Today in dubious trend pieces: Hazel Park is hip?

Local scenery in Hazel Park, Mich.
Local scenery in Hazel Park, Mich.

From The Detroit News today comes surprising word that Hazel Park — a dreary inner-ring suburb best known for a horse racing track, its “Hazeltucky” redneck streak and a head shop that recently hosted stoner icon Tommy Chong — is on the rise.

Headlined “It’s heating up in hip Hazel Park:

With affordable rents, plenty of available storefronts, a popular chef coming to town and a brewery to follow, Hazel Park is getting buzz for having the potential to be Metro Detroit’s next hot neighborhood.

Spanning nearly three square miles, the Oakland County border suburb also has a thriving art scene, part of which will be showcased this weekend during the Hazel Park Art Fair at Green Acres Park.

This development would appear to finally confirm the local lore, which has percolated on and off for maybe 15 years, that Hazel Park is the new Ferndale, its much more vibrant and, yes, hipper neighbor to the west (and home of yours truly).

It’s also funny — and SO hyperlocal — to see people stick up for the city using the kind of arguments usually associated with much more glamorous and rent-obsessed places like Brooklyn:

“It’s similar to how Royal Oak and Ferndale were before they filled up and the rents got high,” Julie Fournier, an artist who organizes the aforementioned art fair, explained to the News.

The piece understandably inspired plenty of amusement and snark. Hazel Park often feels like the black sheep of mostly affluent Oakland County, a wholly unremarkable blue-collar suburb that’s been mostly bypassed by what passes as the economic recovery, dotted with fast food franchises and empty, windowless storefronts and machine-tool shops, like a misplaced chunk of the east side L. Brooks Patterson probably wishes Macomb County would annex.

I sent the story to a friend who lives in Hazel Park among neighbors who neglect their dogs and fly Confederate flags. His home, a sturdy colonial that is not without its charms, sits smack behind a Checkers drive-thru.

“Yes, it’s super hip,” he replied. “Spread the word. Tell them you know of a hip house on a hip alley that they should scoop up before prices skyrocket.”

Look, I’m glad Hazel Park is finally starting to attract some love and investment. I’m definitely excited to try Mabel Gray, the forthcoming venture from the chef of the Root, a much-praised restaurant that has so far proved too far off the beaten path for me to visit. Hazel Park is also centrally located and has a housing stock that, while modest, is mostly comparable to what you find in Ferndale.

And put frankly, the Detroit area is full of crappy places just like Hazel Park that need reinventing.

I’m just not sold that Hazel Park is there yet.

In the news business, there’s a term used for stories like this that get people talking. This story is definitely a “talker.”

Flickr photo by Liza Lagman Sperl

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