A bankrupt city

It was a relaxed whirlwind of a trip, if a whirlwind could be considered relaxed. So many new and old experiences re-experienced. Yet the pace was not hectic. Sometimes the moments best remembered are ones that are hardest to record. A hug or the feeling that your heart might burst when you see loved ones after such a long time or the bitterweet feeling of leaving them once again; Wishing that the distance was only a car-ride away. It really was a wonderful trip full of emotions in addition to the experiences. Really, I can’t just sum it all up in one post, and so I have decided to string bits and pieces of Detroit and Minneapolis into my posts during the next few weeks and months.

Visiting Detroit was a first for me. My sister showed me the different faces of the city. In three and a half days we covered more ground than I could have ever done with just a city guide and my baby for company. The thing is, she has lived in the city for about eight years. First she studied to become an architect and now she is living her dream and is part of the effort of rebuilding the bankrupt city. It might sound romantic on paper but in real life it is anything but romantic. It is an effort that requires for the sleeves to be rolled up as your hands will get literally dirty.

Beach volleyball court in Roosevelt Park Design: Kaija E. Wuollet
Beach volleyball court in Roosevelt Park Design: Kaija E. Wuollet

As the city is bankrupt there is no sponsorship available from that direction and so it requires the time and effort of private citizens and the resources of private donations to clean-up and rebuild parks, trim and plant trees or acquire abandoned buildings to create spaces for business, community or homes. Some of the abandoned buildings are owned by millionaires playing the waiting game and for years they are empty. As is the case with the Michigan Central Train Station and Book Tower below. Efforts as large as these always involve some politics and differing interests but what I do think this whole effort brings at the grass-roots level is the sense of community. I often heard locals say, Detroit has a bad rap but they love it there. There is an energetic vibe in the city.

abondoned buildings detroit
Abandoned buildings top to bottom: Michigan Central Station opened originally in 1913, Book Tower 38-story sky-scraper opened in 1926. Both have been abandoned for years.

We explored and saw some beautiful homes and just a few streets aways and sometimes even next door were some homes that the scrappers had gorged, extracting anything of value. The windows were broken and and everything of value removed: water pipes, porclein sinks, siding, hot water heaters and furnaces. Anything that could be sold for money was gone.

detroit contrasts

2014-04-14 23.58.12detroit neighborhoodsAnd so after our long flight across the Atlantic we had  a bit of jet-lag as the time difference between Finland and Detroit is seven hours. The first two mornings my Hugo and I were up at around five or six o’clock. After trying to slumber for a bit a longer we eventually would get up and find our way to the kitchen for some breakfast.

happy boy

One evening in the upper floor of an old house in the historic district of Corktown, we made an apple-date-pistachio crumble and the next morning it was a perfect companion with Greek yoghurt as it was sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar and was not overly sweet in any way.

Apple crumble with dates and pistachios

to be served with ice cream or Greek yoghurt

1 kg/2.2 lbs apples, chopped (see this chart for the best baking apple varieties)
100 g/3.5 oz dates, roughly chopped
80 g/2.8 g pistachios, roughly chopped
120 g/4.2 oz butter
4.7 dl/ 2 c rolled oats
1 dl/ 1/2 c almond flour
1 dl/ 1/2 c maple syrup for the crumble + 1/4 c to mix in with the apples and dates
1/2 – 1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
juice of 1/2 lemon

Grease the pan. We used a loaf pan and a popover tin of six. Chop the apples, dates and pistachios. If preferred the skins of the apples may be left on. Mix the apples and dates together along with half of the cinnamon, cardamom, lemon juice and maple syrup and set aside. Melt the butter and mix with the rolled oats, almond flour, pistachios, maple syrup and the rest of the cinnamon. Spoon the apple mixture in the pans and tins and cover with the oat crumble. Bake at 175 C/350 F for about an 30-40 minutes so that the apples have softened. Remove from the oven an allow to cool so that the crumble is warm. Serve with ice cream or Greek yoghurt.

apple date pistachio crumble


  1. How sad, the Motor City has fallen on such hard times. I do hope that it comes back and comes back stronger than it was. Your sister has her work cut out for her. I have heard that you can buy a house for next to nothing right now. Sounds like a whirlwind for sure but a very nice trip.

    1. Sometimes the best innovations come after hard times. There were quite a few interesting initiatives being developed…It will be interesting to follow how they proceed. I wish them luck as well.

  2. I visited Detroit many (35 or more) years ago and was told about a housing project that had been a dismal failure there. It has seen rough times, but it is heartening to hear there is still an energetic vibe. I wish your sister every success. The ‘relaxed whirlwind’ sounds just like our visits back to the US. We seem to spend a lot of time getting to where we need to be, then sitting and visiting. It would be nice if it was only a car ride away!

    1. I have understood that there are more single-family homes in the city than in any other major US city. Some of the neighborhoods were absolutely beautiful and some told of past beauty even if they were not kept up at the moment. And those ‘relaxed whirlwind’ trips seem to just last a moment, even though before I left two weeks seemed like a long time to be away from my family in Finland. 🙂

  3. (1) Hugo is absolutely adorable, such a beautiful and happy baby! (2) The apple crumble looks delicious. Love the added dates and pistachios – different textures to tease the taste buds! (3) I’m so glad you were able to experience all parts of Detroit (good and bad). The revival of the city is exciting to me and how wonderful your sister’s expertise is a part of our re-growth. Corktown is one of our favorite areas, especially Slow’s BBQ, which we frequent quite often. My one wish…that the billionaire who owns that beautiful train station would refurbish it…it deserves some care. 🙂

    1. Thank you, Hugo did absolutely beautifully on the flights and handled the time changes wonderfully in both directions as well. I was so happy to become acquainted with your home city…definitely could come and visit again! We popped into Slow’s as my sister had designed the new expansion area. We also stopped at Astro Coffee and the Detroit Institute of Bagels. 🙂 And I agree it would be lovely to see the old train station put back into use.

  4. So glad you spent time in Detroit…it is something to see. Makes one think! A perfect guide is the only way to see the city. And Slow’s BBQ…I still think of often and wish we had one too, yum…

    1. I am very glad I did as well. It was all so interesting. Maybe next time I will have to make a longer stop into Slow’s. And yes, we had the perfect tour guide. ❤

  5. Bankrupt, but not of ideas. I wish your sister well. She reminds me of the young innovators in our city at the moment; taking the lead whilst developers seem to spend their time arguing and worrying about money matters.

  6. There is a sort of sad beauty to abandoned buildings, but if they could be restored and brought back to life in creative ways, it would be a decided plus. Detroit needs people like your sister! Glad you had a wonderful time visiting.

  7. I agree with My Garden Witch, there is an almost poetic kind of sadness hanging about large abandoned buildings. It would be terribly hard work, but there will be satisfaction in doing your part in rebuilding the city. All the best to your sister.

  8. It is so nice that you got to spend time with your sister. It sounds like she has a challenging time ahead of her but her accompaniments will be very rewarding.

  9. Detroit is indeed a city of many different faces. It’s only a 45 minute drive from Ann Arbor so Matt and I will frequently pay a visit. I’m glad you were able to see some of the good and bad during your visit. The old abandoned train station you have a picture of is one of my favorite places. It’s so large and looming… almost haunted. There’s a great BBQ places called Slow’s right across the street!

    1. So glad to have had the opportunity to visit your neighboring city and would love to return some day! We did pop into Slow’s as my sister has designed the expansion. (It was so nice to see all of her work.) Belle Isle was also beautiful and I can just imagine what it is like in the summer.

  10. I have been thinking of you. Good to hear everything went well and you both are safe back.

    I played with you, while your mom did her trip to the opposite direction – I think with Kaija, the architect…

    I have seen many reunions of your family but I think the most special was at the airport in 1986. I can still hear the noise you made when you saw her…

    1. It would be fun to go into a time machine and travel back to see those moments you describe. Did we have signs that said “Welcome home Äiti!” At some point we started making signs and it has become a tradition to this day. When we walked in the door, there was a sign on the wall, “Welcome Laila and Hugo!” Such pleasant moments to remember.

  11. I really enjoyed reading this post. How remarkable knowing your sister is taking part in rebuilding Detroit. Someday that city will once again shine with all the dedicated folks who live there. Hugo’s adorable!! 🙂

    1. Thank you Tinywhitecottage. I really found the city to be inspiring as many were trying to create better surrounding even if the city is not able to take action. Along one side walk, one gentleman had planted trees and in another park a group of volunteers had trimmed trees and cleaned up the park and in a group of neighborhoods there was soccer teams formed to help bring people together. Loved the initiative.

  12. I was raised in Detroit and it’s heartbreaking to see it fall on such hard times. With family still in that area, I do know that there are many, like your sister, who are committed to turning things around. Pray they succeed.
    Love that your crumble uses pistachios. I bet it’s delicious.

    1. Hi John, I’m sure it is hard to see the city from your childhood in such trying times. But to me the atmosphere was anything but dismal even if some of the houses and buildings had been scrapped. Certainly they have their work cut out for them but so many good things are going on as well. And sometimes the best things/developments come from situations where we are driven out of our comfort zone. What part of the city did you grow up in? I wonder if we might have driven through it as we did cover quite a bit of ground.

  13. How sad to see such devastation. I look forward to your sharing more of your sisters journey in getting everything back to where it should be.
    Your little Hugo is such a sweetiepie.
    Have a beautiful day Ela.
    🙂 Mandy xo

    1. Oh, Mandy! I have so much material for future posts about all of the fantastic things they are doing in Detroit…just trying to figure out a concise way to write about it so that the posts don’t drag on forever and loose the reader somewhere half way in between! 🙂 Happy May Day!

  14. We are so far away that I know almost nothing about American politics and finances, but I had heard that Detroit had fallen on hard times. How sad to see so many building lying empty and houses in ruin. I hope it phoenixes soon..thanks for this really interesting post, Laila. And what a cutie Hugo is! 🙂

    1. Thank you Celia for stopping by! I understand, it is so easy to not know what is going on on the other side of the globe…happens to me all the time! Thankfully for the internet the task is a bit easier. I too, hope that Detroit sees better times in the future. Happy May Day!

  15. This is a really interesting post, Laila. A bankrupt city – such a shocking thought and your images are very thought-provoking and sad. But interesting there is such a vivid community. Sophie

    1. What I really found interesting there was that since the city did not have the resources it encouraged the community to be much more active. When I was told about the trees being planted on the side of the road by one citizen I right away asked if they had asked the city landscaper for permission…the thing is there probably is no city landscaper to ask permission from or they are laid off. So people take initiative and do what they think might be the best. The result could be interesting.

  16. Thank you for your posts…I have much reading to catch up on so just browsed your article…later I’ll come and devour the rest. For now it’s back to cleaning.
    You present your thoughts with the photos so well to show the city’s elegance, sadness and trying to buildup again altogether .
    Alexa from Sydney, Australia blogging at http//:www.Alexa-asimplelife.com

    1. I stopped by the computer quickly as well…the cleaning calls too. One bathroom is cleaned and there are still things to pick up, vacuuming and mopping waiting to be done and perhaps a little baking. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Happy May Day!

  17. A very interesting post on Detroit – hope for more from you about its rebuilding! I understand this was a magnificent trip with your son and your sister over there. The perfect guide, no doubt – her being an architect with such a great mission in that city.

    I recognize some of the buildings even if I have never been there. An Oscar-winning movie called “Searching for Sugarman” was partly filmed in Detroit in those run down areas. It’s a great movie made from the real search for a disappeared musician – Rodrigues. The film was made by a Swedish film maker, (Malik?) Bendjelloul. If you haven’t seen it – try to find it, it’s really extraordinary and the music…I bought a CD instantly!

    1. Thank you Leya and how interesting that you recognized some of the buildings. I have not seen “Searching for Sugarman” but I have heard of it. I suppose those particular buildings are popular ones to photograph as they are quite beautiful and majestic. It was a fantistic trip indeed.

  18. Detroit needs people like your sister! It’s a good city, and hopefully it will be able re-invent itself after all of the problems it’s had for the last quarter century or so.

  19. I have relatives in Detroit and I’ve been there once: my overriding memory of the city is the derelict buildings here and there, sometimes entire blocks in between functioning ones. It’s great that your sister is part of the rebuilding of it.

    1. The city has the largest amount of single-family homes in the US and spans a large area 142 square miles/370 square km…it was really quite interesting to drive through the old neighborhoods, some of which had been quite beautiful in past and could possibly be with a lot of work. Thanks for stopping by!

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