The 20 worst city mottos in the Detroit area

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click to enlarge The 20 worst city mottos in the Detroit area
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Is there anything in this smartphone-hypnotized, let-me-Google-that-for-you world that’s as quaint and possibly outdated as a motto? When you can get the complete stats for anything, anyplace, and anyone with a few finger taps, isn't it sort of pointless to try distilling down an identity to a few words? And with declining levels of confidence in all institutions across the board, does anybody believe in any particular motto’s sincerity?

Yet mottos remain as a feature of daily life in Southeastern Michigan, often used as grace notes to amplify the qualities of the municipalities that make up our regional crazy quilt of 140-odd competing city and charter township governments.

Now, some of them make sense to us. The motto of Detroit, for instance, is rooted in history, and rendered in Latin: Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineberus. It dates to the days when Detroit had burned to the ground in a great fire, and expressed the residents’ hopes for a better future. It's a hopeful, even poetic lament of Detroit's early tragedy.

Statements of fact cannot be argued with. Dearborn is “The Home Town of Henry Ford.” Fraser, first incorporated in 1894, is “A Centennial City.” Birmingham is “A Walkable Community.” We’d even accept Harrison Charter Township’s claim to be “The Boating Capital of Michigan.”

Many of our area’s municipalities seem to celebrate their identity as bedroom communities, such as Huntington Woods, aka “City of Homes.” Several cities employ the tagline “A Great Place to Live, Work, and Play" — such a caricature of 1950s suburbia that it's easy to smirk at.

But some of them prompt unintended amusement, and that’s what this list is for. It was compiled with some of the very best research that can be done in an afternoon, and we apologize in advance for any taglines or sayings that are incorrectly taken to be mottos.

20: Hamtramck: The World in 2.1 Square Miles
Can you really fit the entire world into a community the size of Hamtramck? Although it sometimes seems the city-within-a-city has somebody from every country, most residents trace their heritage to Poland, Bangladesh, Yemen, the former Yugoslavia, and a few dozen other places. Still, while the motto may not technically be accurate, the metaphor rings true. H-Town also gets points for trying to be inclusive: The old saying — “A Touch of Europe in America” — didn't acknowledge all the city’s newest residents.

19: Hazel Park: The Friendly City
I know everybody likes to think of themselves as friendly, but Hazel Park has a lot more going for it than mere affability: proximity to Ferndale, active housing nonprofits, and a growing dining and drinking scene. Presumably, friendliness ranks among its virtues as well.

18: Grosse Pointe Woods: Urbis Magna Pulchritudine
Detroit isn’t the only city to render its motto in Latin: Grosse Pointe Woods does too. We believe this would roughly translate as “City of Great Beauty.” Why didn’t they just say so? Well, we suppose a motto should be grand.

17: Clawson: The Little City with a Big Heart
And why should mottos aspire to grandeur? Because you don’t want them to look downright silly on a T-shirt. Courtesy of Clawson comes a motto so durned cute it should be paired up with a kitten meme. D’awwwww.

16: Chesterfield Charter Township: The Gateway to Anchor Bay
This might be an example of locals maybe a little too proud of something important mostly to them. Now, we might be missing something, but most of us here in the office hadn't even heard of Anchor Bay. And even if it is truly great, wouldn't being its gateway be like being the lobby of the Taj Majal?

15: Eastpointe: The Gateway to Macomb County
Poor Macomb County: In many ways, it’s exactly the sort of land of seven-lane intersections and suburban generica writers like James Howard Kunstler have made a career of criticizing. What does it portend that Eastpointe, hit so hard by the foreclosure crisis, champions its role as Macomb’s anteroom?

14: Hartland Township: Friendly by Nature
I guess there’s nothing wrong with this tagline — if you’re in your 60s or older. If you’re younger, you are more likely to associate it with Naughty by Nature, the New Jersey hip-hop group behind “O.P.P.” Depending on your feelings about that sound, might be a deal-breaker.

13: Southgate: The Dining Capital of Downriver
OK, we don’t intend to throw shade on Downriver, because that’s been done enough, right? But at least Lincoln Park earns its stripes as "Crossroads of Downriver." But is Southgate really a Division One Downriver dining destination? Sure, there's Subway, a few McDonald's, and some KFCs, Taco Bells, and Arby's? But even that sports bar where they'll cook you a 10-pound burger doesn't seem to quite put it over the top. Did we miss something?

12: Dearborn Heights: Dei Gratia
Another Latin entry in this countdown, Dearborn Heights affirms its greatness with classy classicism. But what does it mean? In English, it's: By the grace of God. It just sounds a little … desperate? Like everything worked out fine, but it was a close call?

11: Romulus: Gateway to the World
Of course, you get it right away: Romulus is home to Detroit Metropolitan Airport, your point of departure for jet voyages leading around the globe. But the motto also has a hollow ring to it, as in: Gateway to the World (And Not Much Else).

10: Brighton: Where Quality is a Way of Life
Take the output of 400 hours worked brainstorming ideas, shove them through 1,000 hours’ worth of focus groups, and then pick one of the pleasant-sounding but meaningless choices off of the resulting list, and you’d get something much like this, to be sure. It looks good — good enough to pass muster with any stodgy city officialdom — but any meaning evaporates upon close inspection. Why waste all that effort when you can just use the apparently not-trademarked-yet  “A Great Place to Live, Work, and Play” and move on to the next order of municipal business?

9: Farmington Hills: The City of Tradition and Progress
Yes, Farmington Hills has been a city of tradition — ever since 1973. What do re-enactors wear at the Founders Festival? Bellbottom jeans and mood rings? Groovy!

8: Madison Heights: The City of Progress
But at least Farmington Hills has “tradition.” Poor Madison Heights has only progress to tout.

7: Auburn Hills: Honoring the Past, Building the Future
See? You can have both the past and the future, Madison Heights. Although, again, we wonder what kind of past Auburn Hills has. It has been around as a government entity since the Year of Our Lord 1983, and may not be quite so eager to honor the days when it was called Pontiac Township.

6: Brownstown: Where the Future Looks Brighter

Is it just us, or does this leaning-into-the-future line make you wonder whether Brownstowners are pining for better days to hurry up and arrive?

5: Livonia: People Come First
Although the motto appears, inexplicably, as “Families Come First” at least some of the time on the Livonia website. And if it were anyplace but Livonia, it wouldn't prompt the question: What kind of people come first?

4: Sterling Heights: To Strive on Behalf of All
Sterling Heights residents strive on our behalf? Really? For years, fairly or unfairly, "Sterile Whites" was presented as a caricature of suburbia, a place where, at day's end, residents slammed their overfed bodies down on their Barcaloungers to stuff their faces, drink industrial beer, and crab about the ghost of Coleman Young, right? Not that all Sterling Heightsers are like that, of course, but to suggest that 36 square miles of late 20th century, resource-sucking suburban sprawl is somehow a boon to all mankind seems indefensible, if not outright ludicrous.

3: Canton: Michigan’s Community of Vision
What kind of vision? Was it a vision of wide roads full of gas-guzzling cars where motorists talk and text on phones and disregard the majestic panorama of discount muffler shop signs and overhead power lines? We'd wonder what strong drugs and psychotic brain framed this fearful vision?

2: Westland: The Place to Be
We've never understood this phrase, at least in connection with Westland. It would seem to suggest that Westland is a hip, happening place. Instead, we take it that Westland is still a work in progress: literally a place that will fully come into being at one point. Sort of like District Detroit.

1: Troy: The City of Tomorrow — Today!
Yes, after Troy became a municipality in the 1950s, the freeway came corkscrewing through its beet fields and a city sprang up over the next 40 years that was the pride and joy of L. Brooks Patterson. Today, in many ways, it's the last bastion of the commuter suburb, one making 11th hour attempts to become more transit- and pedestrian-friendly. In this way, it’s still very much the city of tomorrow — of yesterday. Of 1939, to be specific.

About The Author

Michael Jackman

Born in 1969 at Mount Carmel hospital in Detroit, Jackman grew up just 100 yards from the Detroit city line in east Dearborn. Jackman has attended New York University, the School of Visual Arts, Northwestern University and Wayne State University, though he never got a degree. He has worked as a bar back, busboy,...
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