Macomb County native Dannie Fountain, a world traveler, shares how Detroit is not so different from cities in Thailand and Hungary.
By Dannie Fountain
Featured Photo by Lara Pucci Photography
We all have met that person who has strong opinions about Detroit. As someone who has traveled the globe the past nearly three years, I’ve met that person time and time again — in airports, in quiet cafes, waiting on public transit platforms, while checking into a hotel — they’re everywhere. It’s become somewhat of a social experiment for me to track the reactions to the statement “Oh, I’m from Metro Detroit.” I can no longer quantify the number of times I’ve been told that Detroit is dangerous, scary and no place for a single young woman.
Still, the city of Detroit is home to many of my favorite memories — reconnecting with a best friend at Dally in the Alley, hot cocoa and good music at Noel Night, watching restaurants and bars develop (my most recent favorite is Kiesling) and just falling in love with a city on the water. When I moved away from Metro Detroit in 2015, I knew that one day I’d come home again.
After three years, I’ve finally found my way home. While I was away, I quite traveled the world, living out of a carry-on suitcase. I saw war-torn stretches of the Middle East, impoverished factions of beautiful Budapest and how folks in Chiang Mai in Thailand are able to live on just $15 a day or less. The world has taught me so much about the city of Detroit — the first city I ever fell in love with.
Chiang Mai is a bustling city in the northern part of Thailand. It’s also home to the Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary that rescues Asian elephants from the logging, circus and street performing industries. Chiang Mai means “New City,” which is an apt description for this southeast Asian treasure. The center of the city is walled and historic, with the modern parts of the city expanding beyond that. Chiang Mai is also seen as the unofficial capital of northern Thailand, second in importance only to Bangkok.
As I slowly fell in love with Chiang Mai, I found myself lost in the parallels between this ancient city and my favorite city, attempting to rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Detroit is often thought of as the unofficial capital of Michigan, and as new buildings rise alongside old ones, and new art gets placed by historic pieces, the city seems full of life again.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary (and the tenth-largest city in the European Union). Its history of occupation is long, and its most populated district is more densely filled with people than Manhattan. Budapest has been called “the world’s second best city” by Condé Nast Traveler. Yet, among all this, there are buildings still bombed out (that are now filled with “ruin bars”), city streets that still bear the bullet holes of past conflicts and an air of misery as you walk through the Jewish quarter.
When I was wandering through Budapest, I couldn’t help but think of home. When I was a student at Albion College, I was a Sleight Leadership Fellow tasked with the impossible — using my 18-year-old brain to come up with a project that impacted Detroit. During this fellowship, we spent time studying Detroit — the impact of the Packard Plant, the train station, Corktown and Belle Isle Aquarium (which was, at the time, still closed). The parallels between Budapest and Detroit are immense. The two cities are both economically and socially diverse, yet full of a fire that couldn’t be tamed.
As I return to my roots (and a 9-5 working at Google), I’m warmed by the knowledge that Detroit is also returning to its roots — a city of music with rising studios like Assemble Sound, a city of food with fan favorites like Parks & Rec and a city of love, both of yourself and of one another. I always got a little choked up when I talked about how much I love Detroit, but that feeling is even more profound now.
Because I’m home.
Dannie Lynn Fountain is a marketing strategist and whip-smart whiskey drinker currently working at Google. She has 10 years of experience as an entrepreneur and strategist. Today, she works with entrepreneurs and corporate clients alike to brainstorm, strategize and implement strategic marketing processes to better their business and increase their sales, with a focus on passionate storytelling. Beyond strategy, Dannie is the author of four books on entrepreneurship and a regular speaker on marketing and entrepreneurship worldwide. Work she’s been involved with has been recognized by Cannes Lions, the Effies, Forbes, Bustle, Cosmopolitan and more.