Thursday, January 31, 2008

Detroit embraces "new media"

Metromode covers Detroit's baby steps toward "new media". Of course, the best examples of new media in Detroit are Metromode itself and its sister publication, Model D. To that list you might add Detour Magazine, the online pop-culture magazine started by ex-Metrotimes staffers. But Detroit's web and media presence is definitely growing, both in scope and sophistication, and I'm glad to be part of that.

The business challenge

Attracting new businesses to Detroit is only part of the battle. The city must also retain the ones it has. Two stories this week highlight that challenge. The News reports that two retail stores in the RenCen are closing and Metrotimes covers yet another small business leaving the city for the suburbs.

Kwame apologizes but won't resign

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can rust belt cities revitalize?

Edward Glaeser, a prominent Harvard economist, argues no. His article, "Can Buffalo Ever Come Back?", outlines the rise and fall of Buffalo, a declining city that holds much in common with Detroit. In his view, Buffalo will never regain its past glory, and federal policies aimed at saving the city as a geographic place are destined to fail. "The best scenario," he concludes, "would be for Buffalo to become a much smaller but more vibrant community—shrinking to greatness, in effect. Far better that outcome than wasting yet more effort and resources on the foolish project of restoring the City of Light’s past glory."

His assessment is the same with regard to Detroit. He speaks of the city in a New York Times Magazine profile:

"I believe very strongly that our obligation is to people, not places, and I think we certainly have an obligation — ethical, economic, what have you — to the residents of Detroit," he told me. But he sees no economic or geographic reason to have a large city there anymore, and he views the prospects for any rebound as dim. (Detroit ranks last among cities with more than 500,000 residents in percentage of college graduates.) The city produced the cars that produced the sprawl that helped destroy the city; such tragedy might have been lessened had it produced more universities too. "There are no reasons why it can't, and shouldn't, decline," Glaeser says. "And I would say that for many other cities. There's no reason not to let decline go forward." The greatness of America is dependent in part upon regional evolutions and migrations, he adds. "Places decline and places grow. We shouldn't stand in the way of that."
His insensitivity is shocking: "There's no reason not to let decline go forward." The decline of Midwestern cities is not benign. That decline has meant suffering, poverty, and environmental degradation. While I agree with him that people matter more than places, places matter too. We cannot build cities today only to abandon them tomorrow. The costs, human and environmental, are too great.

Reasons to eat less meat

The New York Times explains the many drawbacks of modern meat production. To wit: deforestation, pollution, climate change, health problems, and rising food prices.

You may not object to the eating of meat on principle (I don't), but there are sound reasons to eat more plants and fewer animals.

Donate $10 to a good cause

Arts & Scraps, a cool non-profit on the city's east side, hopes 1,200 people will donate $10 each so it can purchase a new cargo van. According to the website, "Arts & Scraps is a non-profit organization that recycles industrial scraps into affordable learning and creative materials and provides educational programming. We serve 275,000 children and, recycle 28 tons annually."

Hat tip: Model D

Update: I fixed the link to Arts & Scraps.

Monday, January 28, 2008

DPS quickly losing students and money

I missed an important article on DPS two weeks ago. The News reports:

Nearly a third of Detroit's students -- or about 51,000 -- are attending charter schools and suburban public districts, causing enrollment and budgets at other districts to surge while Detroit Public Schools shrinks.

Control the boom-and-bust cycle

The New Yorker has a wise editorial on the current economic instability. The conclusion:

"Rather than waging old debates about tax cuts versus spending increases, policymakers ought to be discussing how to reform the financial system so that it serves the rest of the economy, instead of feeding off it and destabilizing it."

State to fund smaller high schools

The News:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm will propose in her State of the State address Tuesday a plan to spend $300 million on as many as 100 smaller, more personalized high schools to replace larger schools whose students are doing poorly and have high dropout rates.
Detroit, which has ten high schools with an enrollment of more than 2,000 students, will be a major target of the proposal.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

A lamentable distraction

Daniel Howes explores the implications of the mayoral scandal from the perspective of the business community and asks some pertinent questions. How does this affect the image of the city? Will it set back redevelopment efforts? Who will provide the leadership the city so badly needs during the next few months? This scandal is a distraction that the city and the region can ill afford.

It's the money

I don't like its undertones, but Nolan Finley's analysis of the mayoral scandal seems essentially right to me: "It's not the sex or the lies, it's the money."

The mayor's sex life is a private matter and many will excuse the lies he told to hide his affair. But the city has already paid a $9 million settlement to two police officers fired for investigating his behavior, and the Free Press revealed today that city funds may have paid for his trysts. The more money this scandal costs the city, the less chance Kwame has of weathering it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Transit meeting

Anyone interested in bringing rapid transit to Detroit should head downtown Monday to attend "Detroit Transit in 2008," a presentation by Transportation Riders United. Speakers include Rep. Marie Donigan, Chair of the Michigan House Public Transit Subcommittee, John Hertel, CEO of Detroit Regional Mass Transit, and Hayes Jones, the new General Manager of SMART.

The meeting is Monday, January 28 at 6:30 pm at the Boll Family YMCA's Marlene Boll Theater at 1401 Broadway Street. TRU requests a $5-10 donation to cover meeting expenses. Dinner will be provided.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

We're all in this together

To celebrate its one year anniversary, Metromode compiled a list of its ten best articles from the past year. The overall message is clear: To thrive, Metro Detroit must act as a unified region anchored by the city of Detroit.

I don't agree with every point, but these four articles especially demonstrate how, through creativity and entrepreneurship, we can resuscitate the economy and reorient the region:

Don't forget Ypsi

This week Metromode gives props to the increasing hipster cache of Ypsilanti, which is often overshadowed by neighboring Ann Arbor. Calling it "the Brooklyn to Ann Arbor's Manhattan" probably gives both cities too much credit, but I'd definitely like to visit Ypsi soon and see what the hype's about.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Kwame perjured himself

Like Clinton before him, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick lied about his sex life. I post it because it's news, but I don't especially care so long as the revelation doesn't cost the city any more money in settlements.

Incineration vs. Recycling

Currently, the city of Detroit incinerates all of its trash at a plant at Russell Street and Ferry Avenue. The city's lease on the facility is set to expire in the summer of 2009. That means Detroit has the opportunity to implement a new trash policy. The Metrotimes discusses the opportunity for healthier, greener trash disposal.

Meanwhile, the Free Press notes the progress already being made to increase recycling.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Detroit design

Design*Sponge has a comprehensive guide to Detroit design including the city's best architecture, art galleries, design shops, and restaurants. I'm familiar with most of the list, but there are a few I'd still like to visit, like the Russell Industrial Center.

Hat tip: Model D.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A buyer's market

The News headline speaks for itself: "2008 may be brutal again for real estate".

Detroit, in particular, is feeling the pinch. The Free Press reports that the city's best homes are selling for a fraction of their true worth. And some of the new loft and condo projects can't find buyers. Crain's writes that the Mid-Med Loft project has failed. The building at 4265 John R St will be marketed as office space instead.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Oh, tell me your thoughts

By the way, I can't stop listening to "The Start of Something" by Voxtrot. It's not on their MySpace, but "Raised by Wolves" is also worth a listen.

Update: I found a knock-off Voxtrot page that has both "The Start of Something" and "Raised by Wolves."

Update II: I fixed the link to the other Voxtrot page.

Three articles on education

  • Since the 1970s, the primary goal of many urban high schools has been simply to graduate as many students as possible. A high school diploma was considered the end goal of education. Now, the New York Times reports, urban high schools are reorienting themselves to prepare as many graduates as possible for college.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

CCS to expand into New Center

CCS hopes to redevelop the Argonaut Building, a beautiful, Albert Kahn-designed structure in the New Center:

The photo is courtesy of a discussion thread on that includes dozens of photos of great Detroit buildings.

According to the News, the building would include "new graduate programs, dormitory facilities for about 250 students and studios, and will include office space for nonprofit organizations and a business incubator to help fledgling design businesses."

In a move similar to that of the Science Center, they also plan to sponsor new charter schools within the building for middle and high school students. The schools will focus on art and visual design.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Science Center sponsors new middle school

The University Prep charter system is opening a new middle school in partnership with the Detroit Science Center, reports the News. The middle school, which promises that at least 90% of its graduates will attend college, will be built as a new wing of the Science Center, which will also add more gallery space during construction.

The concept sounds great, and judging from other University Prep schools, the students will receive an excellent education. (Although the jury is out on whether charter schools in general perform any better than their public counterparts.) The question here is whether new charter schools will succeed at the expense of the existing public school system, depriving DPS of the resources and bright students it so badly needs to sustain itself, let alone revitalize itself.

Out with the old, in with the new

GM is offering buyouts to 46,000 hourly workers nationwide in order to replace them with new workers who, thanks the latest UAW contract, can be paid significantly less than the workers they're replacing. The age of generous benefits has ended. Tom Walsh of the Free Press explains.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The struggle for mass tranit

Rapid mass transit may finally be coming to Detroit. For the first time in decades, that statement is more truth than myth, in part thanks to the efforts ofTransportation Riders United, a Detroit-based nonprofit working to make a regional, rapid mass transit system a reality.

Metromode reports on the slow but steady progress being made on the transit front.

Will the Fed save the day?

The New York Times Magazine profiles Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, who is trying to contain inflation without letting the economy sink into recession. Today he advocated immediate government intervention to boost the national economy.

Meanwhile, the News reminds us that Michigan's unemployment continues to rise.

A creative company

Metrotimes profiles Ann Arbor's Quack! Multimedia, which is not only a local record label (representing the likes of the Hard Lessons & Great Lakes Myth Society) but also much more, putting out a magazine, coffee table books, and TV shorts. This month they're putting on shows every Thursday at the Bling Pig which, in addition to the aforementioned bands, feature the Pop Project, Javelins, and Child Bite.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Art museum boom

Despite the state's rapidly shrinking arts budget, the institutional support of art in Michigan continues to grow. Michigan State revealed its architectural plans today for a new contemporary art museum in East Lansing. It looks great. The University of Michigan Museum of Art is also undergoing a major expansion and is set to open in early 2009.

These, of course, join the expanded Detroit Institute of Arts and the still newish Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit down the street on Woodward.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Building a research corridor

One more post for the economically minded. Rick Weddle, the president and CEO of North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, spoke in Detroit last week about the chances of duplicating their economic success. Metromode interviewed Weddle about how Detroit can imitate North Carolina's success.

The University Research Corridor, a collaboration between Wayne State, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan, is one part of an effort to do just that. More crassly, it's also a money grab: the universities want to be funded separately from the other universities in the state so that they'll receive a greater share of appropriations.

$100 million "New Economy Initiative"

Last week Crain's Detroit wrote about a $100 million initiative to "fund efforts to change Southeast Michigan into an innovation-based economy." The New Economy Initiative looks to fund efforts in three areas:

  1. Talent development and retraining
  2. Innovative and entrepreneurial activities.
  3. Transforming the region’s culture to an educational, entrepreneurial community.
Metromode interviewed one of its leaders, Rip Ranson, the president of the Kresge Foundation. According to Ranson, "This is the single biggest pooled investment that a consortium of foundations has ever made in urban America." The initiative is regional, but he insists it is especially important for the city of the Detroit.

I wish it every success.

Ugly or innovative?

Model D interviews the architect of the new Cadillac Centre planned for Campus Martius downtown and explores what its design means for the city.

Personally, I prefer Albert Kahn, but maybe I'll like the new building when I see it. At least it's environmentally friendly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cobo to expand?

There are plans bouncing around to expand Cobo Center, Detroit's downtown convention center. For more, see Crain's Detroit, the Free Press, or the Detroit News (in that order).

The strangest twist is a proposal to designate the convention center a "tax-free zone" in order to attract more business. That sounds like bad precedent to me. Before long all convention centers will be tax-free in order to compete.

Also odd: a plan to directly connect Cobo to the Renaissance Center with a $25-million covered walkway. Where will it go -- meandering through Hart Plaza? And who needs it? Visitors shouldn't be shielded from ever seeing the city itself.

Downtowns for everyone

The suburbs, too, desire revitalized downtowns. The News looks at Clawson's efforts to improve its downtown at the intersection of 14 Mile and Main, and Crain's Detroit looks at a plan to create a "downtown" Southfield where none currently exists.

I post these as a reminder that despite the dreams of urban planners, Detroit already is and will remain a sprawling region. The city of Detroit may revitalize itself, but the suburbs will not magically retrench back within its borders. But sprawl is not a lost cause. The visionary nonprofit Michigan Suburbs Alliance has much to say about what can be done for the inner-ring suburbs and the region as a whole to make the best of an un-ideal planning situation.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Recession: Now a national trend

According to the Free Press, Michigan's economy may finally recover in 2010, but then again maybe not. The New York Times reports that the national economy may already be in recession, which should keep us just where we are economically. Hoorah.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Retail ... or the lack thereof

The Detroit News focuses on the potential for the proposed Cadillac Centre to bring new retail to Downtown.

Presently, Detroit has virtually no major national retailers. The only big-box store in the city's 143 square miles is a Home Depot on Seven Mile. There are only two multi-screen theaters. With the close of Farmer Jack, there is not a single national grocer. The city is home to dozens of wonderful small businesses, but the lack of national retailers is nevertheless appalling.

Tuesday's news ... on Thursday

Published every Tuesday, Model D is the best source of news on development in Detroit. These are some highlights from this week's:

  • TechTown, Wayne State's technology incubator, has received a $1.5 Kresge grant to expand operations.

Also from Tuesday:

Monday, January 7, 2008

Monday news roundup

  • The Free Press reports on Open City, a new networking group for entrepreneurs looking to start and grow small businesses in the city.
  • Also in Crain's, a dry article on the Downtown housing market with an important point: "People can’t sell their suburban homes, so they don’t have proceeds to use for buying a Detroit condo; and the lending market makes it hard to take on more debt." The national housing / credit crisis may prevent further housing construction Downtown.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cass Corridor in context

Lately lots of new developments have been announced for the Cass Corridor, or what's now known as Midtown. This is a total transformation from the past when the area was possibly the seediest neighborhood in Detroit.

Back in February, Detroit Blog discussed the history of the Cass Corridor and explored the once notorious, now abandoned Hotel Fort Wayne at the corner of Cass and Temple:

Before there was Midtown, there was Cass Corridor, Detroit’s notorious skid row. Back then, before marketers and urban planners began efforts to gentrify it and remake it as a cultural urban enclave, it was the wild, lawless home of the dregs of society – prostitutes, junkies, alcoholics, homeless, the mentally ill, perverts and all-around weirdos.

It's great reading.

"$150-million complex planned for downtown"

Fresh from the Free Press.

At first glance it's ugly but innovative. Most importantly it's a huge development for Downtown. But I do wonder about the long-term future of Detroit. I fear a two-tier city: at the center, a wealthy, bustling downtown radiating out from Woodward from Jefferson up to the New Center; and surrounding the urban core, a sea of poverty.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Here comes gentrification?

The Detroit News reports on five new developments planned for Woodward between Warren and Mack, the area where MOCAD, the Majestic Theater, Union Street, and the Whitney currently stand:

For now, the seven-block strip is simultaneously bustling and abandoned, with hipsters and middle-class professionals sharing the neighborhood with more than a few aggressive panhandlers. Many investors are working hard to make 2008 the year the strip becomes almost totally gentrified -- if they can convince bankers and sometimes even landlords that they are the ones who can succeed.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Creative destruction

David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times, lists the best magazine essays of the year here and here.

One of his selections discusses the economist Joseph Schumpeter and his concept of creative destruction:

The essence of capitalist economies was, as Marx had recognized before him, the entrepreneur and the innovator: the risk taker who sets in motion new and more-efficient ways of making old or new products, and so produces an economy in constant change. Marx saw that the coming of capitalist economies destroyed all feudal, traditional, and patriarchal relationships and orders. Schumpeter saw farther: that market capitalism destroys its own earlier generations. There is, he wrote, a constant "process of industrial mutation — if I may use that biological term — that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in, and what every capitalist concern has got to live in."

Capitalism is in constant flux. New innovations create wealth and propel the economy forward, but at the same time they render old industries obsolete. Economic loss is the necessary consequence of economic gain. Detroit, once at the forefront of technology, is now suffering the destructive consequences of capitalist innovation itself.

Also worth noting: a New Yorker article from April on the psychology and economics of long-distance commuting and an article from the New York Review of Books on the immigration debate. I haven't read either yet, but they look good.

Creative corridor

The Detroit News reports on the state's efforts to attract the film industry to Michigan, including a 35% rebate on film production costs and low- or no-interest loans. This is part of a broader effort to transition the economy to serve "the creative class": young professionals, media workers, and the bohemian types who are supposedly the key to our economic future. MetroMode reports that local leaders hope to draw such workers and build the economy by making Woodward a creative corridor lined with media-oriented and "knowledge" jobs.

A creative corridor sounds smart to me. Woodward is already lined with creative businesses and cultural institutions , and there's every incentive to add more. That's what's happening in Midtown, and it's encouraging to see. But I don't think media-work is likely to replace the auto industry any time soon as Detroit's economic engine.

And incentives for film production? More than three dozen states are trying that. We'd be better off supporting the growing local film industry than competing in a race to the bottom to attract Hollywood productions.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Eastern Market thrives

Eastern Market is thriving under new leadership, reports the Free Press. Model D covered plans to expand and renovate the market back in June.