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Detroit History

A Cadillac isn’t just the car your grandfather drove. One of the most iconic American brands of all time takes its name from the Quebec-born Frenchman—Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac—who established the post on the Detroit River in 1701 that would eventually become the modern-day city that put America on four wheels. Everywhere you look at the city’s core, you’ll see reminders of Detroit’s age and former opulence. It was, at one time, far more important than Chicago, or any city farther west. The automobile industry brought prosperity to the city. World War II kept it hanging around a little longer, with the city’s factories pressed into service, at a time when Detroit was known as the “Arsenal of Democracy." Since the 1950s, though, Detroit’s future has been a big question mark, one growing bigger by the year. The infamous race riots in 1967 weren’t unique to Detroit, but unlike in other cities, the memory is still fresh, since the exodus that began in the years following has not slowed, but rather, accelerated. For decades, the city and suburbs have been sparring over how to move into the future. Today, the lion’s share of the power and money in the region is out in the suburbs. This leaves Detroit struggling to find its place in 21st-century America, a search that remains ongoing. High-profile corruption cases (including the trial and incarceration of Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick in 2009) prompted Detroit voters to clean house; the current city council and mayor—former Pistons star Dave Bing, himself a resident of suburban Oakland County until he announced his candidacy—represent a dramatic and much-needed change in the city’s political structure. Still, with homes still on the market for $1 a pop and the great development debate centering on how many abandoned structures need to be torn down, it’s tough to predict whether or not change is ever going to come.