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Detroit is a lesson in the evolution of urban America. Originally a Great Lakes transportation center, it rapidly became an industrial center thanks to its location between ore resources to the north and energy resources to the south. The transportation industry, the origin of the nickname “motor city,” began with carriages, bicycles, and other steel products, and blossomed with Henry Ford and his auto manufacturing empire. The industrial base continued to evolve through World War II with the production of military equipment and other manufactured goods. The large number of unskilled jobs attracted immigrants and U.S. migrants, particularly from the South, creating an ethnically mixed, working-class population. The industrial and commercial activity generated a great deal of wealth as well. Today Detroit retains a diverse socioeconomic character and a variety of neighborhoods, but also has a mixed economic outlook.
The Detroit metropolitan area is a quilt of perfectly rectangular suburbs of varying socioeconomic status, separated by a grid of roads with names like Seven Mile, Eight Mile, and Ten Mile. Suburbs along the north shore and a few inland areas are more upscale, but, in general, suburbs are middle class. The stronger and more rapidly growing suburbs are to the northwest in Oakland County. These more affluent northern suburbs have been split off the primary Detroit metro area and are now covered as the Warren-Troy Farmington Hills metro area. The adverse effects of urban sprawl include traffic, poor air-quality, and unattractive development—characteristics that have long defined the city.
Dearborn is the traditional industrial capital of the Ford Motor empire. It is a mixed bag as a place to live but does have features of considerable interest, including the Henry Ford Museum and the Ford River Rouge plant and its tour. The area has a heavy immigrant flavor. Livonia is one of the more livable suburbs on the west side, and areas west of there, along the I-275 beltway including Novi and Northville are commercially strong centers with some of the higher paying jobs in the area. The more affluent suburbs, where most people live who work here, are in the Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills metro area. Romulus and Inkster are very middle class and near the airport to the south.
There is enough local wealth and civic pride to attract an excellent set of arts and culture amenities, spearheaded by museums and performing arts. Sports are a local obsession, and everybody either watches or plays them, and the teams (except the NFL Lions) have improved in recent years. There are excellent recreational areas, and those wishing a getaway can head in several directions including north or to Ann Arbor or Lake Huron. Intercity transportation services are excellent. The low cost of living is definitely a plus, hard to match for a big US city.
Detroit and its immediate western suburbs occupy a large area approximately spread about 25 miles from the city center. Nearly flat land slopes up gently from the water’s edge and becomes almost completely flat moving west. The climate is continental and rigorous, influenced by location on storm tracks and lakes Huron and Erie. Winter storms can bring combinations of rain, snow, freezing rain, and sleet with the possibility of heavy snowfall. In summer, most storms pass to the north allowing for intervals of warm, humid, sunny skies, and occasional thunderstorms followed by days of mild, dry, and fair weather. Lake breezes cool some parts the city. Summer temperatures reach 90 degrees or higher. Winter lake effects produce considerable cloudiness but also moderate cold temperatures. First freeze is late October, last is late April.