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Forget New York and LA; some people prefer Detroit

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I will be joining all the people who are moving to Detroit in five or 6 years. Until then....

Forget New York and L.A.; some people prefer Detroit


Sharon and Matt Jaimes stand outside their downtown Detroit loft. Jaimes and his wife are part of a small migration into a city that has been hemorrhaging residents for decades.

By Sarah Karush / Associated Press

DETROIT - When Matt Jaimes' employers announced they were closing the company's Washington office, they told him he could move to any of their other locations in about a dozen major cities around the country.

They expected him to jump at the chance to move to New York or Chicago. He chose Detroit.

The 34-year-old real-estate tax consultant and his wife are part of a small migration into a city that has been hemorrhaging residents for decades. While there are hardly enough of them to boost the declining population _ which fell below 1 million in the 1990s _ the newcomers are a welcome addition to Detroit as it struggles to shake its reputation as something to escape.

If migration patterns are any clue, most people don't consider Detroit an easy city to love. From 1995 to 2000, 402,576 people moved out of the Detroit metropolitan area _ 49 percent more than moved into the region in the same period, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Such rejection is particularly painful for a city already suffering from a battered self-image after decades of being known nationally for racial strife and a high homicide rate.

Official committees and grass-roots initiatives have formed to stem the flow of young talent out of the region. Gov. Jennifer Granholm's effort is known as "Cool Cities." Followers of Richard Florida, an economist who believes welcoming the "creative class" is the key to urban revitalization, have formed "CreateDetroit."

Young professionals like Jaimes are exactly the kind of people such groups would hope to attract. They come here for the city's impressive architecture, its history and its gritty atmosphere. And while they cheer the long-promised downtown development and improvement efforts taking shape, they say they love Detroit just the way it is.

"It just feels right to me," said Jaimes, who grew up in Adrian, about 55 miles southwest of Detroit.

Being from Michigan likely helped put Detroit on Jaimes' radar screen, and he acknowledged that his move here was somewhat of a homecoming. Other people are brought to the region by jobs and then opt to live in the city, sometimes commuting to offices in the suburbs, as Jaimes does.

Of course, Detroit has flaws, as even enthusiastic residents acknowledge. A lack of public transportation is a familiar complaint, as are a relative lack of retail, high premiums for auto insurance and high property taxes. And some Detroit boosters concede they might feel differently about the city if they had children and schools were a factor.

"We were willing to put up with some inconveniences," said Jim Fuqua, who moved to Michigan with his wife in 1996. "Everything's a trade-off."

At least some things about Detroit look set to improve. While revitalizing downtown and removing blight have long been priorities, they are constant themes now, as the city prepares to host the 2006 Super Bowl. Excitement is mounting over new construction downtown and plans to turn the city's riverfront into a contiguous, walkable green space.

In the blocks surrounding Jaimes' downtown loft, new restaurants and retail space are under construction, as well as a new YMCA.

"You can see the changes," said his wife, Sharon, a 36-year-old Virginia native.

The new construction is welcome, but its the city's oldest structures that pull in many new residents.

"There's a huge demand for character in our society today. These old buildings offer that," said loft developer Dennis Ammerman.

Beyond downtown, historic pockets around Detroit also fill that niche.

Fuqua, 51, said he and his wife fell in love with their house in Boston-Edison, a neighborhood of eclectic opulence from the early 20th century.

"Detroit is full of wonderful old neighborhoods," said Fuqua, who previously lived in Texas and Ohio. "We were able to find a home that spoke to us."

For Edward Chesher, 27, sports are a big draw in the city. Chesher, who also grew up in Adrian and has lived in Detroit for two years, said he enjoys living within walking distance from the homes of the Tigers, the Lions and Red Wings, as well as from night life.

For some, choosing to live here is at least in part a political statement _ a wish to contribute to Detroit's revival and not to contribute to the growth of the suburbs.

"I think urban sprawl is a real shame," Fuqua said. "You lose a sense of community, you lose time. I just think it's an inefficient way to work."

Ebony Thomas, 26, said her decision to return to her hometown after attending college in Florida stemmed in part from a desire to give something back.

Thomas, an English teacher at Cass Tech, one of the city's top public high schools, said that as an educated black woman who chose to be "a Detroiter on purpose," she is an anomaly. Most of her childhood friends have left the region.

"I feel like Detroit needs me," she said. "There are thousands of me in Atlanta, Chicago, Manhattan."

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