The Dirty D: Detroit, Small Mexico in America
There's only one place that I might have liked more than living here in Acapulco, and that is none other than the Dirty D, Detroit, Michigan. I lived off of 7 mile and Woodward, in the now nearly abandoned hood for less than 6 months, but it's the only place in America where I've felt even an ounce of the freedom than I experience here in Acapulco. The freedom comes from the fact that Detroit is bankrupt, so the people there are getting used to living without government as the government was too broke to function for a long time. There are people taking over public functions that stopped when the government went bankrupt, such as the mower gang. These are people making shit happen with what they have, something which is a huge theme here in Mexico.
We first became interested in moving to Detroit when we saw the "Fireweed Universe City" episode of Reason's Anarchy in Detroit series on youtube. It featured an interesting anarchic community of young people, taking over the abandoned houses, fixing them up, living off grid and gardening, all things we were interested in. At the time, we were looking into our options as we were looking for a new place to live. We considered leaving the country heavily at this time, but determined we needed to make more money before we could do that. At this point, we wish we would have just left, considering we had a huge sum of money compared to the 50 dollars we crossed the border with. However had we left, we would not have had the experiences in Detroit that we did.
We decided to move to Cleveland and lived there for about a year where we had many adventures involving urban off the grid farming and living. We were living very similarly to how we would have in Detroit, the difference being we had no community to back us up and pretty much everything we were doing was illegal. We didn't quite realize it when we started our ventures, but it's illegal to not be connected to public utilities in Cleveland. Beings how we were in a damn near abandoned house that was off the grid, complete with solar power and water storage, we became a target for citations and fines. These weren't the only things about the house they took offense to, just happened to be some of the most important.
It was the middle of winter when we were ordered to move out by the City of Cleveland, as they deemed our house unfit for human occupation, due to our lack of public utility connection mostly. We decided that we were going to move to Detroit, considering we had an entire off grid utility system that we were bringing with us. We spent days looking at the google street view images of the streets that were Fireweed Universe City, and attempted to pick out prospects with the features we wanted. We were warned by family at the time about the dangerousness of Detroit, but considering the dangerousness of Cleveland, we weren't scared off. The only thing that kept us from making the move was being robbed of our solar panels and other important things in the process of preparing to move. Without power, our plans to squat a house in the middle of a frigid winter were no longer feasable.
We were delayed about 6 months, as we had taken a huge hit when we were robbed. We essentially got stuck living with John's psychotic aunt with her kids for 6 months, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no transportation. Eventually we got transportation, and with his mom's help we moved to Utica in Michigan, with a friend of hers until we determined where we were going more permanently.
Within a few days, we had already visited Fireweed, met the people and determined we wanted to move there as soon as possible. So we started by picking out a house, this house to be specific. The next part of the post is full of pictures, as my descriptions don't do it justice. It's amazing to actually see what we were experiencing, I took a lot of pictures so I could eventually share them in this way.
It was a huge 4 bedroom brick behemoth of a house, with an addition on the back that gave the one bedroom a sweet balcony upstairs off the back. The best part about it? Free. Owned by a corporation that no longer existed, we were intending on buying it once it came up in the tax auction. This is just one of many in this neighborhood alone, sitting empty waiting for someone to take care of it. Detroit is famous for having entire empty neighborhoods full of mansions and houses just like this one.
The left half of the house had the most damage, as the roof was in extreme disrepair and the house was falling apart as a result. In it's heyday, the house probably amazing, with a huge built in fireplace and built in bookshelves in the downstairs living and dining areas.We eventually patched up the torn apart fireplace in this room to use it for heat in our time there last fall before we moved on to Oregon.
This is the room we slept in, with one of the hammocks we slept on.
This is the awesome balcony addition I mentioned, one of my favorite things about this house.
This is the view of the backyard and garage. That garage was one of the nicest in the neighborhood, despite its roof. The walls and floor were in extremely good condition. With some patching, we intended for it to be a temporary winter house while we worked on the main house.
We picked this house for several reasons, one of them being the location. It was on a street with people that seemed more like minded to us, and it was on the south side of the street, which was better for solar panels as well as indoor gardening. We had some neighbors down the way that already had in gardens and were starting local businesses. The house was located across the street from the community built and maintained park, which was later named DA Park, standing for Detroit Anarchists Park.
This is the view of that park, from our upstairs window before pretty much anything other than a grill was added.
Here's a picture of the sign of that park, installed a few weeks after we moved in. The D and the A were stolen almost immediately after, but it was fixed pretty immediately. As time went on, they added more and more things including a stage, and a few tables. None of the people maintaining the lots owned the land, but they took care of them and improved them as though they did mostly using the resources the found in the neighborhood to do it.
Our house was right next to a vacant lot with the address 420 Robinwood, which we were planning on turning into an outdoor kitchen and garden area by the name of The 420 Garden. I got a small tire garden in before we got arrested, which flourished in my time away. I asked some friends to take over the garden for me, as I put in a hugelkulture mound before I left, but I don't know if they ever did as they had their own gardens to maintain.
Here's a picture of the 420 lot before we did anything with it. One word I'd use to describe Detroit is overgrown, which it certainly is during the summertime.
Here's some pictures of the work done on lot 420, showing the tire garden that kept going with no maintinence for over a month in somewhat of a drought. When I came back, it was grown up with cherry tomatoes ready to eat.
Across the street and to the side was the building pictured below. It was a recently burned up apartment building that you could walk right into and look up at the sky as the roof was gone. It was a surreal place to go, as well as dangerous as the floor was soft in many spots.
Here's a view of that same building from our house. You can see most of the roof is missing. The building next to it is nearly identical and currently occupied, at least it was when I left.
The next two pictures are of the house where we would harvest firebrick and nails, as that's basically all there was that was left that was useful. One thing I love about that community as well as Mexico is the fact that everything has value, and just about anything can be re-used or repurposed. There are many houses like this on our street as there was a huge fire event caused by neglect by Detroit Power that ended up in dozens of houses in the city burning down.
This house is the famous slide house from the Reason TV video, we had several friends who lived there, and still might.
So as you can see, it was a pretty amazing and interesting place to live. Don't get me wrong, like anywhere else it had its problems. Our neighborhood was a drug haven back in the day, and in many ways it still is. There's still an abundance of drugs, drug dealers and prostitutes in the neighborhood and the surrounding streets. I remember having to chase prostitutes and their johns away from parking and doing their business in front of our house. They expected the houses in that neighborhood to still be abandoned, and they weren't which made things interesting.
The people and the police had a respect for what we were doing to the neighborhood, as we were cleaning up the streets and restoring the houses, something they were not prepared to do themselves. At a point we were actually thanked by the Detroit Police Department for what we were doing, we were only questioned as to why we picked the house we had, with all the other options available in the neighborhood. Michigan's squatting laws(although they have recently changed a bit for the worst) and freedom minded self reliant culture made this community possible, and is in many ways why Detroit is as free as it is.
In Detroit there's a culture very similar to the one here in Mexico, that can be summed up with the phrase "Detroit Hustles Harder". We lovingly refer to Detroit as America's Little Mexico and have for a long time. People in Detroit are now getting used to living without the same government influence that most of the rest of the US is used to, and as a result a culture of self reliance is on the rise. They are making things happen for themselves without the government and its working. They are out there working, buying properties, fixing them up and starting businesses and gardens, all which are working together to bring Detroit back from collapse. The people exist with the knowledge that they are responsible for themselves, and no one else is responsible for them, something which I see here as well. One major difference is the quality of weed, which honestly really sucks here in Mexico much to our dismay.
All in all, Detroit is amazing and so is Mexico and I would advise anyone at least visit both places. Something to consider is I was warned heavily against going to both places, and both places turned out to be some of my favorite places that I've encountered on this planet. At this point, I take warnings like that as a sign that there's something worth looking into there. Acapulco is considered one of the most dangerous cities on the planet, and I've never felt safer living in a city.