Today’s Travel Log: The Revival of a City


Detroit: the Motor City, Motown, and more.


VanderWolf Images/AdobeStock


After seeing several plays at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we went to see Detroit in Toronto. Impossible, you say. How can Detroit be in Toronto? It can, when it is a musical theatre piece put on by Soulpepper titled, “Detroit: Music of the Motor City.”

Detroit was an important city for my wife and me. We met at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Detroit was about 40 miles to the East. We went there for special dates in 1966, including seeing the jazz great John Coltrane before he died.

Detroit, originally pronounced as the French would, and once known as the Paris of the Midwest, was founded in 1701. In the early 20th century, it became the city of the future as Henry Ford invented a massive assembly line for the new automobile. Hence, Detroit got the nickname of Motor City. It later also got the nickname of Motown for the success of the Black owned Motown records, which modeled itself after the Ford production process. As the opening song goes, people were “Dancing in the Streets.”

Although Black individuals were hired at Ford, they got the most “dangerous, demeaning, and dirty” jobs. Segregation was strict in socializing and living situations.

Finally, the racial tensions erupted in the summer of 1967 with the massive riots and fires, smoke visible in Ann Arbor. The Black writer and social critic, James Baldwin, of our last travel log, would not have been surprised. Thousands were eventually arrested and white individuals fled, leaving a wasteland of large vacant lots in the city. The psychological impact must have included drastic increases in trauma remnants and losses.

A decade ago, great museum artworks were almost sold and bankruptcy just averted. Finally, as the musical ends, a revival is in place. Integration is increasing.

The show was a series of musical hits, interlaced with tough political thought, amidst grainy images from the past. One of the last songs was “I Want You Back,” a love song by Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. It is now used as a love song to the city of Detroit, which thankfully does seem to be coming back with inspired leadership, investment, and innovation.

If our ecology is important for our collective mental health, which it is, then this is a socially therapeutic development for the people of Detroit.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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