Smart Cities: Detroit, Michigan

Teeming with development, this comeback city unveils a wide range of fresh initiatives.

Newly waxed and buffed, America’s Motor City is cruising with a new optimism. Its automakers are designing self-driving cars; hometown watch and bicycle brand Shinola is opening the Shinola Hotel; and moviemakers are eyeing miles of vintage Detroit streetscape for films. Tiny Homes Detroit is building cozy micro houses for low-income residents, an initiative making national news. And the arts here “are on a roll,” says Susan Mosey, executive director of Midtown Detroit, Inc. “In Midtown alone, Wayne State University is building a new repertory theater and a new jazz center, the Motown Museum is expanding, and Murals in Market continues to grow.”

Detroit is aiming high. How high? Ask residents, and they’ll point to the gleaming skyscrapers and new eateries along the Detroit International RiverWalk, soon to be boosted by a promenade through a defunct tire plant. Motown is purring along, and how sweet it is.


Potato donuts, corn dog rillettes, and “ladyhattans” are on tap at Lady of the House, where chef-owner Kate Williams declares “we are throwing a party every night.” Head to Detroit Vegan Souls two branches for plant-centric dishes—mac-n-cheese, “catfish” tofu—sourced from local providers; leftovers help fertilize farms. On chilly nights, warm up with steaming udon noodles at award-winning Ima, in Corktown. Sweet tooth calling? Midtown’s Avalon International Breads has lured patrons and been a community supporter since 1997 with its cinnamon-brioche buns and sea salt chocolate chip cookies.


The Detroit Foundation Hotel, once headquarters of Detroit’s fire department, has retained firehouse designs and details; 100 guest rooms pair salvaged wood with exposed brick, while subway tiles wall the hotel’s Apparatus Room restaurant. Another Motor City totem, the 1915 David Whitney Building, was restored to include an Aloft Hotel; high-flying guest quarters overlook such Detroit landmarks as the Opera House. Prefer an Earth-friendly getaway powered by solar panels? The El Moore Lodge has you covered, with guest rooms and four “rooftop urban cabins” touting sustainably sourced decor.


Take in the Detroit River as you jog the promenade of the Detroit International RiverWalk. Pass the glass-clad skyscrapers of the Renaissance Center to MacArthur Bridge and Belle Isle, where you’ll find a park, a lighthouse, an aquarium, and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, known for its trove of model ships. Return to Midtown, to the 135-year-old Detroit Institute of Arts, to view Diego Rivera’s mural series “Detroit Industry.” End at the Motown Museum, once the recording studio of music legend Berry Gordy, who championed top talent such as Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.


The city’s retail culture hums at Eastern Market, one of the largest historic U.S. public market districts. Step into Division Street Boutique for clothing from the Detroit Hustles Harder line, a proud mainstay of local street wear. Hightail it to Well Done Goods for Detroit-themed items, including neckties made with car-seat leather. In Midtown, find specialized watches (and bicycles and leather wares) at Shinola. “When you think manufacturing, you think Detroit,” Shinola founder Tom Kartsotis has said.