Two things, however, distinguish the City Airport neighborhood from its counterparts: it has a small but determined group of citizens who advocate for it, and it is the subject of a blog. Both can be traced to Detroit’s second-largest newspaper. On its Web site, the Detroit News hosts Going Home: A Journal on Detroit’s Neighborhoods, which gives voice, with a regularity and an intensity that a resource-strapped newspaper simply cannot, to the neighborhood. Don’t let its expansive tagline fool you: Going Home, at least for now, is exclusively about this neighborhood. Through prose and pictures, it introduces the area’s residents and documents the neighborhood’s physical devolution. It links to regular News stories, audio slideshows, and interactive graphics about the area. As a piece of journalism, Going Home is stubbornly anti-anthropological; its posts are not mere vignettes, narrated in the detached tones of reportorial observation. Going Home, as its name suggests, is highly personal.
The blog’s guiding force and principal writer is Michael Happy, a News sports reporter who grew up in the City Airport neighborhood but moved away when he was twelve, in 1976. Though the neighborhood Happy remembers—mostly blue-collar factory workers, mostly Polish-Catholic—was a rough one even “back in the day,” he says it was home. When he and his family left their house on Dobel Street, part of the mass exodus to the suburbs, the departure was, he says, “heartbreaking.”
Happy speaks—and writes—with a sincerity that is almost anachronistic. He commonly refers, without irony, to miracles. His sleeve bears not only his heart, but also his humor and his joy and his anger. (“That Mike Happy,” his childhood friend Jim Morey puts it, “you know he means it.”) Happy came of age in a time and place where Elks Clubs and Cub Scouts were the norm, and when a neighborhood was distinguished by more than just geography. He spent eight years in the Navy. Community, to him, is not a goal, but an assumption.
For Happy, writing and maintaining Going Home—which he does in addition to his full-time News beat—is equal parts personal catharsis, reportorial documentation, and moral crusade. The blog’s evolving narrative starts with the writer himself. In an early post, Happy describes his emotional return to the neighborhood. His old house, he writes,
was completely gone and the lot was littered with debris—old tires, hubcaps, furniture, clothes. Of the 30 or so houses that made up our end of the block back in the 70’s, about a quarter of them were gone and another quarter of them were boarded up. It looked like the scenes from New Orleans after the levies failed.
The bitterness here is apt. Witnessing the area’s blight firsthand, and meeting the people who live among it, it’s impossible not to feel outrage—even if it’s not your childhood home. Yet outrage in isolation is impotent; and over a tumult of introductory posts rolled out in late August 2007, the blog found a narrative arc that transcends atomized emotion. Happy had two realizations: first, that there are other former residents of the City Airport area who love and miss “the old neighborhood” as much as he does; and second, that those people might be enlisted to work on the neighborhood’s behalf.