Windsor, Ontario, To Detroit: 'Reset And Come Out Stronger'

Aug 13, 2013
Originally published on August 15, 2013 7:59 am

The Detroit River is the mile-wide boundary that separates the United States and Canada. And the city park on the Windsor, Ontario, side of the river offers a better view of the Detroit skyline than anywhere else.

In a quirk of geography, Detroit actually sits north of its Canadian neighbor. Natives like Stephen Santarossa, who's from Windsor, love this bit of trivia and relish the puzzled look on visitors' faces as they try to draw that mental map.

"Do you realize that you are now looking north?" he says.

But these two cities share more than just a border. There are international love affairs and families that span both sides of the river. And you can venture across the border for a day trip that feels just a little exotic.

Victor Savic and Anne Marie Champagne sit on a park bench in Windsor, gazing at the Detroit skyline.

"We're two countries," Savic says, "but it's one community. It's the best view." Champagne adds, "And from here it doesn't look like they're having problems."

But Savic's been watching Detroit's financial catastrophe unfold, and he says it's painful — like seeing a family member fall on hard times. Savic, like some others in Windsor, is convinced Detroit will rebound from this crisis.

"It's sad they came to this state," he says. "There's so much potential there. It's too bad."

Eddie Francis has been the mayor of Windsor for the last 10 years, and it has not been an easy decade. Just like on the other side of the border, housing values here have plummeted. Windsor's unemployment rate has been among the highest in Canada.

"So financially, I'm certainly keenly aware of the challenges the City of Detroit faces," Francis says. "But I also know the bankruptcy is going to allow them to reset and come out stronger. And we've seen that with the automotive industry."

And it's through the auto industry that the economies of the two cities are most tightly intertwined.

On any given day, Francis says, thousands of semi-trucks cross the border carrying car parts five or seven times before making it to the final product.

"That's integration," he says.

The Ambassador Bridge links Detroit and Windsor, and it's the busiest international border crossing in North America in terms of trade volume. About 10,000 trucks cross this bridge every day.

And it's not just car parts that shuttle back and forth.

There are about 5,000 Windsorites who commute across the border to work in Detroit-area hospitals each day and more who work in other fields.

Gerry Oglen works for Wayne State University, the public university in Detroit. He grew up rooting for the Detroit Tigers, he says, and listening to the music of Motown. So it's been difficult to bear witness to Detroit's decline, Oglen says.

"Will it get better? I think so," he says. "And I think as Detroit begins to rebuild, Windsor begins to benefit."

And so Oglen and his Canadian neighbors will continue to watch Detroit from their front-row seat. They'll be rooting for the Motor City to put its financial house in order as if it were their own hometown.

Copyright 2013 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit http://michiganradio.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Detroit has made a bit of unwelcome history as the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy protection. Among those watching closest are residents of a Canadian city whose fortunes are tightly linked to Detroit's.

Sarah Hulett of Michigan Radio brings us the view from Windsor, Ontario.

SARAH HULETT, BYLINE: The Detroit River is the mile-wide boundary that separates the U.S. and Canada here. And the city park on the Windsor side of the river offers a better view of the Detroit skyline than anywhere else.

STEPHEN SANTAROSSA: Do you realize that you are now looking north?

HULETT: Yes, in a quirk of geography, Detroit actually sits north of its Canadian neighbor. Natives like Stephen Santarossa love this bit of trivia, and relish the puzzled look on visitors' faces as they try to draw that mental map.

But these two cities share more than just a border. There are international love affairs, and families that span both sides of the river.

VICTOR SAVIC: We're two countries, but it's one community.

HULETT: Victor Savic and Anne Marie Champagne are sitting on a park bench, gazing at the Detroit skyline.

SAVIC: It's like the best view, looking at...

ANNE MARIE CHAMPAGNE: And from here, it doesn't look like they're having problems.

HULETT: But Savic says he's been watching Detroit's financial catastrophe unfold, and it's painful, like seeing a family member fall on hard times.

SAVIC: It's sad that they came to this state. There's so much potential there. It's too bad.

HULETT: Savic, like some others in Windsor, is convinced Detroit will rebound from this crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Good morning. Windsor City Hall. How may I help you?

HULETT: Eddie Francis has been the mayor of Windsor for the last 10 years, and it has not been an easy decade. Just like on the other side of the border, housing values here have plummeted. And Windsor's unemployment rate has been among the highest in Canada.

MAYOR EDDIE FRANCIS: So, financially, I'm certainly keenly aware of the challenges the City of Detroit faces. But I also financially know the bankruptcy's going to allow them to reset, and it's going to allow them to come out stronger. And we've seen that with the automotive industry.

HULETT: And it's through the auto industry that the two cities' economies are most tightly intertwined. Francis says on any given day, take a look inside one of the 2,000 semi-trucks that cross the border carrying car parts.

FRANCIS: That truck will cross the border with the same part five or seven times before making its way into the final product. That's integration.

HULETT: The Ambassador Bridge links Detroit and Windsor. It's the busiest international border crossing in North America, in terms of trade volume. About 10,000 trucks cross this bridge every day. And it's not just car parts that shuttle back and forth. There are about 5,000 Windsorites who commute across the border to work in Detroit-area hospitals each day, and more who work in other fields.

GERRY OGLEN: Gerry Oglen, professor of special ed, Wayne State University.

HULETT: Oglen works for the public university in Detroit. He says he grew up rooting for the Detroit Tigers and listening to the music of Motown. So, he says it's been difficult to bear witness to Detroit's decline, but...

OGLEN: Will it get better? I think so. And I think as Detroit begins to rebuild, Windsor begins to benefit.

HULETT: And so Oglen and his Canadian neighbors will continue to watch Detroit from their front-row seat. They'll be rooting for the Motor City to put its financial house in order, as if it were their own hometown. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Hulett. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.