland. I figure that's due to being closer to produce farms in California.

Ugh. On the bright side, you get to experience the miracle of snow frequently?
posted by SandiBeech at 6:39 PM on January 24, 2019

"I also noticed that it's more unusual to be a vegetarian in Michigan -- there were potlucks where every dish, including the salads, included meat. Drivers in Michigan are more aggressive to pedestrians -- there's backlash against a newish law in Ann Arbor that drivers must yield to pedestrians trying to cross at a crosswalk."

Heh. I grew up vegetarian in Ann Arbor. The new law is actually about what counts as trying to cross — it's always been the law that you have to yield. Detroit has great vegetarian food, though it's not as prevalent as, say, LA. But since there's falafel everywhere…

One thing to know: Michigan gets the fewest days of sun of any state, including the Pacific Northwest. Get a full spectrum/SAD lamp.
posted by klangklangston at 9:12 PM on January 25, 2019

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