Saturday, November 30, 2013

Warehouse District: Blighted Color

Photo from the Detroit warehouse district.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Detroit Wall Art

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Friday, November 29, 2013

Heidelberg Fires

Another arson fire at the Heidelberg Art Project. The House of Soul, the War Room, the Penny House, and now the Obstruction of Justice House. I think Tyree Guyton (the artist being interviewed) has got to step out of the zen zone and stop referring to these acts of arson as "opportunities."


Jimmy Fallon in Detroit

And our visitors are always looking for a coney island. Jimmy is no exception. In fact, back-to-back coney island choices for Jimmy.

Did Anthony Bourdain Diss Detroit?

Anthony Bourdain came, saw, spoke brashly, and went on his way. He came to Detroit to film an episode of his popular CNN series "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown." After the segment aired, he had plenty to say concerning his experiences and personal judgment of Detroit and Detroiters. Detroit Free Press writer Sylvia Rector wrote the following describing Bourdain's assessment of our rust-to-riches city:
Anthony Bourdain proves himself to be a romantic, unabashed admirer of Detroit’s history, spirit and resiliency — even as he declares it “utterly screwed” and compares it to Chernobyl...
Bourdain later wrote the following in a Tumblr post:
I love Detroit. I think it’s beautiful. I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in America—still.
...Detroit looks like nowhere else. Detroit looks like motherfuckin' Detroit. As it should. 
...I love Detroit. I love Detroiters. You’ve got to have a sense of humor to live in a city so relentlessly fucked. You’ve got to be tough—and occasionally even devious. And Detroiters are funny, tough—and supreme improvisers.
Though some Detroiters were slighted by his mishmash of post-visit messages, I think that overall Bourdain left a very positive spin on the city of Detroit. Sure, the first half of Bourdain's show highlighted the usual empty fields and ruin porn, and he even compared Detroit to Chernobyl. He had this to say about his dabble in the porn fields:
I, too, I'm afraid, am guilty of wallowing in ruin porn, of making sure we pointed our cameras, lingered even, in the waist-high grass, overgrown gardens, abandoned mansions, crumbling towers, denuded neighborhoods of what was once an all-powerful metropolis, the engine of capitalism.
In fact, he took things a step further and did some urban exploring inside the notorious abandoned Packard Plant, a place that has become a playground and photography backdrop for locals and curious outsiders. The result is a stunning video for those who are not familiar with the landmark.


Nevertheless, Bourdain's emphasis on ruin porn wasn't all misplaced - in fact, the Phoenix rising from the ashes happens to be our extraordinary story that makes this city such an exceptional place to be right now. Everyone wants to know about, talk about, and understand the Detroit story, from its long history of raging capitalistic successes to its decades of plunder, and ultimately, the city's nosedive into the depths of blight and neglect. The story of discovery and rebirth of this part unknown starts with, yes, images of ruin porn and the lobotomized mass of bedraggled real estate. After all, unlike most anti-Detroit, media naysayers who google and write about the city's woes from behind a computer bearing distorted information, Bourdain came to Detroit and gave the city a shot at redemption.


After the highlight reel of ruin porn and Detroit on the fritz, the episode’s narrative focused on some do-it-yourself and unregulated dining experiences in the D. In fact, I was pleased to see that Bourdain took to attending local dining spots that are not on the government's radar. He visited one of Detroit's many unadvertised, unlicensed, non-restaurant, back-alley pop-ups wherein the locals take to opening up 'illegal' cooking services for willing diners. He also visited a pupusa house in an unlicensed, unregulated home environment. All to the good, and yes, this culture is one of the many components of the ground-up revolt for which Detroit is becoming known.

Bourdain then travelled over to the legit side of dining and visited a firehouse, where cooking great meals is a long-standing tradition. Here, much of his attention focused on the same yawn material: little fire engines that couldn't and all the other dysfunction around the Detroit Fire Department. Mr. Bourdain, 60 Minutes has been there, done that, and only a few weeks ago. [See my article, "60 Minutes is Intellectually Insolvent on its Detroit Doctrine."]

Next up was a visit to Detroit's celebrated, regulated pop-up scene, and one famous pop-up restaurant in particular: Guns + Butter. This is where he couldn’t comprehend how it is that a very talented, young chef, Craig Lieckfelt, has chosen to make himself a hangout here in Detroit, where his pop-up quickly became the hardest spot in town to get a reservation. Said Bourdain:
This guy could be running a 300-seat restaurant in Vegas, but here he is, in Detroit. 
He calls that both heroic and a foolhardy adventure. He can’t seem to fully appreciate why a first-rate chef would give up the conventional career path to come to Detroit. Chef Lieckfelt is a Detroit native, and he returned to his hometown after a stint in New York City. He plans on establishing a permanent restaurant in Detroit.

Along those lines, Bourdain can’t seem to understand how Lieckfelt’s restaurant “benefits Detroit.” Does a restaurant - or any other service-oriented business - need a special purpose for benefitting its customers because it is located in Detroit? All market services exist because they benefit customers and fetch a profit for the entrepreneur. But Las Vegas versus Detroit? Could there be a more flawed comparison?

While I certainly understand the conventional path of making dough and obtaining mainstream prominence, Las Vegas is a one-pony town that possesses no remarkable culture or historical appeal whatsoever. It's a gaming and entertainment climate where people go to blow off steam and blow out of town. Good for Lieckfelt for bypassing the nauseating ethos of Vegas and the orthodox path of New York to sink his roots in the rebirth of his hometown as a prominent chef. That’s a risk that this entrepreneur is willing to take to reap future benefits. In fact, Lieckfelt's non-conventional success has recently led him to import his talent to Los Angeles, where Guns + Butter popped up in the Roosevelt Hotel's Spare Room.

Bourdain also harped a bit too much on “political leadership,” not quite understanding how Detroit can be thriving in spite of not having a sound, local government in place to plan and coordinate all of the great happenings. Finally, Bourdain paid a visit to the Detroit Mower Gang, a group that voluntarily mows vacant areas and parks to increase the usefulness of public space that the city government abandoned long ago. So again, he touched on multiple elements of Detroit's community participation that undergirds the more visible features of the renewal.

After the show aired, the Detroit Free Press published an article that displayed Detroiter reactions to Bourdain's take on our city, and mostly, they all reflect the same thesis I use consistently in my Detroit: From Rust to Riches blog: Bourdain and crew did not do an appreciable job of showing the larger scope positives of the city and what is actually attracting people here in the first place. People are coming here to be a part of the resurgence of entrepreneurial and community ventures that are at the core of this city's return to prominence.

A friend of mine who returned to Michigan - and specifically downtown Detroit - after nineteen years in Manhattan noted that what she sees now in Detroit "is what Tribeca looked like 25 years ago." In the end, Bourdain understands this reality. He gets it. He has acknowledged this city’s urban renaissance and understands the influx of innovators and the creative set, and how that gradually leads to investment and density at the urban core.

The media is getting closer to the facts with each story they pull out of the Detroit hat, and that is encouraging enough that we Detroiters should welcome those who spend enough time here to try to deliver an authentic story from the trenches.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Morning Joe: Private Investment in Detroit

Governor Rick Snyder recently appeared on Morning Joe, and even Joe Scarborough seemed receptive to the notion that private investors are putting their investment dollars in anarcho-Detroit with the expectation of returns.


People Can't Stop Talkin' 'Bout Detroit

CNN on "getting to know Detroit."
The so-called "grit," "never-say-die spirit" and "determination" is not unique to Detroiters, either. It's in all of us, everywhere. Say hello. Smile. Shake hands. Be courteous. Be polite. Be normal. Welcome to Detroit.  

calm detroit

Happy Thanksgiving From Detroit

Couldn't resist this one.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pssst, Those White People Are Moving Back to Detroit

Yes, white folks are moving into the city in droves, and they are only part of a wider group of people bringing density and the customer base to Detroit's booming core. And some folks are not hip to it. Shame on Nolan Finley of the Detroit News for giving this loon, and others like her, serious air time and consideration. Folks like Shirley Stancato are now referred to as Detroit's "race warriors."

As this Detroit: From Rust to Riches blog has been documenting for some time now, Detroit has become the place to be, and has thus moved from being a city known for white flight to a city where all kinds of people - including white people -  can't get here fast enough. Occupancy rates in popular Midtown have pushed over 95%. I've lived here my whole life and I have never before seen such a fun and amazing hodgepodge of people that are living in the dense downtown areas. And there are still some naysayers kicking up a fuss over gentrification, housing prices, and ... white people moving back to the city. To quote Nolan Finley:
Downtown, meanwhile, is a magnet for creative and upwardly mobile young people of both races, but the tilt is heavily toward whites.
What he didn't add was that during Detroit's pre-2007, pre-renaissance period, young whites who would graduate from local colleges would leave here as fast as they could pick up their paper diploma and pack their vehicle. Human capital came, graduated, and went. These same young folks are flooding into the city to live the creative and exciting urban life that was never before available to them. Empty nesters who left during the reign of the city's worst regimes have also come back to their roots. Here's a simple quote from Finley that explains a bit more about why Detroit is thriving while the world expects it to be dying.
Downtown seems immune to Detroit’s broken finances. It’s booming thanks to private investments and its sudden emergence as a cool city for young people to live and work in. Private dollars take care of everything from street clean-up to security within the downtown and Midtown zones.
Aha, he gets it! However, while private investment ramps up and takes over basic services; commences restorations; builds new housing; and provides creative entertainment, dining, and nightlife, "race warrior" Shirley Stancato says white people coming downtown "is an issue" and "are we willing to have a conversation about it?"

This story drew 500+ reader comments almost overnight, and the reason is that people here are sick and tired those who cannot let go of the past, and instead, they hash over the same old rusty ground, pulling out the race card along with class warfare. I'll quote from a friend of mine, Thomas E. Page, whose comments appear in the comment thread:
Finley, Stancato and the media should be celebrating increased diversity downtown and midtown. What's happening in Detroit has already happened in cities such as Atlanta and Washington, D.C. More white folks have moved into the City and more black folks have moved into the suburbs. Look at the region as a whole and these demographic changes indicate that the region is being less segregated. And that's good. 
The way to put race behind this community is to put it behind us. I don't know of any other community that wallows in the past, and then puts a racial spin on just about everything. I refuse to get sucked into that vortex that goes nowhere. Most Detroiters want the same things: City services that serve; a fair tax system; police who respond when called; trash that gets picked up when scheduled; street lights that work; places to shop; places to work; cultural opportunity; etc. And the color of someone's skin is totally irrelevant to this. My neighbors, most who are black, complain about the exact same things I do. The establishment of Council by Districts and the recent mayoral election are proof that people - black, white, brown, yellow - welcome, in fact demand, change.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

View From Above

View from the top floor of Urban Bean @8am. This will be a hopping corner in a year or two.

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Detroit Bus Company on Today Show

I've written about Detroit's private bus company a time or two, and now it has caught enough national interest to make the Today Show. This segment begins with the same old, boring media tale about the streetlights not working, burned out houses of rubble and ash, and a bankrupt city (yawn), but it highlights what Bob Dotson calls "the little business that could." Note the spot at the end where the young entrepreneur, Andy Didorosi, mentions that he opened the business as a "party bus" business in order to fly in under the insurance radar and make coverage affordable.

detroit bus

It was also just announced that Detroit Bus Company will begin transportation routes to and from the airport - where monopolists have had those routes locked up for a long time. From a CBS article:
“It’s been years since there have been any reliable way, other than Metro Taxi and Metro Cars, to get to the airport. And those things work really well for the business class, but there’s a huge population of people that are going in and out of Detroit Metropolitan Airport every day that just don’t have an affordable way to get there. So they either need to call their friends and get rides or take the city bus, which takes a long, long time,” says Notorianni.
These rides on beautiful buses include free wifi and free coffee.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Detroit: Soup, Salad & Startup?

Here's another heroic anarcho-Detroit platform: Detroit Soup is an anarcho-launching platform for citizen startups: funded by normal folks for hopeful visionaries who dream of pursuing some entrepreneurial, charity, or artistic vision within the Detroit community. Here is a description of the group from the Detroit Soup website:
- a collaborative situation 
- a public dinner 
- a platform for connection 
- a theatrical environment 
- a democratic experiment in micro-funding 
- a relational hub bringing together various creative communities 
- a forum for critical but accessible discussion 
- an opportunity to support creative people in Detroit    
Detroit SOUP is a microgranting dinner celebrating creative projects in Detroit. For $5 you receive soup, salad, bread, and a vote.  You will hear from four presentations ranging from art, urban agriculture, social justice, social entrepreneurs, education, technology, etc., who have four minutes to share their idea and then field four questions from the diners. We eat, connect, share resources, and vote on what project you think should win the money gathered from the night. When the night nears to a close we count the ballots and whoever has the most votes takes home the money from the door.
Detroit Soup is about bringing people in the community together to support others in taking risk and bringing value to the city. Detroit Soup holds public dinners with a $5 charge for a "soup, salad, and a vote." Visionaries present their projects and attendees vote on which project should receive the cash raised from the dinner. This month's winner of the take was 'Sit on It Detroit,' an organization I have written about in the past on my Detroit: From Rust to Riches blog. This group builds bus stop benches (from repurposed wood with bookshelves) for placement at Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) bus stops because the government is too inept to get it done. You can read more stories like this on my Detroit: Rust to Riches blog, or follow me on Twitter @karendecoster, and follow my public Twitter list "Detroit!" that pulls all unique Detroit sources into one list.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Kid Rock: "Detroit is a Blank Canvas"

Kid Rock was on CNBC to talk about Detroit's business and community successes with Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans. Kid is right on this count: It's not the government that is making things happen, it's the people.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Detroit's Whole Elephant

The outside media doesn't see the whole picture here, and that's because they don't want to see it. Most never come here: they just google the web for anything and everything about Detroit, and then they blindly scarf up the information return. The ones who do come here - big budget media bobbleheads - get dropped off from the airport, they do their quick hit story, then they climb back in the cab or limo and head back out to the (suburban) airport.

Detroit Unspun has published a very enlightening piece about the parachute crowd - those who do the drive-by hit pieces on Detroit without knowing what the heck is even going on here.

This article gives a short rundown on all that is positive in Detroit, as opposed to the same plethora of media gloom and bankruptcy doom. The Detroit Downtown Partnership (DDP) is a positive force that is mostly made up of private companies and members of the religious community who are interested in transforming Detroit by way of private investment, corporate social mission generosity, community service acts, and foundation philanthropy. Transformations that go unnoticed by the parachute media hacks include the Detroit River (Riverwalk); the modernization of various downtown corporate headquarters; Capitol Park neighborhood renovation; the David Whitney building conversion; the Broderick building restoration; and turning multiple abandoned lots into alluring green spaces and/or community gardens.

Just recently, one of Dan Gilbert's companies, Bedrock Real Estate Services, announced its provision of free wifi in my favorite spaces to hang out downtown: Campus Martius Park and Cadillac Square. 

Another story that appeared just recently is about the farms popping up among the ruins of the city. The Huffington Post noted that even Bankster of America is contributing to private efforts by paying for the demolition of homes and donating the vacant land for urban farming and green development.

Another bit of great news is that the 'Detroit Jail Fail' that I have been writing about has become a reality: the bungled, overspending, underperforming government project that stole prime downtown property for building a monument to its lockup bureaucracy is now dead and done. The millions already spent will ooze down the tubes and the partly-built jail will be torn down in favor of selling off the property to a private entrepreneur. Government acquiesced on this one, admitting its incompetence while laying low about the corruption that funded and initiated the disastrous undertaking.

Detroit Churches

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

Photo by Karen DeCoster

L.A. Times on "Detroit Heroes"

The LA Times sure likes writing about Detroit, and most recently, writer Alexandra Le Tellier hails this city as "America's great comeback city." The author quotes a PBS Fresh Air interview with Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute. Katz is a guy who once worked for HUD under Henry Cisneros in the Clinton Administration. Katz is a statist, but while talking about Detroit, Katz actually gives credit to Detroit's pooled philanthropic endeavors; entrepreneurs and business networks; projects financed by local (private) resources; Detroit's small-batch manufacturing upsurge; private investment; rising technology sector; and the attraction of human capital.

I'm impressed with some of the Detroit coverage by the LA Times. Le Tellier's article even takes to passing on the same old ruin porn while instead posting a photograph of Detroit in a flattering light - one that most of us here view each day. The LA Times has also been fond of promoting a video from Lowe Campbell Ewald executive Iain Lanivich titled, "We're Moving to Detroit, and So Should You." The thesis is pretty good, as well as accurate:
Despite what you might read in the media, Detroit is quickly becoming rich in creativity, innovation and inspiration. With tech investors like Detroit Venture Partners, it's becoming easy for startups to create an opportunity. And in Detroit, everything needs help, so there are endless opportunities. With a "we're all in this together" mentality, everyone is becoming friends and utilizing their skills to not only help one another, but define Detroit's future. Whether you're a designer, an innovator, an entrepreneur or an investor. The talent is moving to Detroit. And so should you.
Most notable is the comment from a young startup entrepreneur (2:35 mark) who makes the comment that the Detroit bankruptcy is not a negative because it is, in reality, a restructuring of the old model. This means we are moving from a government-based planning model to a market-based entrepreneurial-philanthropic model. The success of Detroit will invariably be inversely related to government intervention efforts on the part of the buttinskis in federal government who see it as their mission to rebuild Detroit with funny money embezzled from the looted masses.