Urban Cabins Part 2: Not a map — a compass

This is part two in an ongoing series about the El Moore’s rooftop cabins. Read Part 1 here.

I feel silly in retrospect looking at all those fashionable headboards and hotel furniture without asking myself some fabulously important questions: What are the Urban Cabins? Where do they come from? What do they do? When Tom Brennan suggested the Lakota Medicine Wheel as a type of compass for us, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t all that familiar with the concept and I suppose I was a bit suspicious at the onset about appropriating another culture’s ancient symbol. If we had, for example, begun to use the sacred wheel as a theme, rather than taking some wisdom from it, I wouldn’t have been as enthused. However it quickly became apparent that we wouldn’t be commandeering the symbol as much as allowing the wheel to guide us.

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The cabins aren’t the only parts of the El Moore excited to welcome guests….Here is our parlor, patiently anticipating many great conversations!

What struck me most profoundly about the wheel, what spoke most to me about the concept–is balance. What does balance mean in this context? The Lakota Medicine wheel is broken up into four quadrants signifying the cardinal directions. In that, we have our first inspiration–the cabins, with their larger-than-life windows, look out onto the city in four directions. But if we are looking at this as a balanced function, there must be a reciprocal action. Looking out onto the city has a secret sibling. Those beautiful windows allow you to look out at the city–but they allow the city beyond those windows to pour into the cabins.

With that notion in mind, it became increasingly important for the cabins to assume their rightful place as a part of the city–not simply a getaway. We could have simply, now that construction is coming to a close, run out and purchased beds and bedding and occasional furniture and filled the space with things. We could have picked out stuff and bought it and voila, Rooftop Urban Cabins! But the project demands something more connected to history, with more stories. So what will the lodge and the cabins do? The lodge will allow travelers to come into our community. As it turns out, that action, that gathering force, the ability to allow in, is fundamental and foundational. Letting people into Detroit, welcoming them, demystifying this complex organism we’re all part of, is not to be taken for granted.

Detroit will reward those who strive to understand her.

Detroit, even with the well-earned fanfare and buzz surrounding all of our new development and continual reinvention, still struggles with massive disinvestment and a global image problem. I remember my two years at Hostel Detroit where, without exaggeration, I not once greeted a single guest who hadn’t been explicitly dissuaded from coming to the city by friends or family, the border crossing guard or even the bus drivers and cabbies dropping them off in North Corktown. At that time, I was honored to get acquainted with what seemed to me a hearty, no-nonsense constituency of adventurous travelers eager to get to know what Detroit was really all about. They hadn’t heeded the warnings, they had come, and I wanted to reward them for their efforts.

Now, a few years have passed and much of what seemed like wishful thinking at the time has become a solid, measurable wave of new investment and development. I’m overjoyed that many of the grand, threadbare, boarded-up Beaux Arts, Italianate and Romanesque beauties my wide-eyed tour groups would shake their heads at in disbelief back in 2008 now have new restaurants and shops and atrium lobbies beckoning. Even the glorious ruins of Detroit’s iconic Michigan Central Station is seeing a bit of help. It’s exciting to be here at this time and especially to be part of a meaningful reinvestment. Even at this early stage, the El Moore Lodge is waiting to welcome new guests. There is a lot of work ahead of us as we create an authentic, unique, welcoming experience for our adventurous guests. After all, coming in is no small task, and I want to reward them for their efforts.