Photos from exploring at low-tide during a mid-winter road trip to Lake Huron north of Port Huron with Fellow Kathy Tian (the photographer)


As many Challenge Detroit fellows have already written about, Detroit is a highly cultured city with world-class institutions that are impossible to miss, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, along with newer edgier institutions such as Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MoCAD). To me, play, or fun by definition translates into exploring. Exploration is absolutely essential to humanity; we mapped every inch of the world, but humans never stop exploring, we only find different mediums to explore. Detroit excels in the exploration category.

Exploring in Detroit: Mixing up the fun factor in Detroit is the fact that it is ground zero for America’s pop-up storefront movement – both retail and food. The pop-up movement makes Detroit an incredibly dynamic and refreshing city to live in. In a time when a large portion of the American population lives in suburbs notorious for their predictable homogeneity, and with a similar phenomenon creeping into business districts of major American cities, the fact that in Detroit you can experience such a variety of unique, temporary, exclusive, shopping and food experiences constantly is exciting. Pop-ups are incredibly fun, engaging, participatory, authentic experiences that insert that element of exploration into modern everyday life, simple exploration so often lacking in our daily lives and many of our cities. By their very nature the pop-up phenomenon encourages everyone to explore parts of Detroit they may not otherwise have taken the time to know. Pop-ups give you a fun creative way to explore Detroit.

Exploring outside of Detroit: The myriad fun events, and places to experience inside of Detroit have actually kept me almost exclusively inside the city since I arrived from Rhode Island in late August. However, I measure a truly livable city not only by how I can spend my time inside the city, but it’s proximity to two major exploration opportunities: natural and urban. I grew up in Albany, NY – one of the most perfectly positioned cities on the East Coast – an almost equidistant 3 hour drive or train ride to NYC, Boston, and Montreal, and only 45 minutes to the Adirondack Park, the largest wilderness park in the lower 48 states. So I have high expectations for proximity to both natural and urban exploration. Let’s start with urban exploration.

Urban: No matter how fabulous your city is no one wants to live in fabulous urban isolation. Millions of people take vacations to cities each year, they are de facto urban explorers. As a passionate and dedicated urban planner, I get more excited about the process of immersing myself in a new city that most people probably do. Therefore, proximity to other major urban metropolises is just as important as the quality of the city I live in. It just so happens, Detroit is perfectly positioned almost equidistant (4 hrs) between the largest city in Canada – Toronto and the 3rd largest city in the U.S. – Chicago. So for all of your urban exploring pleasure it’s impossible to find another location in the Midwest, or even outside the East Coast that is in such close proximity and so well connected to top-tier metropolises. If Amtrak is more your style, it is 5.5 hrs to Chicago and about 4 hours on VIA Rail from Windsor to Toronto.

Natural: Michigan is surrounded by pristine landscapes, sculpted by the largest freshwater system in the world, and split into two peninsulas which touch Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. Michigan has two of the only four National Lakeshores in the National Park System. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Sleeping Bear was named Good Morning America’s Most Beautiful Place in America in 2011. In addition, Isle Royale National Park, the largest island in Lake Superior, is a Michigan hidden gem and one of the most underutilized National Parks in the system, happens to also be an International Biosphere Reserve. Just as exciting, and perhaps unexpected, is that Michigan is home to one of only 10 parks across the world that has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park – the Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Emmet County. Michigan is also at the center of the future 4,500 mile North Country National Scenic Trail. With over 2000 miles already complete passing through North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, the trail is already nearly as long as the 2,184 mile Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine.

Detroit is a great homebase for explorers. Take some friends and go exploring!


up next – Give: Moving Toward Greatness: Challenge Detroit’s Five Impacts