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.

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