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