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Cold Tea + Hot Conversation = New Perspectives on Troy

June 25th, 2012

“Politics (Mayor Janice Daniels controversy/recall) has brought a shadow upon us but it brings a good thing, too – people are waking up.” – Linda, a Troy resident since 1974

When the WDET newsroom decided to take a look at Troy this week, our idea was to go out into the community and meet people where they live. Over the past year & half – through our Crossing the Lines coverage – we have been holding evening community meetings with about 50 or so people coming out, having conversations with our staff and then reporting back. But, since summer is in full swing, people are on vacations, etc. we thought it made more sense to go small and drink some coffee. Why not? It is summer, after all, and if the coffee is too hot you can get it iced, nowadays.

Hunting for Ideas at the Caribou Coffee

I got here early – that’s my M.O. I pulled up in the parking lot of the Caribou Coffee on Crooks near Big Beaver around 6:30am this morning for the 7-10am community coffee talk – the first in this tour of various Metro Detroit neighborhoods.

Not really thinking about the “political” implications of my drink of choice, I did order tea. Green – no sugar/no milk – to be exact. I’ve never really been a coffee drinker. I guess tea is just something you build a taste for when your mother and grandmother are from Scotland. Those folks from the British Isles love their Earl Grey.

What makes Troy interesting on many levels is the community. It’s suburban but has a lot of benefits of diversity, business and retail. But getting back to tea as a “political statement” – it was also one of the first places in the Detroit Metro area where the “Tea Party” side of the political spectrum was able to elect candidates on the local level. Mayor Janice Daniels was their candidate. But over the past few months she’s become something of a lightning rod for controversy. Between someone digging up an old facebook post in which she used a homophobic slur to her personal feelings about living an LGBT "lifestyle" and her political philosophy that federal government money should not be used for a local transit center in Troy. These actions by the Mayor have been viewed as negative by some residents. So much so that a recall effort has collected about 9,300 signatures and Daniels could face the issue at the ballot box later this year.

But while Mayor Daniels has been making headlines, I was much more interested in the day-to-day for most Troy residents. Why this is their community of choice, what they see as the pluses and minuses, and what they might be able to share with the rest of us about their city? This is the whole effort behind WDET’s Crossing the Lines coverage – listening on the local level and learning from each community. Luckily, the word got out about my visit and I was able to enjoy coffee – or tea, as you know – and conversation with eight folks who took the time to stop by and chat.

“I saw a neighbor doing Tai Chi in her driveway. How cool is that?” – Ellen, 22 year Troy resident

Let’s look at the numbers. Troy is the 11th largest city in Michigan. “The City of Tomorrow… Today” has been called one of the top 20 “safest places to live” in the country with just under 81,000 residents in the Oakland County ‘burb. The community has boomed since the completion of I-75 through the area in the mid-1960s. The demographic mix today features a 20% Asian population that includes people of Indian, Pakistani, Korean, Japanese and Chinese backgrounds according to the 2010 Census.

Among those who came out to talk were several natives – raised in Troy who came back to raise their own families. Sue Martin echoed many of the same positive elements of community that others talked about – great schools, great services – and a feeling of being in a city where the basic services/needs are taken care of on an exceptional level. But she also feels recent turns at the ballot box with the addition of some more fiscally conservative elected officials has started to push the issue of “big government” in Troy; the idea that the city is bloated or not as efficient for taxpayer money. Martin said she feels this is not the case. Martin’s friend, Ellen Hodorek, said she feels when it comes to city services/amenities that people should look at them more as mutual benefit investments in community to help continue strong neighborhoods so outsiders will seek to move in Troy.

While all of the stirrings at City Hall concerning Mayor Daniels, the recall and the spotlight on the community was not far from their minds, the residents I met this morning were just as happy to highlight other aspects of what makes Troy the place for them.

“This is the most wonderful place in Michigan next to Traverse City. This place has a lot going on. I can’t say enough about Troy." – Judith, a Troy resident since 1974.

Those who have lived in the area for decades talked about how in the 1970s Troy became a place for some in the Birmingham area to go because their housing dollar went further. While not blessed with a walkable downtown like neighboring communities, like Birmingham and Rochester, Troy offers an almost woodsy Northern Michigan feel in some neighborhoods. Judith Holmberg spoke about how many large, older trees in her yard were lost when the emerald ash borer came to visit Michigan a few years back. But new trees have been planted in an effort to return a woodsy feel to many of the neighborhoods.

Speaking of housing – Holmberg also talked about how, as a senior citizen, the idea of a multilevel home is not as appealing as it once was to her as the mother of a growing family. So, she said, with a sense of sadness, that if there will be one reason for her to leave Troy it will be to trade in the traditional Colonial style homes of the neighborhoods for a one-level Ranch style home not typically found in the city.

While noted that a walkable downtown is not a feature in Troy, the residents talked about how location – near I-75 and other major roads – offers an opportunity to get anywhere in the Metro area with ease. At the same time, places like the Somerset Collection and, to a lesser extent, Oakland Mall have become gathering places for community members. The Troy Community Center and the Troy Historic Village – featuring buildings dating back to the 1800s – are points of pride and community involvement.

Cold Tea – A Good Sign?

As the morning rolled on, I realized something. What had been a boiling hot cup of tea had turned stone cold. But really, that was a good sign.


Because, I was so engaged in the conversations during this the first coffee shop stop in Troy that I didn’t have time to leisurely sip my tea. As the conversations ended and everyone headed off to work, life and other points around the Metro area, I felt genuinely grateful for the time. While heading to my car for the drive back to WDET, I realized that today’s beautiful summer day had brought more than just a light breeze and sunny skies. Today brought some new ideas about a place I only really knew from a distance. But armed with new street-level knowledge, a few new contacts and memories of some great conversations – what more could I ask for?

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Rob St. Mary

Follow me on Twitter: @RobDET