I just concluded reading the superb book Istanbul, Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk. If you have also had the pleasure of reading it, you may recall how eloquently Mr. Pamuk describes this majestic bi-continental metropolis as being in an extended state of melancholy since the decline and fall of the Ottoman Empire. To him, the melancholy was discernible in the decaying ruins, in the loss of prestige on the world stage, and in the deterioration of its historic identity. One contributing issue that he does not directly speak to, which may have also contributed to this malaise, was the transfer of the nation’s capital to Ankara in 1923.
It turns out that many of the same emotions Mr. Pamuk describes in his book have an astonishing parallel to general mood of another great city – Greater Detroit (Detroit-Windsor). In fact, there are several fascinating parallels between Istanbul and Detroit.
- Geographically, both cities are among an elite group that developed and prospered along a strategic strait linking two important water bodies – in Istanbul’s case, it is the Bosphorus connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara. Meanwhile in Detroit, the city’s namesake and the St. Clair link Lake Huron with Lake Erie. None of these watery connections are true rivers, as they are misnamed – they are actually straits.
- Istanbul is the primary link between Europe with Asia, while Detroit-Windsor is the busiest international trade crossing in North America and links the United States (Michigan) and Canada (Ontario).
- As Istanbul was once the capital of the Ottoman Empire, Detroit was the original capital of Michigan until it was transferred to Lansing in 1847.
- Both cities have recently re-awakened from their melancholy and have transformed into vibrant tigers (pun intended in Detroit’s case). Go Tigers!
To say the mood in Greater Detroit has been filled with cyclical bouts of melancholy for decades would be a huge understatement. Since the end of World War II, this region has suffered multiple economic, social, and political blows that would have surely knocked out a lesser combatant. Today, like its hometown hero Joe Louis rising from the canvas, there are visible, palpable, detectable, and viable signs of an economic resurgence in Greater Detroit. The same resurgence can be said about Istanbul – in fact this magnificent city has been dubbed “the world’s hippest city”. Likewise, Greater Detroit has had more positive press in the past 12 months than the past 12 years combined. It has been described as the new Bohemian hot spot in America.
As a resident of Michigan, I am very hopeful for the future of Greater Detroit. Despite what some may say, Michigan will never fully recover unless Detroit heals too. As one who has longed to travel to Istanbul, I am inspired by that city’s similar resurgence and hope to visit there in the not-too-distant future. As an urban planner, I am intrigued by the fascinating similarities between these two world champion heavyweights. Watch out competition, both Istanbul and Detroit are back!