Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Laws of Place

Image Source: New York Times

A fascinating article in last weekend's New York Times Magazine explores the work of Geoffrey West, a physicist who has constructed mathematical models to describe cities based on constants developed through statistical analysis of urban data from all over the world. 

Given, for example, the number of people in a city, West's models can predict the amount and dimensions of variables such as infrastructure and average income level.

Urbanists may take issue with such a  reductive approach to urban theory- after all, cities and place are about culture, nuance, history.  

To which West responds:
"That’s all we talk about when we talk about cities, those things that make New York different from L.A., or Tokyo different from Albuquerque. But focusing on those differences misses the point. Sure, there are differences, but different from what? We’ve found the what.”
Which has me wondering: are there two points here to be acknowledged; (1) that humans and our habitats are structurally similar but (2) uniquely colored by the beauty and nuance of our individual and collective spirit? And which is the more important "point"; or are they two sides of the same coin of our human experience?

West's work provides quantitative backbone to the ideas of Jane Jacobs, who, in her seminal work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, posited the idea that the value of cities lies in their facilitation of human interaction which results in enhancement of opportunities for collaboration and, ultimately, productivity.  West's models show that for every doubling in population within an urban area, a 15% per capita increase in productivity results.

From the article:
“One of my favorite compliments is when people come up to me and say, ‘You have done what Jane Jacobs would have done, if only she could do mathematics,’ ” West says. “What the data clearly shows, and what she was clever enough to anticipate, is that when people come together, they become much more productive.”

This aspect of cities was brought home to me recently via a comment from a friend who has departed the suburbs of Detroit for  life in Seattle. She spoke of the  difficulty of seeing old friends in the Detroit metro area while visiting because the extensive driving involved,  often 30-40 minutes, require so much advance planning.  Chance encounters and last-minute meet-ups at the corner bar are nearly unheard of. 

By living in cities, we have decoupled the linear relationship between growth and productivity that governs biology.  Of course, the increase in productivity is predicated on the assumption of endless resources, and will eventually bump up against the planet's carrying capacity.  West coins a unique metaphor for our resource consumption. So long, carbon footprint; hello blue whales:

From the article:
West illustrates the problem by translating human life into watts. “A human being at rest runs on 90 watts,” he says. “That’s how much power you need just to lie down. And if you’re a hunter-gatherer and you live in the Amazon, you’ll need about 250 watts. That’s how much energy it takes to run about and find food. So how much energy does our lifestyle [in America] require? Well, when you add up all our calories and then you add up the energy needed to run the computer and the air-conditioner, you get an incredibly large number, somewhere around 11,000 watts. Now you can ask yourself: What kind of animal requires 11,000 watts to live? And what you find is that we have created a lifestyle where we need more watts than a blue whale. We require more energy than the biggest animal that has ever existed. That is why our lifestyle is unsustainable. We can’t have seven billion blue whales on this planet. It’s not even clear that we can afford to have 300 million blue whales.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Detroit: Urban Agriculture Tour

Finished up the Michigan Association of Planning's annual conference today with a great tour, and met some pretty fascinating Detroit people who are doing amazing things,.

Japanese journalists film us touring D-Town farm
In the morning we headed over to D-Town Farm, run by the Detroit Black Food Security Network on land in Detroit's Rouge Park.  The land is  leased from the City of Detroit for $1/year for 10 years.  Our host, Malik Yakini, chairman of the DBFSN as well as a Detroit Charter School principal, gave us a tour and an explanation of the DBFSN as well as the context in which it is doing its work.  The goal of D-Town farm is to create a model for urban agriculture and to achieve food security for Detroit's black population. D-Town sells produce at Eastern Market, other Farmer's markets in the City, and several restaurants.

Yakini says he is unapologetic about the intent of the DBFSN to advance black power and expressed the local grassroots movements' opposition to large-scale urban agriculture within City limits that does not have the interests of the community in mind.  We also discussed food policy issues; Yakini is on the Michigan Food Policy Council and is working to help develop policy within the city and at the state level that will help community-scale urban agriculture.

While we were there, Japanese journalists filmed our tour for a TV station, and a French radio reporter showed up, wanting to interview Yakini, who seemed used to the attention this project and others like it is garnering on the international stage.
Gwen, who came to Earthworks Urban Farm from Nebraska
 through Americorps

EarthWorks Urban Farm
Next we visited Earthworks Urban Farm, a project of the Capuchin monastery in partnership with Gleaners Food Bank, which has been in operation for ten years. Our tour host, Gwen, came to the Farm via an Americorps assignment and has stayed on through the end of this growing season.  She spoke of the need to engage the local African-American community in urban agriculture, noting that the movement is often led by young, white transplants. The Capuchin program trains local neighborhood residents in farming and gardening, and utilizes the produce in the soup kitchen, which serves neighborhood residents in need..

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Planners in Detroit

Art Installation, Powerhouse Project, Hamtramck

Art Installation, Powerhouse Project, Hamtramck
I'm having a GREAT time at the Michigan Association of Planning's annual conference held in Detroit this year. Yesterday I attended a session with Philip Cooley, part owner of Slows Bar b Q  and Corktown booster, on why he came to Detroit and efforts to rebuild the neighborhood and Roosevelt Park at the foot of Detroit's greatest ruin.

This morning we heard from starchitect/star urban planner Toni Griffin and City of Detroit Deputy Planning Director Marja Winters on Detroit's much publicized, philanthropically-funded land use planning process, Detroit Works.

In the afternoon I attended a FANTASTIC tour of the City of Hamtramck, which I had not visited since high school when we hung out at Paychecks lounge.  Who knew- Hamtramck has retained it's density and walkability and is now an urban oasis amid the devastation of the surrounding City of Detroit.

The Polish population that founded the town in the 1920's is still present, comprising about 30-40% of the population, and has been supplemented by hardworking, entrepreneurial immigrants from Bangladesh and other countries.

It is fascinating to see these newcomers repeat the pattern of the Eastern and Southern Europeans of 100 years ago- they first land in New York, then come to Detroit for the cheaper cost of living, and start businesses.  Once they have gained financial stability, some move to the inner-ring suburbs, such as Warren, while others stay in the City.

Highlights of the tour included the Powerhouse Project,  a program to place national artists in residencies within an underserved Hamtramck neighborhood,  the Detroit Zen Center, which has been in existence since the 1990's and is working to create a neighborhood-scale sustainability model, and  the Polish Art Center, a purveyor and teacher of Polish folk art.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to Urban Agriculture Tour.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

To Know a Place:

The new issue of A Journal of the Natural and Built Environments was launched yesterday, and I am just diving in. I am so impressed with how this online literary magazine devoted to "searching for that interface—the integration—among the built and natural environments, that might be called the soul of place" utilizes the tools of the internet to bring a multimedia experience that goes far beyond what one can experience in a print journal, and by the same token exceeds the experience afforded by most online literary journals.

Take Sara Loewan's breathtaking essay, Setnet Fishing in Uyak Bay, describing the summer fishing grounds she inhabits with her family on Kodiak Island, Alaska. The piece is for the issue's "To Know a Place" feature, which selects a story, essay or poem that "demonstrates an eloquent intimacy between an author and the author's place". 

Not only is Loewan's gorgeous prose featured, but the journal includes a beautiful photo essay, a Google map of the location, and an audio stream of the author reading the essay.

Loewan writes:

We catch sea cucumbers when they tangle with kelp in the lead lines of our salmon nets. In the skiff, they heave their guts out as a defense mechanism and wriggle away so that predators will eat the feathery pink insides and leave the sea cucumber to grow new innards. These animals were traditionally harvested during minus tides by hand or with spears tied to long poles.
My husband cooks the strips in olive oil. The meat tastes sweet and brackish. I think of the care and labor to produce these small crisp bites and it seems that food, as much as landscape, connects us to the people who first chose this place.

Beautiful.  I can't wait to delve further. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This Place Matters

This Place Matters is a program through the National Trust for Historic Preservation to create a central clearinghouse for places that matter to individual people.  You can register at the site, upload photos of your special place to a group Flickr pool, geotag them in a community Google Map, and dowload a "This Place Matters sign to affix to your place.

The idea is similar to the Orion Magazine's The Place Where You Live web feature (also featured in the print magazine) which I have proudly written  for.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Case for Suburban Renewal

Richard Florida in the Wall Street Journal:

Remaking America's sprawling suburbs, with their enormous footprints, shoddy construction, hastily built infrastructure and dying malls, is shaping up to be the biggest urban revitalization challenge of modern times—far larger in scale, scope and cost than the revitalization of our inner cities.

The Case for Suburban Renewal -

UPDATE: HERE is the unedited version.

Here are some resources on retrofitting the suburbs for sustainability and livability.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Only Real Option is Beauty

Fascinating interview with designer Bruce Mau, courtesy of The Climate Desk, a collaboration of Mother Jones,SlateWiredThe AtlanticPBS’s Need to KnowReuters, Grist, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.

His arguments: suburbs are evolving, they are wildly successful so we have to work with them, it is possible to have a beautiful life experience in a low-density environment.  We need to reframe the sustainability discussion to make it positive, emphasize opportunities, and inspire people to live and work in a new way that is more compelling and more meaningful than the old way.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Place Samplings 10/9/2010

Better Burb Contest- "The time for thinking cautiously is over"
From the website: 
There has been a crisis of imagination, and your bold new ideas are urgently needed. There should be no preconceptions about what is or is not possible. What would you do on these acres of opportunity? Build a car-free community for thousands? Plant an oasis of urban agriculture? Produce renewable energy and provide well-paying green jobs? Use landscape systems to repair ruptures in regional ecologies? Introduce armatures to enhance public space and the civic realm?

Other Links of Note:

Obama Administration Rolls Out the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative


Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Skies Here Are Bigger Than In New York

David Byrne of Talking Heads fame wrote a lengthy journal entry on his impression of the Motor City. Nothing much new here, but this was interesting:

“Are there other towns that have been hit so hard that have come back?” Both Michael Morris of Artangel and I replied “Glasgow”. It was known as having the worst slums in Europe back in the day, and I remember visiting my grandparents and all the buildings were grimy black, from soot. That city hasn’t come back as an industrial powerhouse it once was (steel and shipbuilding) but as a cultural hub. Life is good there now, and the city is cleaned up and nice to look at.
Other cities have used culture to bring life back—Morris mentioned Bilbao—but to be honest, so much of Detroit is simply gone, vanished, that that kind of revitalization is hard to imagine. Bilbao was a smaller town, even if it was a dump. However, one can imagine that if the city center here can become more of the focus then a much smaller town with vibrant life might emerge. Forget much of the urban sprawl (or turn it into farmland) and see if the wonderful stuff can be encouraged and supported. Again, it could be arts and theater and music that spurs some of that—there were 3 movies and a TV show shooting when we where there; Matthew Barney was preparing a large scale performance involving molten metal not too far away, and local artists and musicians have always gone their own dark ways here—so the interest is there. The skies here are bigger than in New York.

David Byrne's Journal: 09.23.10: Don't Forget the Motor City

Monday, October 4, 2010

PlaceLit: Rhonda Welsh

My Only Home

By Rhonda Welsh

Detroit is my only home.
Child of the west side...
Majestic, Puritan, Elmhurst,
Linwood, Plymouth, Eight Mile
All the while
craved a
different existence
but finally realized
Detroit is who I am.
Good students teased for acting too white
while the suburbs scream too black.
Neighborhoods who know no lack
always labeled poor.
Detroit was once much more than…
Dirty streets. Corrupt politicians.
Perverted superstitions
make some people treat books
like bad ju ju.
But my Detroit is not that simple…
Kind-hearted hustlers work day and night.
Make a dollar out of fifteen cents.
The auto industry came and went
but true Detroiters always make it work.
Saturday greens from Eastern Market
and a new hat from Mr. Song.
You can't go wrong on Sunday mornings
shouting and rocking
until the blues melt away.
Detroiters always seek
a brand new day.
Even our skyline boasts a Renaissance.
And the summer…
Caribbean Picnic on Belle Isle,
Moonlit concerts at Campus Martius,
and greasy fish fingers
clap to the beat
with sandal clad feet
at the African World Festival.
Poetry is everywhere.
Music Hall, Scarab Club, 1515 Broadway,
even at the Y-M-C-A.
Detroit is no longer in its heyday,
but its days are not finished yet.
There is much more life.
More pride runs through the veins.
Soon the activists must rise and take the reins.
Restore what has been lost.
No longer give thought
to those who diss and dismiss.
It is not a wasteland.
There are families here.
Educators, doctors, lawyers,
butchers, bakers,
yes, even candlestick makers reside in Detroit.
Shake off depleted self-esteem
that hangs over the city like a cloud.
Shout the city's praises out loud
and recognize its worth.
Induce the new birth.
Invoke that migrant spirit
transplanted from red earth.
Don't let it die an unnatural death.
Purge the dross and rebuild the best.
Detroit is the only home I've ever known.

©Rhonda Welsh 2010
from the book Red Clay Legacy

Read more:

Place Events: 2010 Tour de Troit

The 2010 Tour de Troit (TdT) is now a thing of the past.  In it's ninth year, TdT saw more than 3500 riders converge on Roosevelt Park, at the foot of the Detroit's most famous ruins, the old  Michigan Central Station depot.

My husband and I (along with our friend Rashmi) rode the tour on September 25, which was also our 11th wedding anniversary (that's us at left as we rounded Belle Isle).  The weather was a perfect, crisp 62 degrees, with a mix of sun and clouds, and the pace was slow and leisurely. The tour took us on a 30-mile loop of the City, through Corktown, Downtown Detroit, paralleling the Dequindre Cut, around Belle Isle, through Indian Village, past the Heidelberg project, through Midtown Detroit, TechTown, Mexican Town, and back to Roosevelt Park where local beers and pulled pork from Slows Bar BQ and tamales from Honeybee Market were available for the starving riders.

The event seeks to bring people up-close-and-personal with Detroit's neighborhoods and to promote greenlinks in the City.

2010 Tour Detroit - a set on Flickr

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Suburbs Go Head To Head With The City | Planetizen

Can suburbs be sustainable?  

According to some thinkers, the term "sustainable suburbs" is an oxymoron.  

Others have more hope that the suburbs can be retrofitted to increase density, mix uses, improve walkability, grow food, and provide alternative forms of transportation.  

The next fifty years will likely bear this out.  

Suburbs Go Head To Head With The City | Planetizen

Image Source: Financial Times

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Sun Magazine | Quiet, Please

The current issue of The Sun Magazine features an interview by Leslee Goodman with Gordon Hempton, listener, recorder and archivist of "natural soundscapes". According to Hempton, the natural sounds of our landscapes have been decimated; he believes there are only a few places in North America and none in Europe where one can avoid the sound of human activity for greater that twenty minutes. He leads a campaign to designate "one square inch" of silence in Olympic National Park, and has lobbied the FAA to designate a no-fly zone over the park.
In Hempton's words from the interview:   
When people wonder whether they should take the time to pursue finding a silent place in nature, I often ask whether they’ve seen the Milky Way. Many have, but some haven’t. When I look up at the Milky Way, it never fails to impress me. What a difference there is between talking about the universe and looking up and actually witnessing the galaxy of which we’re a part — an ocean of stars so immense that, by comparison, the items on my ever-present to-do list shrink in significance, and I feel renewed awe and reverence.

Experiencing silence can be like that. In a naturally quiet place you can hear for miles. People who live in cities can often hear only a few hundred yards. In nature your sense of place is huge.

The Sun Magazine | Quiet, Please

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Wilderness Downtown

I am new to Arcade Fire, but I see there is something I have been missing here.  Their sound is different yet so familiar- definitely an early '80's vibe is going on. I have not yet read up on them extensiveky so perhaps the music journalists will help me put words to any case I am LOVING their new album, The Suburbs, and  this new interactive video, which asks for your childhood address and incorporates your childhood street into the montage, definitely addresses PLACE!.
The Wilderness Downtown

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Let's Save Michigan | PARK(ing) Day Sign-up

This is neat: PARK (ing) day!!!

According to

"PARK(ing) Day is a quirky, annual, worldwide event where folks use their creativity to transform metered city parking spots into temporary parks for the public good for an hour or two."

Tour De Troit: Biking in the Motor City

Register now for the Tour De Troit, Saturday September 25th.

From the registration page:

Event Details

The Tour de Troit, set for September 25, is a bike ride that explores some of the city’s historic areas, takes in many of its most breathtaking sights, and provides bicyclists a unique opportunity to legally “take over” the streets of Motown. Last year’s ride attracted 2,000 riders!
The Tour de Troit is offering riders two options. The first — and primary — will be a leisurely ride of 30 miles with police escort. The second option, new this year, is intended for extremely experienced cyclists. It is a metric century (62 miles) that will not include police escort. Both rides will be sweeper- and SAG-supported and will begin at 10 a.m. at Roosevelt Park, located at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and 14th Street.
After the ride, there is food, drink and music at Roosevelt Park in the shadow of the Michigan Central Station!

And in the evening head on over to St. Andrew Hall for Built to Spill.  Sounds like a  fun day.

Tour De Troit: Biking in the Motor City

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

PlaceTunes: Arcade Fire's "The Suburbs"

Arcade Fire's unsubtly titled album "The Suburbs," which garnered a respectable 8.6 on Pitchfork while also managing to snag the #1 Billboard slot it's first week out, addresses urban planning and place issues.

This post from the San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association provides some insightful analysis of the album's theme and commentary:

Images of suburban decay ring throughout the album,  as “all of the walls that they built in the ‘70s finally fall.”  The few redeeming qualities of growing up in the suburbs seem to be gone.  As Butler sings in the song “City With No Children,” all that remains is “a garden left for ruin by a millionaire inside of a private prison.”

The post also mentions other artists whose work has addressed suburbia in a cautionary manner: Rush, Modest Mouse, Dirty Projectors.

To which I would add Read Music/Speak Spanish (2002) by Desaparecidos, which contains songs entitled "Mall of America", "Man and Wife, the Former (Financial Planning)", and "Greater Omaha" with these lyrics:

Well, traffic's kind of bad
They're widening Easy Street
To fit more SUVs, they're planting baby trees to grow to shady peaks

Friday, August 20, 2010

Water, CA

Arguably, the disconnect between place and people that ails much of our society is contributed to in no small measure by our over-use of and addiction to technology (the very technology with which you are now reading this post).

Place-based multimedia tools, when done well, offer a potential countermeasure to this effect.  Web-based tools such as Water, CA, which skillfully infuses geography, history, culture, activism and art, can connect, inform, and inspire through integration of personal and journalistic narrative, photographic and artistic imagery, and the interactivity of the web.

Of course, nothing can so inspire as an actual physical encounter with a place.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Anna Clark, an inspired writer and social activist from Detroit who I admire immensely, recently countered NPR's list of five books to help you escape with her own list of seven books that incorporate place as a critical component on her book blog, Isak.

As I am writing this from Northern Michigan, I am psyched to see the NPR list includes Michael Felderspiel's Picturing Hemingway's Michigan from Wayne State University Press.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor returns to its farming roots by using hospital land to grow produce -

More urban farming! This time at a hospital: St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.

"St. Joe is in the midst of Phase 1 of a project to farm up to 30 acres of its campus. The hospital began planting produce — things like tomatoes and peppers — in April, and is beginning to harvest it for sale to staff, patients and the general public."

St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor returns to its farming roots by using hospital land to grow produce -

Image Source:

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Urbanophile's Detroit Post

The Urbanophile, one of my favorite urban planning blogs, recently re-posted it's most popular post ever.

The post, which ran originally in 2009, is on Detroit, and gives a pretty good synopsis of where things stood in 2009.  I am not sure much has changed since the original post..

All of this national media interest initiated  in 2008 when the national spotlight shone on the collapsing auto-industry. Time's Detroit Blog, Dateline's infamous piece and many other media pieces have put a magnifying glass on the City. The suburbs have escaped notice.

Now two years later, I wonder how long it will last. .

There are some pretty great Detroit bloggers out there.  Here is one of my favorites; I have a feeling this guy will be writing when and if the national spotlights fade:

Monday, July 19, 2010

HAVEN Garden Project

Urban agriculture isn't just about Detroit and Flint.  I was excited to learn recently about the garden project at HAVEN, a domestic violence shelter located in the City of Pontiac.   The project, which seeks to produce food for consumption by HAVEN residents and the community, was launched this past April by a coalition of community members and urban agriculture activists.

The Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, founded by MSU senior horticulture student Benjamin Gluck, is taking a leadership role in the project, along with Alexis Bogdanova-Hanna of Abundant Succession, an urban agriculture consulting and education form, and women’s health website founder Allison Stuart Kaplan.  Community residents and schools provide additional support to the project. The harvest thus far has exceeded all expectations. Bogdanova-Hanna writes on :

Since the initial planting in mid-April, the HAVEN Garden has been growing abundantly and beyond all expectations. Perhaps it’s the infusion of love and care from the HAVEN Community, the careful execution of an innovative crop plan, or the swell of support from generous donors that has brought us to the point of surplus and success. More likely, it is a combination of all of these – the perfect mix of the tangible (remay row covers) and the intangible (synergistic energy). Whatever it is, it’s working.
A notable success of the project has been the creation of a job for local Pontiac resident Aaron Kyle. Kyle, who has no prior horticultural experience, manages the daily operations of the garden, building technical and leadership skills in the process. 

Read more about the project here and here, and view pictures here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Detroit/Windsor International Fireworks

Yesterday we spent the night in Windsor, Ontario to view the fireworks from Canada.  The view of the nightime Detroit skyline was breathtaking.  View the pictures here.

Letter from Detroit

I recently wrote a prose piece, Letter from Detroit, that was accepted for publication in two literary magazines- the online Glass Coin, and the July/August print version of Orion Magazine .

The piece reflects my feelings about my choice to remain in the Detroit Metropolitan area- the beauty and the struggle, the hope and the despair, which is inherent everywhere but is particularly stark in the Detroit area.

You can read my piece here, and submit your own to Orion's the Place Where You Live web feature.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The June, 2010 fish-fly season is coming to an end.

Take a trip to the east side of Detroit and you will see them everywhere, adhered to walls like schools of dead fish, perfuming the air with their fishy odor.

Few things remind one so well of being in a particular place at a particular time as an insect invasion.  If you see fish-flies, you are near water and it is June. 

It could be worse; fish-flies neither sting nor bite, nor do they eat vegetation. They merely hover in great clouds around streetlights, their juicy bodies clinging in packs to the glass of lighted storefronts until they desiccate, or eventually carpet the streets so that a drive through St. Clair Shores or Grosse Pointe on a warm June evening with the windows rolled down will be filled with the soft music of their bodies crunching under the wheels.

For those interested in the science, fish-flies are in the genus Hexagenia of the order Ephemeroptera, the Mayflies. More science here and here (apparently the densities of Hexagenia in the Great Lakes are under threat- though you would never know it by visiting the east side of Detroit this past week).

Image Credit:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Clarkston, Michigan | Narrative Magazine

I came across this lovely piece in one of my favorite online literary magazines, Narrative. I love the description of the narrators sense of wonder as he happens upon an intact ecosystem in the middle of suburbia. I particularly liked his sense of not wanting to go any farther, lest he happen upon a strip mall or a backyard that would destroy his sense of bewitchment.

I have spent the last ten years working with land conservancies and watershed councils on trying to preserve the high-quality ecosystems to which this essay refers, in the midst of the building boom. Now that the boom has gone bust, I often think about the reprieve given these places, both through our efforts at land conservation, and through the virtual stand-still of new construction.

Some think we will never return to those days of building bigger and bigger, farther and farther out; that when this economy heals the new development will be redevelopment of the urban core, finally. If so, are the sensitive ecosystems on the fringe of the exurban landscape out of harm's way? Can we direct our resources to restoration and redevelopment?

Clarkston, Michigan | Narrative Magazine

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Burden of Home Ownership - The Future of the City - The Atlantic

I have innumerable friends right now who are hamstrung by their homes. They are deferring job opportunities, travel plans, even splitting up families because they are locked into mortgages on homes they cannot sell.

Which was why I was so interested in Richard Florida's (The Creative Class, The Great Reset) prediction that we are now headed toward a "rentership society"- one in which mobility is valued over the white picket fence.

Florida echoes that other urban thinker who is on my mind, James Howard Kuntsler, when he talks about the degree of subsidization that has been provided the quest to build a landscape dominated by a monoculture of single-family homes that is neither economically nor environmentally sustainable.

While Kuntler predicts a future that does not fall short of apocalyptic, Florida merely predicts that the character of the American Dream will shift as we relinquish the idea that the ultimate measure of success is homeownership. To some, the thought of removing that quintessential piece of the American dream, may seem equal to an apocalypse.

The Burden of Home Ownership - The Future of the City - The Atlantic

Image Source:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New Urbanism for the Apocalypse | Fast Company

Very interesting read..... I am left wondering where all of this is going.

On the one hand you have James Howard Kuntsler, who argues we are facing nothing short of an apocalypse. On the other you have Richard Florida, who sounds a less dramatic and much more optimistic warning bell, arguing we are in a time of a "great reset" that will renew and refresh our civilization.

I am hoping Florida is closer to the truth.

Flickr: Wade Bryant's Photostream

Some really incredible gorgeous photos of Detroit.

Flickr: Wade Bryant's Photostream

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I often wonder if our sense of place is not tied deeply to our childhood experience- and since we often don't live in those childhood places as adults, if we are constrained to ever feel at home when we leave.

I never moved out of Michigan, but I did move to another city and can't say even after ten years that I truly think of it as home.  Will this change as I raise my children here?

This weekend a place-event is happening: the St. Joan of Arc spring fair, an event that is as close to the core of my sense of place as is anything I can imagine. I will never forget the excitement in grade school as the carnival rolled in to town and began setting up in the parking lots adjacent to the school and church. Always in mid-May, the fair represented a time of renewal. We were released from school early on Friday to enjoy the warm spring days and ride the Ship Dragon and Tilt-a-Whirl.

The east side of Detroit and the eastside suburbs-  Lake St. Clair, St. Clair Shores, and Grosse Pointe, still feel more like home to me than anywhere else.

Image Credit: Andrew Potter:

Friday, May 21, 2010


The May issue of THE COLLAGIST, an online literary magazine distributed through Ann Arbor-based Dzanc Books, features a a wonderful poem with a sense of place. Detritus by Michael Lauchlan paints a picture of a demolition in his Detroit neighborhood.

One of the things I love about The Collagist is they follow-up each issue with interviews with the contributors or podcasts of the author reading their work on their blog.  Read the interview with Lauchlan  here.

Image Source:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

GOOD Magazine The Neighborhood Issue

New to me is GOOD Magazine, which has been around since 2006. GOOD is a quarterly concern which focuses on good ideas, and covers business, cities, culture, design, education, environment, food, health, media, politics, technology, and transportation. The website includes a forum where readers can contribute and engage.

The current issue focuses on neighborhoods, bringing together a lot of urban planning theory and common-sense good ideas to create a graphically beautiful, engaging piece. The volume includes a "Good Guide to Better Neighborhoods" includes twelve ideas, including the standard (plant a community garden, throw a block party),  novel (create a neighborhood clubhouse, find a third place), and timely ideas (squatting in a foreclosed home).

I highly recommend the issue, website and blog.

Issue 019 - GOOD Magazine - GOOD

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Michigan Green Leaders

   (Illustration by RICK NEASE/DFP)
Just in time for Earth Day,  Detroit Free Press has a Sunday spread on Michigan Green Leaders, highlighting individuals who are leading the way to a brighter, greener future in the state. I am fortunate to know and work with several of these individuals.  They are all truly visionaries. View a slideshow here.

Image Credit: Detroit Free Press

Friday, April 16, 2010

Obscura Day 2010 on Vimeo

Obscura Day 2010 from Dylan D. Thuras on Vimeo.

Obcura Day, 2010, was a rousing success with 80 events. Detroit's Heidelburg Project was featured, along with other "wonders, curiosities, and esoterica" across the globe. See the atlasobscura website for more info on this event and website's celebration of place.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Debunking the Mythology

Finally, videos, images and a written summary of the Our Detroit Story conference us available here. Start debunking the myths!

Speaking of mythology, I had never before seen this video, about the mythological Detroit Riots of 1967 which are blamed for initiating the demise of Detroit. Wow. (Thanks Jen.) OK I see what all the Sam Roberts buzz is about. Pretty fascinating imagery mixed in with a solid bluesy song.

And if you really want to dive in deep, come face to face with Detroit as it really is, you can either take the twelve hour tour of the Detroit Orientation Institute, or jump on a Segway tour (I plan to very soon). Both tour are available through Inside Detroit.
Image Credit: The Detroit News Hub

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Ten Year Vision for Detroit

The Freep's Sunday Editorial section featured a spread summarizing various items coming  together to deliver a  "smaller, smarter, greener" city in ten years. Mitch Albom's poetic piece begins:
"In my Detroit, a decade from now, there are no blocks with one burned-out house. Those eyesores have been leveled. Grass and trees have taken their place."
I would have liked to see a few additions to Albom's column and to the featured map (which should not have yellowed out the suburbs and Windsor, Canada.

I would add the following:

In my Detroit, the hundreds of autonomous suburban municipalities and school districts have merged services to become more efficient and effective.

In my Detroit, the City and every suburb have adopted and implemented sustainability plans which outline how they are going to reduce greenhouse gases, conserve water, create and preserve green infrastructure, and reduce solid waste.

In my Detroit, Belle Isle has been restored to its former grandeur, and the Belle Isle Aquarium has been re-opened and expanded, featuring top-notch exhibits and programs about the Great Lakes and the Detroit River.

In my Detroit, the City and suburbs collaborate and cooperate because they know it is in their mutual best interest to do so.