Rachel Hyman

Venture for America Fellow. Detroit-dwelling Chicago native. I do biking things and writing things.

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So I’m Leaving Detroit.

I moved to Detroit in August of 2013. I’ve talked about some of my experiences here: my cautious optimism, a scary encounter with street harassment, and an extended metaphor attempting to convey the difficulties of the last year. Then there’s the million other Feelings I regularly cycle through that don’t get blogged about.

So here’s the big news, news that shouldn’t be too surprising if you’ve talked to me in the last year: I’m leaving Detroit. I’d rather not have to explain why a million times over, so here’s an email I wrote to my co-curator and collaborator for Motor Signal, the poetry reading series I had a hand in starting here. It explains enough, and is more straightforward than I could be if I was writing this post from scratch.

I don’t think I talk about my personal life much with either of you, but this past year has been a strain on me in many ways. There’s been quite a lot...

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An Extended Metaphor

My apartment in Detroit is in a high-rise building, like most of what comprises the housing stock in the downtown core. In the standard set of amenities for these apartments is a balcony, which looks out first and foremost on a tennis court, then beyond to the southwest. I know it’s west because the sun is currently glaring through my balcony doors. It creates a nice slice of sunlight on the floor, but makes it seriously impossible to work if you’re in the direct line of sight, which is revealing a furious storm of dust motes as I type.

Anyways, so this balcony. When I first moved in, in addition to the leasing office’s cheerfully off-mark “Welcome home!”, I noticed a bunch of cigarette butts on said balcony. “Okay,” I thought. “I guess the former tenant was a smoker and they forget to clean it up.” Not exactly what I was hoping for with the building’s stupidly inflated rent, but I...

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Mapping the Economy Onto Socio-Urban Space

I recently returned from last weekend’s Theorizing the Web conference, which I described to people as “a sociological perspective on web and digital phenomena.” It was two days packed full of talks on everything from drones and big data to selfies and feminism online. I was particularly excited (duh) for the session titled “Streetview: space, place, and geography.” The Q&A made it into the video below, but unfortunately not the talks themselves.

Tim Hwang gave an excellent talk titled “An Urban Geography of the Web Industry” that I’ve been thinking about a lot. On a take off of Jane Jacobs’ seminal text, his first slide read “The Death and Life of Great Internet Cities.” He opened with a mention of some of the outlandish-yet-true headlines that have come out of San Francisco lately, like TechCrunch’s “How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF’s Housing Crisis...

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Why Are You Here And Not Somewhere Else?

There’s this piece of art hanging around University of Chicago’s Booth School. It’s a neon work by Jeppe Hein, a Danish artist, and it reads, “Why are you here and not somewhere else?” When I figured out that I was moving to Detroit. I would look up at Hein’s piece and expect some kind of epiphany, some felt realization that I’d be leaving the place I had come to call home. As much as I’d fixate on the artwork, and the question it asked, that jolt never came.

When people learn I studied geography, they often bring up maps in an attempt to relate. I didn’t spend all my time making or examining maps, but they’re a crucial part of the discipline. Geography is fundamentally about place, and maps are graphic representations that help us make sense of place and pick out patterns.

One of the first things you learn in geography is that maps lie. Maps are a 2D simplification of a 3D...

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Leave Women Alone: Ruminations on Urban Safety

Salon recently published an article about street harassment of women that was spot-on:

Regardless of where the harassment takes place, or its virulence, street harassment reflects widespread acceptance of the idea that women’s bodies are a public resource and that men are entitled to them. It derives its power from the threat of violence that simmers under the surface of every interaction, even the “flattering” ones.

Street harassment is widespread, pernicious, disturbing and even deadly. It is tied to race and class. I am an urban-dwelling young woman with a penchant for traveling alone. Much of my thinking–and ambivalence–about Detroit, my new city via Chicago, has centered on street safety.

After a month of living in Detroit, my experience has been that people–men, really–are a lot more aggressive. Maybe it’s because I’m super conscious of it, being in a new place, but I don’t...

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Why I Bike (Yes, Even in Motor City)

I was about 8 when I first learned to bike. My dad would take me out on our street in Baltimore, grasping the frame to make sure I didn’t lose my balance as I shakily pedaled. I didn’t get it right away–that is, until I got it. One afternoon I took my little bike out by myself, hopped on, and just cruised around and around our cul de sac. I might have wobbled, but I didn’t fall. I still remember the feeling of elation that whipped through me.

That feeling around biking has only grown as I’ve gotten older. I owned a Motobecane in Chicago that I loved the way some people love their pets, even when the fork snapped and sent me tumbling in a freak accident just off Lawrence Ave. I rode that bike to class every day; I rode it countless times to the other side of the city, traversing its streets. Much of how I got to know, and love, Chicago was by bike.

Biking in a city creates a uniquely...

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Detroit’s in Shambles, and I Can’t Wait to Move There.

From the look on their faces, you’d think I’d have said that I was getting into war profiteering, or joining a cult, Kool Aid already dripping off my lips.

I saw this scene play out time and time again when I told people that I would be moving from Chicago to Detroit post-graduation. Didn’t matter who–old classmates, family friends, even the dental hygienist I saw the other morning. To say nothing of my parents.

If I had to describe people’s reactions to my (so-I-thought) exciting news, I’d throw out these words: Confused. Alarmed. Suspicious. Smug. Oh yeah, those last ones were the best, casually throwing a “don’t get shot” my way. Urban violence! Hilarious. I hear plenty such dismissals out-of-hand of the South Side of Chicago and they always irked me greatly. Detroit, though, is the illustrative case people raise when they’re warning of the path Chicago is heading down.

Now, I...

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