Sunday, August 25, 2013

Detroit's Tendency Toward Anarchism

People who have not been exposed to the bona fide meaning of libertarian anarchism immediately think of lawlessness and chaos when they hear the word anarchy. I suspect that's why libertarians, some time ago, tilted toward articulating expressions such as market anarchism, anarcho-capitalism, free-market anarchism, or private property anarchism. The accepted definitions of libertarian-style anarchy come in many forms, and they are oftentimes synonymous but occasionally divergent.

Many of the great commentaries for intellectual, modern-day anarcho-warriors have been written by Murray Rothbard, a man who unfortunately did not live to see the proliferation of the Internet and experience the enlightened online communities of autodidacts. One of the most thought-provoking 'Net age popular commentaries was written by Roderick Long - "Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections." Long's essay, a transcription of a long talk he gave at the Mises Institute, is not necessarily the most suitable read for the general reader who desires to satisfy a trivial curiosity about a concept that doesn't merit much of his time or thought. Long's splendid talk was geared toward advanced students, though using simple abstractions.

That said, this article from Cat Farmer, an oldie-but-goodie from the young and flourishing days of libertarian Internet presence, may be one of the most basic and clear expositions of anarchy in short form. Cat, rather than introducing pedantic concepts and philosophical or historical themes, speaks mainly to the notion of a spontaneous anarchical order that emerges when the coercive state is held to be immoral and, as Cat notes, there arises a "conscientious objection to the tyranny of other people's visions, opinions, schemes, fixations, and priorities." Here is a quote from Cat's essay:
Anarchism is not a utopian scheme, because if we're all able to create our own little interlocking utopias, then no two will be alike. There is no one-size-fits-all paradise, and one person's heaven may indeed be another's hell; to force your heaven upon someone else is as atrocious an act as creating a hell for him. Good intentions are no excuse for making prisoners and hostages of people who have less political clout than you do.
Read the whole (short) article here: "What Anarchism Means to Me." This is how I picture a model for anarchy for a city like Detroit where the government is deemed insignificant by both libertarians and progressives, and in fact, the regime and all satellite authorities are considered to be a hindrance to humanity and community prosperity.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Detroit's Anarcho-Progressive Homesteaded Community

This is a fascinating video about a progressive-anarcho "grassroots movement" community in Detroit near 7 Mile and Woodward, called Fireweed Universal City. The "about" page reads:
Fireweed Universe-City is a grassroots, not-for-profit movement to transform a devastated, burned-out Detroit city neighborhood into a sustainable, eco-friendly, intentional community that will be the grounds for urban farming, residential and creative space for artists, healers, musicians, and like-minded, forward-thinking, progressive individuals, families, small businesses, and the surrounding community already in place.
It is a community of self-actualization where individuals are expected to contribute and live honestly, and those who don't are eventually shunned. They live off the grid for the most part, with only minimal services. They homestead abandoned buildings, applying their love and labor to make the structures functional and livable. They do accept donations to help them rebuild the abandoned structures. They also run a neighborhood bicycle collective and use vacant lots for urban farming.

Legally, they mostly stay under the radar, though they have had interaction with police and the government bureaucracy. They appear to communicate that there has been no bureaucratic resistance to their homesteaded community. That is what makes Detroit so special right now - a lack of political officialdom in these areas of blight, allowing a spontaneous order to root and thrive. Yeah, they may be progressives and a wee bit different, but a peaceful, self-governed, spontaneous order knows no ideology or declared "normal."

The young man being interviewed rode his bike all the way from San Francisco to embrace the opportunities found here in Detroit.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pure Detroit

A new "Pure Michigan" ad is out and about. 

Nowhere Else But Detroit

I've written about Detroit's anarcho-bus company, here and here. Andy Didorosi is the amazing twenty-something entrepreneur who took the risks and built a great market solution for out-of-the-dark-ages transportation for the city of Detroit. This is a wonderful and snappy, 6-minute video about Didorosi and his impact on the city with a private bus company called, appropriately enough, Detroit Bus Company. Some of the city shots are spectacular in the video's high definition.

Didorosi's frame of mind is very libertarian, for the most part. Didorosi may not read the KDC blog on the positive economics of Detroit that starts with entrepreneur-leaders and grass roots voluntaryism, but he notes that Detroit is a special place where you have a chance to make a real difference because there is an extraordinary supply of resources - buildings, land, human capital - just waiting to be activated.

Didorosi talks about his ideas to devise something beyond the "rudimentary bus system." That is, solving transportation issues using creative methodologies. His most emblematic statement is his assertion that he "couldn't have done this anywhere else in the world but Detroit." Not San Francisco, not Europe, not anywhere else. The two reasons that he states are (1) there's no reason for this bus company to exist anywhere but Detroit, and, more importantly, (2) he "would have been priced out of the market completely anywhere else." And that "price" also includes the costs of maneuvering through a massive regulatory web of political gatekeepers and powerful special interests that inhabit most cities. The ineptness and lack of leadership in Detroit actually allows for serial entrepreneurial efforts to flourish in spite of any existing intervention structure.

The only misstep I want to point out is that Didorosi is incorrect when he says "busing is a public issue and it should be solved publicly," even though he admits thereafter that it is private entrepreneurs like him who have to innovate, build technology, and work toward market solutions. But our young prodigy will learn as he navigates the waters of success and comes up against those who want to keep him from being successful. As a side note, Didorosi also notes that after his bus company installed location trackers, DDOT (Detroit Department of Transportation) copied him and installed bus trackers in their own busses. So while free markets are always innovation leaders and technology developers, markets can and will provide any product or service where claims are made for the necessity of public goods.

Oh, and Didorosi, like so many young ambitious types here in Detroit, is a serial entrepreneur. Enjoy the video.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Detroit's Amazing Pop-Up Anarchy

One of the marvelous things that's been happening in Detroit demonstrates what's at the core of the free market: voluntary, spontaneous, pioneering markets in the form of pop-ups. While pop-ups have been popular in places like Berlin, Paris, London, and some larger American cities, Detroit has become a major hotbed of pop-ups over the last two years. Even the Huffington Post has published articles on the Detroit pop-up scene.

Detroit pop-ups are not your conventional, temporary businesses such as those unsightly suburban fireworks stores, or the usual Christmas or Halloween retailers. Instead, the city has attracted art galleries, food and beverage cafes, coffee shops, clothing boutiques, tea houses, vegan restaurants, yoga workshops, antique stores, bike stores, and mercantile-type retailers. Pop-ups are a temporary arrangement, often with a defined start and end time for business operations. Detroit is the perfect place for these temporary pop-up businesses because this city has the basic requirements for a pop-up business:

- Under-used or empty space.
- Low-cost real estate.
- Dense neighborhoods with a shortage of unique retailers.
- Demand for a distinct or unique product or service.

The Villages Community Development Corp has turned Detroit's Villages (Indian Village, West Village, and Islandview Village) into thriving, vibrant neighborhoods where the pop-ups do very well due to the density of the communities. The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, a private, non-profit organization, has been instrumental in partnering with communities to drive these temporary businesses to the city. These pop-ups help to bring innovation, stability, and eventually, more permanent businesses to the city's dense areas. The pop-up model allows for entrepreneurs to test the business waters with low risk and investment costs up front so that local markets can be evaluated for consumer interest and long-term viability. An article in the Detroit Free Press describes Detroit's pop-up feel:
Guests love them for their spontaneous, insider feel. But for some who stage them, they've become a way to test the waters for a product or concept. 
In today's economy, said Boyle, "We have to be creative. We have to be open to collaboration and sharing space, sharing rent, sharing ideas and being creative in how you monetize yourself.
A great example of a pop-up fulfilling a unique need is Wheelhouse Detroit, a riverfront bike shop that opened a new downtown location in the bustling Compuware building that sits on the edge of Campus Martius, Detroit's downtown "circle." The pop-up shop is only open during the warm months to satisfy the downtown area's appetite for cycling. [See my 2010 article: "Is Detroit a Bicyclist's Paradise?"] Additionally, a suburban bike shop is also testing the potential for Detroit biking by opening a "summer only" bike shop in Detroit's Eastern Market district.

Business Insider magazine has called this a "new retail trend" that is revitalizing Detroit, and the magazine's article on Detroit's pop-up trend also featured Detroit Pop, a local consulting firm that is dedicated to assisting entrepreneurs with launching creative pop-ups in the city. The statist, top-down, conventional view, however, is also reflected in the Business Insider article.
Barry thinks that the pop-up movement in Detroit is an economically stimulating venture, echoed in this Huffington Post piece, but some speculate that it takes away from the value of taxpayer dollars that should go to stationary small businesses and increases the risk involved for the short-term entrepreneurs. 
“I don’t think we’re in a place now in Detroit where businesses opening is taking away from others. Competition is good for us,” Barry said. “We need to build up a more dense district. We need more walkable retail areas. But really, we’re not there yet, where we can say that pop-ups aren’t good for us.”
Unfortunately, the old gatekeepers live on, and they still believe that "tax dollars" can make a city thrive, as opposed to the bottom-up, entrepreneurial efforts that bring pop-ups and startups to destitute cities. [See my recent piece on Detroit and anarcho-startups.] In fact, when mobile food trucks first started appearing in the city's downtown areas to serve on-the-go lunch customers, the local restaurants did their best to keep the popular trucks out of their neighborhoods.

My favorite pop-up business is in the heart of downtown, at Campus Martius, where the Beach Bar and Grill has set up a sand beach with beautifully designed beach chairs and retro design seating, serving alcohol starting at 11am, along with with a great lunch menu. Just across from Campus Martius sits Cadillac Square, a place where multiple pop-up food booths sit, along with ample parking space for Detroit's mobile food trucks.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Even the 'burbs most hoity-toity mall, Somerset of Oakland County, has a persistent presence in the city with its CityLoft pop-up that brings 39 luxury retailers to the city during peak seasons, including Sur la Table, Fossil, Gucci, Williams-Sonoma, and Saks. Additionally, and I don't want to get neoclassical economists too excited, but one chef who is described as one of the "culinary world's rising talents" has opened a pop-up called Guns+Butter. When Anthony Bourdain was in Detroit last month, he personally visited Detroit's premier restaurant pop-up.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


The MIT Technology Review has published a super interview with Brad Feld, a partner at the Foundry Group, a venture capital firm that invests in startups. Not only is Feld excited about the opportunities for entrepreneurial adventures in Detroit, but he's also a market anarchist at heart.

Feld's principles for growing an environment for startups centers around the notion that a small core group of entrepreneurs can incubate a startup sector in just about "any city from Detroit to Cape Town." Feld says this about entrepreneurial communities:
Clusters or hubs are words that have very negative connotations to me. They describe things that governments try to create, and the vast majority of those efforts have not been successful. They are actually antithetical to what I believe in. So I’ve tried to focus on the idea of communities—it’s the notion of creating startup communities, which is a very bottom-up, very entrepreneur-led, organic phenomenon. It’s a profoundly different approach.
If you’re in a city where there’s no clear startup community, the goal is not raise a bunch of money to fund a nonprofit, the goal is not get your government involved. The goal is start finding the other entrepreneurial leaders who are committed to being in your city over the next 20 years. Then, as a group, get very focused on knowing each other, working together, being inclusive of anyone else who wants to engage, doing things that help recruit people to that geography, and doing selfish stuff for your company that also drives your startup community.
Feld goes on to talk about how governments are feeder units, wasting energy on bringing large, inflexible companies to relocate to their cities via tax teasers and political favors without creating any meaningful job environment. He also notes that these hierarchical, top-down organizations - such as a Boeing - are stale and toxic, while network-driven startups supply versatility, creativity, and innovation. Feld, as a partner in a firm that funds startups, looks for entrepreneurs with a low time preference who favor a bottom-up structure that challenges the status quo. He focuses on great leaders and their long-term commitments to communities, as opposed to stale and meaningless metrics that are mindlessly communicated by the financial talking heads in the media.
The thing that you hear all the time is, well, were there more jobs in Q1 2013 than in Q1 2012? Were there more financings in Q2 than Q1? That shit just simply doesn’t matter. And that’s the problem with so many organizations around entrepreneurship. They’re driven by metrics that don’t matter.
As to Detroit, he notes the following thoughts that I have been documenting on this anarcho-Detroit blog throughout 2013:
Think about what happened to a place like Detroit. A hundred years ago, Detroit was an incredible startup community. And a lot of why it’s been in decline has to do with culture and hierarchies and lack of innovation and all of the classic problems that happen when companies become very large incumbents. Part of the power of having startup communities is it continues to challenge the status quo. So for many of these cities that were once very important and powerful, that today are struggling, startup communities are a way for them to rejuvenate themselves.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Detroit's Miscellaneous Rust: in Pictures

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Detroit: "There is No Government Here"

Even gives a plug to anarcho-Detroit in this story on urban farming entrepreneurs. Detroit urban farmer Greg Willerer is right when he notes the city's lack of government and the capability of people in Detroit's anarcho-communities to bond and support one other.
For Greg Willerer, Detroit's new urban frontier is a lot like the Wild West: Grow enough food to support your family, make do with what you have, and rely on your neighbors when you need help.
"For all intents and purposes, there is no government here," said Willerer, 43, checking the greens and other crops he is growing on an acre off Rosa Parks Boulevard, across from an abandoned house with broken windows. "If something were to happen, we have to handle that ourselves."
I've met Greg, and I know his wife, and they are fine exemplars of independent, intelligent entrepreneurship and responsible stewardship that urban agriculture has brought to the inner city. Their farm, Brother Nature, also grows the best (spicy) salad in the state of Michigan. Meanwhile, they continue to explore new opportunities through expanding land ownership. Greg adds this comment:
"We can do so much better as an ecosystem of small businesses supporting each other," he says, sampling mizuna greens while chickens peck at insects nearby. "The best way for us to change a small part of the world is to start a transformative business."