Sunday, February 28, 2010

Place and Food

Food and place are inextricably linked.

There are so many advantages to eating healthy and local, and I am not going in to all of them in this space. What I want to focus on is the link between our connection to food and our connection to place. By maintaining a connection to local food, we maintain our connection to the place in which it is grown, prepared, and consumed. We begin to learn about the ecology of our location: what grows here, what is in season, who grows it, the cultural forces that evolved in this place how they have influenced local food traditions.

Edible Wow is a local quarterly (seasonal) publication focusing on the foodshed of Southeast Michigan. It is available free at select locations, including several farmer's markets, restaurants, and breweries. Topics ranging from recipes to canning to local restaurant cuisine to urban and community-supported agriculture are covered with skill and beautiful photography.

I plan to revisit this topic many times as it is so integral and important to the mission of Place.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Detroit Declaration

"I so love your heart that burns
That in your people’s body yearns
To perpetuate,
and permeate,
the lonely dream that does encapsulate,
Your spirit, that God insulates,
With courageous dream’s concern"

-Jack White

We know you’re out there. We know you love Detroit and want to see it not just survive, but thrive. This is our rallying cry. Welcome to a political movement for a brighter Detroit future.

Visitors are encouraged to sign the Declaration for Detroit, join the Facebook page, and spread the word. More detailed policy recommendations calling for sustainable arts funding, a comprehensive land-use strategy, and transit system modernization are drafted for three of 12 principlesin the Declaration, .

A recent article in USA today elaborates on this as a new form of grassroots online activism.

As of this writing, the Facebook page has 9,499 fans, and the site launched just over a month ago.

The Declaration is a manifesto drafted by 20 Detroit residents that outlines 12 principles for the community to follow to revive Detroit:

  • Be welcoming and embrace our diversity.
  • Preserve our authenticity
  • Cultivate creativity.
  • Diversify our economy.
  • Promote sustainability.
  • Enhance quality of place.
  • Demand transportation alternatives.
  • Prioritize education, pre-K through 12 and beyond.
  • Elevate our universities and research institutions.
  • Enhance the value of city living.
  • Demand government accountability.
  • Think regionally and leverage our geography.
I am excited about the content of the manifesto. These are all things I support wholeheartedly. And I think the language used in the declaration is eloquent and concise. To whomever is responsible: Bravo!

It is heartening to see this type of grass-roots activism building. It's heartening to see any type of positive energy regarding Detroit, especially in light of all of the negative press. It's also very easy to become a fan of a Facebook page and sign an online petition, but difficult to do the real work to make a dent in the tidal wave of forces that have conspired to destroy Detroit.

I have chosen to remain in the metro Detroit area primarily so my children can know their grandparents. My great-grandparents came here early in the century from Sicily, and built their lives here. I have extended family and friends all over the region. I have happy memories of the Eastern Market Saturdays and visits to Belle Isle with my dad, fishing on the Detroit River at Angell Park, Greektown lambchop family gatherings (Opa!), dinner at Lelli's and Larco's with my grandparents, Tiger Stadium, old and new. I have a strong sense of connection to this place, and I wonder whether it will ever improve within my lifetime. And I wonder what, if anything, I can do about it.

Because, of course, I live in the suburbs.

Like most Detroiters.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Place and Media

As traditional media declines in the face of economic catastrophe, conglomeration, and the internet, new forms and models are springing up. Only time will ferret out the viability of these forms, but several, I believe, offer promise. Of interest is the model of non-profit journalism, or journalism funded partially or wholly by philanthropy. Journalism, like politics, is plagued by conflict of interest issues; private news organizations are held accountable to shareholders and advertisers. While the philanthropic model does not necessarily negate these impacts, it may change the dynamic and offer a new approach and possibly, hope.

One of these new models is Issue Media Group, which publishes a suite of vibrant locally-based, online editions in several Michigan cities, and has expanded across the Rust Belt to include editions for Toronto, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and yes, Detroit's competitor in dereliction, Cleveland.

Issue Media's business model combines local underwriting with local and Google-based advertising. Readers can subscribe to a free weekly e-newsletter. If growth is any indication, this model seems to be working; Issue Media group has expanded during the recession, opening new publications while others are folding.

The mission of the Model D publications is to report on local growth- economic and cultural. You will find business coverage of tiny companies, news in arts and culture, features on local communities, neighborhoods, restaurants, and profiles of entrepreneurs. The positive spin is certainly not consistent with traditional journalism, but it's not strictly PR, either. Taken as a piece of the information flood, Issue Media fills an important gap and reports on items that would never be covered by mainstream media yet are vital to understanding and promoting place.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great Places in America

The American Planning Association's Great Places in America program celebrates some of the greatest places we have in this country- neighborhoods, streets, and public spaces. Michigan scored three places in 2009- Main Street Ann Arbor, Front Street Traverse City, and East Park, Charlevoix.

"APA Great Places offer better choices for where and how people work and live. They are enjoyable, safe, and desirable. They are places where people want to be — not only to visit, but to live and work every day. America's truly great streets, neighborhoods and public spaces are defined by many criteria, including architectural features, accessibility, functionality, and community involvement."

The deadline to nominate places for 2010 is February 25th!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mapping Place

  • When trying to connect with place, sometimes it helps to have a map. Technology-based projects are cropping up to create guides and maps to assist people in discovering and connecting to place. Here are a few of my favorites:
Geocaching is essentially treasure hunting using a GPS (Global Positioning System) . Essentially, people hide "caches", which are some type of container containing, at minimum, a logbook, and likely some trinkets and treats for taking or trading. The geographic coordinates of the caches are registered with, along with hints, photos and other optional information, and people can record their visits both in a logbook within the physical cache and on the website.

I had been wanting to try it for years but lacked a GPS system. When I bought an iPhone late in 2009, I suddenly had the capability- the iPhone has a GPS system and you can download a geocaching app that identifies and navigates to geocaches based on your location. It is loads of fun, especially with my 4-year old (that is us in the photo above, after a find).

I love this game. For one, it builds community- albeit a strange and quirky one, as I am still learning. There is an entire community of geocachers out there, complete with a language I don't yet understand (non-geocachers are "muggles" a la Harry Potter). And unlike many technologies, this one gets people outside instead of discouraging them from leaving the house.

I love it because it is a wonderful, lighthearted way to connect people with place, and provides opportunities for people to discover new localities in their own areas. Caches can be hidden nearly anywhere, and creative uses of geocaching can highlight and promote a community asset or resource. (Here's a great example).

The Green Map concept has been around for 15 years or so but recently was rebuilt using Google Maps as a platform. Green Map supports locally-created and locally-managed online mapping projects that identify sustainability resources, using universal iconography. Users can suggest sites and provide a location via Google Maps.

According to their website:
Over 400 unique, vibrant Green Maps have published to date, and hundreds more have been created in classrooms and workshops by youth and adults. Both the mapmaking process and the resulting Green Maps have tangible effects that:

  • Strengthen local-global sustainability networks
  • Expand the demand for healthier, greener choices
  • Help successful initiatives spread to even more communities
  • The website for Metro Detroit is relatively new, and still seems a bit buggy and does not have many sites yet. To see the full potential, visit the NYC map. I have hope for this technology, though I think a lot of local administrative details, especially data custody and management issues, will need to be sorted out before it becomes truly useful.

    A mobile web app is available that uses your current location to identify green assets in your vicinity.

    Atlas Obscura is billed as "a compendium of the world's wonders, curiosities, and esoterica." Users can submit esoterica (via Google Map) under a variety of categories (you can select more than one) such as "Incredible Ruins", "Disaster Areas", "Mystery Spots and Gravity Hills", etc.

    Detroit entries thus far include The Heidelburg Project (Outsider Architecture), Detroit Salt Mine (Natural Wonder), Edison's Last Breath at the Henry Ford Museum (Memento Mori), Hamtramck Disneyland (Eccentric Homes).

    It should be mentioned that each of these projects relies on Google Maps technology as a platform. I think the building and dissemination of Google Maps to the public for free is a major contribution to society, one that will continue to reap benefits so far as helping people communicate about and connect to place.