Friday, February 22, 2008


I'll be in New York City for the next week so updates will be few and far between. If you want to stay in the loop, do as I do: read the News and the Free Press every day plus Crain's Detroit on Monday, Model D on Tuesday, Metrotimes on Wednesday, and Metromode on Thursday.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mass transit summit on March 3

Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick will host a major Mass Transit Summit on March 3 at Wayne State's Community Arts Center. Participants will include representatives from the successful transit systems of Charlotte, Denver, and Houston as well as local panelists including John Hertel, the local "transit czar", Carmine Polombo of SEMCOG, and Megan Owens, the executive director of Transportation Riders United.

Registration for the all-day summit begins at 8 am; the program will run from 9 am to 2 pm. The Community Arts Center is located at 450 Reuther Mall (see the campus map). Check TRU's website in the days ahead for more information.

Will urban living kill the suburbs?

I doubt it, but the the Atlantic seems to thinks so:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.
Hat tip: Metromode

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Building community wealth in Detroit

Detroit is a "Community Wealth City." The designation comes from, a website that aims to be "the web’s most comprehensive and up-to-date information resource on state-of-the-art strategies for democratic, community-based economic development."

C-W has created a web page featuring the major organizations and institutions working to revitalize the city using community-wealth building strategies. It's a great snapshot of the efforts underway to rejuvenate Detroit.

The nation needs an urban policy

The time has come to declare a new war on urban poverty. The Free Press makes the case in an ongoing series:

Presidents define what's important for the nation. A president who would visit a poor central-city neighborhood, or talk about the problems of the people who live there, would end a 40-year silence and, once again, focus the nation's attention and political will on ending poverty. With private sector support, a fraction of the $10 billion a month the United States spends in Iraq would go a long way toward reducing poverty at home.

Urban ghettos, segregated by class and race, have helped create a so-called underclass that undercuts the nation's economic progress and tears its social fabric. Bringing disenfranchised people into the economic mainstream is the right, and smart, thing to do. Cities offer the best opportunity to do that.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The rise of the young professional

Model D highlights the many new young professionals groups working to connect and engage the next generation of leadership in Detroit. These include

In fact, there may be too many new groups. According to Crain's Detroit, many have had to reschedule events to avoid conflicting with each other.

Find out about Wayne State's master plan

Cityscape Detroit is presenting a series of four speakers who will discuss the neighborhoods that border Woodbridge. The first event features James Sears, a Wayne State official, who will discuss the university's master plan and its longterm vision of Midtown. The free, open meeting will be Feb. 25 at 6:30 pm at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit, which is located at 5141 Rosa Parks Blvd.

Hat tip: Model D.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Ilitch takes control of Masonic Temple

According to the News, Mike Ilitch's Olympia Entertainment is taking over management of the Masonic Temple, which was facing foreclosure in March for unpaid taxes.

Together Mike and Marian Ilitch currently control Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings, Comerica Park, the Fox Theatre, Hockeytown Cafe, the MotorCity Casino, and a block of land expected to become the site of a new hockey arena for the Red Wings. In other words, they own downtown Detroit.

Scrummage moving to the East Side

Scrummage University, the bizarre young-hipster hangout, is moving from its current space in Eastern Market to an abandoned toy factory at Van Dyke and Davison on the city's east side. (Hat tip: Web Vomit and Metroblogging Detroit.)

The new location has a few obvious advantages, like 10,000 square feet of space and a parking lot, but it's still a very odd choice. I worked with the community development corporation that operates in that area this summer, and I just don't see Scrummage meshing well with the neighborhood. For one, the new location's across from Mt. Olivet Cemetery (where my grandparents are buried). The cemetery won't appreciate its new neighbors. It's also totally on its own. That strip of Van Dyke is almost totally dead, and there are no other music or arts venues anywhere near. A sudden influx of white, suburban teenage hipsters will surely be noticed. It may have flown under the radar in Eastern Market, but Scrummage will stick out glaringly in its new digs.

But I give them credit for their daring. I've only been to Scrummage once (the intense Dan Deacon show in July), but I'll have to visit the new venue to see what they make of it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A reformer in Newark

There's a great profile of Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark, in the Feb. 4th edition of the New Yorker. Unfortunately, only a synopsis is available online, but the conservative City Journal covered similar ground in a profile of Cory Booker from Spring 2007.

Booker is not a conventional Newark politician. Young, black, Ivy-league educated, and raised in the suburbs, he is fighting to reduce crime, overturn the corrupt political establishment, and bring in outside investment to transform the city. He "considers himself as part of a new paradigm of 'people who are trying to make their governments engines of economic opportunity and judge them not by how many jobs they can provide but by how much wealth they can create and how efficiently they can deliver services within their own city.'"

His efforts have engendered fierce resistant, both for his politics and his background. In his first bid for mayor, the incumbent accused him of not being authentically black, saying, “You have to learn how to be African-American, and we don’t have time to train you.” He has been attacked for appointing outsiders, many of whom are white, to his administration, and many in the city oppose his policy positions, including support for school vouchers.

His experience is thought-provoking, especially in the context of Detroit, which itself so badly needs enlightened leadership. Booker's heart certainly seems to be in the right place, reflecting the perspective of a new generation of idealists who hope to reform and revitalize Rust Belt cities through pragmatic policy that transcends traditional divisions pitting white against black and city against suburb. But ultimately intentions count for naught. The real test is whether his administration can successfully reduce crime and bring jobs to the city.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

More Dirtbombs

The Free Press reviews The Dirtbombs' new album, "We Have You Surrounded", and talks to drummer and Cass Records-owner Ben Blackwell.

Some of the album tracks are streaming now at the Dirtbombs' official website. The album release show is Saturday at the Magic Stick.

Update: Ryan Allen of TAN! chimes in with praise at Detour Magazine.

A cleaner Detroit River, Great Lakes

The Detroit River, once an environmental disaster, has been restored to health, reports the Free Press:

Oil spills have been reduced, phosphorus levels have declined by 90%, fish and wildlife are no longer heavily contaminated with now-banned DDT and PCBs. There has been huge progress in removing contaminated sediment from the river. Sewage treatment has improved. Mercury contamination is down 70%.
Also in the news, from the Ann Arbor Business Review, a new report suggests that cleaning up the Great Lakes could have great returns for the region (besides being the right thing to do):
Restoring the Great Lakes - controlling invasive species, addressing sewage contamination, cleaning up toxic waste and restoring shoreline - would create $50 billion in economic benefit from a $26 billion cleanup investment.

Marketing the D

Crain's Detroit his week has a special section this week on the D Brand campaign, an effort by the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau to increase local tourism and attract more investment to the region. Here's the logo:

So far it seems to be working:

"The D Brand started with tourism, and that is where specific economic impact can be noted so far. Detroit received 100,000 additional visits worth $68.3 million to the local economy in 2007 as a result of the D Brand, according to a study by Indiana-based Strategic Marketing & Research."
Personally, I think the brushed-metal logo looks kind of cheesy, but what do I know?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Michigan gets its own would-be Bonnaroo

According to the Free Press, a huge new music festival is planned for July 3-6 in Rothbury, MI (Google map), a little town on the western coast of the state. The Rothbury Festival (official website) will include everyone from John Mayer to Snoop Dogg to Of Montreal with lots of other odd juxtapositions yet to be announced. They're hoping for a crowd of 50,000 people.

I promise I won't be among them. $100-475$? Yeah, right. I'll be at Tastefest/Cityfest in Detroit for free.

: There's one bad catch to this all:

"Many of Rothbury's acts have signed exclusive contracts that bar them from playing other Michigan dates."
So if you wanted to see an artist playing Rothbury but didn't want to pay $100, you might be out of luck.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Blowout is back

The schedule for this year's Hamtramck Blowout has been posted. Friday night looks especially good. I'm weighing my options:

10 pm - Child Bite or The Frustrations
11 pm - The Satin Peaches or Terrible Twos
12 am - Friendly Foes, The Hentchmen, or Deastro
1 am - Carjack, The Detroit Cobras, Zoos of Berlin, or Lee Marvin Computer Arm

The battle of the bridge

The Free Press finally takes a look at the struggle to replace the Ambassador Bridge.

On one side is Matty Moroun, the billionaire trucking magnate and current owner of the Ambassador Bridge as well as Detroit's most famous ruin, the Michigan Central Depot. Moroun, who is widely reviled in Southwest Detroit for his indifference to the community, wants to close the Ambassador Bridge and build a new six-lane bridge directly beside it. An alternative proposal is being studied by the Canadian, American, Michigan, and Ontario governments. That proposal calls for a government-operated bridge to be built a mile downriver from the Ambassador.

The latter is clearly the better choice. Although some Michigan officials like the idea of Moroun covering the costs of a new bridge, it's crazy to continue to let the most important economic crossing in the United States be controlled by one reclusive billionaire, especially when his plan will further jeopardize the neighborhoods on either side of the bridge and doing nothing to limit security risks.

For a better idea of what's at stake, see Forbes' profile of Moroun, The Troll Under the Bridge. This is a critical issue that needs more public discussion.

Monday, February 11, 2008

More so than ever, a nation of immigrants

According to the New York Times, the United States is becoming truly cosmopolitan: In 2020, 1 in 7 People in U.S. May Be Foreign-Born:

[T]he Pew Center projects that in 2050, 19 percent of Americans will be foreign-born; that the share of Hispanic residents will more than double to 29 percent from 14 percent in 2005; and that the proportion of Asians will almost double, from 5 percent to 9 percent.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Grace Lee Boggs on MLK

The Bogg Center will be hosting two discussions this month on "Exploring Martin Luther King’s Challenge to Us in Detroit" at the Club Technology Building at 8200 -30 E. Forest.

Saturday, February 16

10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Movie Screening: Citizen King
12:00 - 2:00 pm
Discussion: Martin’s Words, Our Conversation

Friday, February 29

7:00 - 9:00 pm
Grace Lee Boggs: Catching up to Martin in the “D”
Discussion: From Conversation to Action

A few weeks ago, Grace Lee Boggs discussed Martin Luther King's legacy on Democracy Now. She is truly inspirational. For a notion of her remarkable life, read the brief biography on the Boggs Center website.

How Wayne State has changed

Preserve Detroit describes how outgoing President Irvin Reid has transformed Wayne State's campus and contributed to the construction boom in Midtown.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Business minded philanthropy

The Free Press reports that United Way is changing its funding formula, demanding measurable results from the non-profits it sponsors. For example, providing services to the poor will not be enough; organizations must show they've made an impact by reducing poverty rates in an area.

This trend is a national one. Two weeks ago the New Yorker noted, for example, how business principles have transformed medical philanthropy in "Buying the Cure".

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Auburn Hills officials weary of youth in baggy clothes"

The Free Press channels the Onion. Auburn Hills officials want to enforce a city wide dress code to deal with "young men dressed in baggy pants with their underwear showing or teenage girls garbed in low-cut tops."

Who are they kidding?

The creative class in the Rust Belt

Two finds from today's Metromode:

  • This week's guest blogger at Metromode is Sarah Szurpicki of Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE). GLUE is "an online networking and journalism effort to build regional identity and share information among young urban leaders from cities around the Great Lakes region." There's not too much on their website yet, but my interest is piqued and their principles are sound: urbanism, regionalism, storytelling, and building networks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Governor Dennis Archer?

The News says Dennis Archer may run for governor. Rumor has it that other Democratic candidates could include Lt. Gov. John Cherry, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, House Speaker Andy Dillon, and Detroit Medical Center CEO and former Wayne County Executive Mike Duggan.

Forest Arms fire: what was lost

For more links and info, follow the thread on Detroit Yes!.

Update I: Click on Detroit has news and a slideshow of photos of the fire: "Apartment Blaze Leaves 100 Homeless; 1 Feared Dead".

More photos of the fire on Flickr. Hat Tip: The Daily Swarm, which has a letter from Brad Hales of Peoples Records.

Update II: More photos from Detroit Funk.

Update III: One more photo set of the fire. This tragedy was well documented.

Huge fire near Wayne State

A five-alarm fire erupted in the historic Forest Arms apartment building at Second & Forest Ave. this morning. Thankfully, there have been no serious injuries reported, but it looks like Amsterdam Espresso will be lost and Peoples Records will have to relocate.

Dirtbombs release new album

This week the Metrotimes pays tribute to Mick Collins, the ex-Gories and current Dirtbombs extraordinaire and king of the Detroit music scene. For a taste, take a listen to "Wreck My Flow" from the Dirtbombs' new album, "We Have You Surrounded," which will be released next week.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Tightening the belt

According to the New York Times, the age of easy credit may be passing:

With the number of jobs shrinking, housing prices falling and debt levels swelling, the same nation that pioneered the no-money-down mortgage suddenly confronts an unfamiliar imperative: more Americans must live within their means.
Increased saving should be good news: Americans are finally being responsible. But our economy is so consumer driven -- GDP is 70% consumer spending -- that this cutback could easily cause or deepen a recession. We'll be better off in the long run, but saving more will cost jobs in the present -- an ironic result made possible by our dependence on frivolous spending for our longterm prosperity.

Russell Industrial Center

Model D writes about the quickly growing Russell Industrial Center, an old industrial complex that is now home to dozens of artists and creative small businesses. Model D previously profiled some of the artists who work there.

As I mentioned earlier, the Russel Industrial Center currently tops my list of Detroit sights I've yet to see (besides passing glimpses from I-75). It's a great model of creative entrepreneurship, just like the the 4731/555 galleries on Grand River, which also provide space for artists.

Casinos as neighbors

The Free Press examines the impact casinos have had on their neighborhoods.

The conclusions aren't surprising. Except in Greektown, casino patrons rarely step outside to explore the neighborhood, and even there the impact seems negligible. The only major changes have been cosmetic: new streetscapes and park clean-ups designed to make the transition from the casinos' glamour to the neighborhoods' poverty less jarring for patrons.

The real impact, of course, is on the city's bottom line. So far, the the state and city have collected $2 billion from the casinos. But whether this money ever finds it way back to the neighborhoods is doubtful.

Paczki Day!

My favorite local holiday has begun. Thanks to Hamtramck, the historically Polish city-within-the-city, Metro Detroiters will eat thousands of paczki -- delicious, high-calorie donuts -- before the traditional fasting of Lent. I don't plan to fast, but I will nevertheless indulge.

It's also Super Tuesday, an unprecedented near national primary when 24 states will hold primaries and caucuses. Far a political junkie like myself, that's far more exciting than Sunday's Super Bowl. I'll be eagerly watching the returns to see whether Obama can ride his rising tide of support to victory against frontrunner Clinton.

All in all, an exciting day.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Troy/Birmingham taking transit seriously

Urban planners dream of transit-oriented development (TOD) -- development that depends on and encourages the use of mass transit. It is the opposite of sprawl.

Troy and Birmingham are the first cities in the region to consider the concept. Plans are being made to create a new transit center to connect the cities' downtowns and make both more walkable. Urban Land, the journal of the Urban Land Institute, recently published a story on their efforts: Next TOD Stop? A proposed transit center in suburban Detroit, Michigan, could bring transit-oriented development to the Motor City (PDF file).

Coupled with the Community Foundation's Greenways Initiative to re-introduce green space where concrete now prevails, one can envision a new future for Southeast Michigan with far more greenery and a network of local downtowns connected by rapid transit to the thriving urban core of Downtown Detroit. But that, of course, is wishful thinking ...

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Granholm's agenda

Here's the State of the State address in brief from the News. More small-scale proposals to nudge our economy toward the black: smaller high schools, minor prison reform, and funds for economic development.

I recognize that her hands are tied by a dysfunctional, partisan legislature and a comatose economy, but Granholm has done hardly anything to distinguish herself in the past six years. I hope she makes something of her remaining time in office because the state desperately needs real leadership.

A great environmental policy

Tax plastic shopping bags. Ireland has done so with great success, says the New York Times:

In 2002, Ireland passed a tax on plastic bags; customers who want them must now pay 33 cents per bag at the register. There was an advertising awareness campaign. And then something happened that was bigger than the sum of these parts.

Within weeks, plastic bag use dropped 94 percent. Within a year, nearly everyone had bought reusable cloth bags, keeping them in offices and in the backs of cars. Plastic bags were not outlawed, but carrying them became socially unacceptable — on a par with wearing a fur coat or not cleaning up after one’s dog.

Plastic bags fill 2% of our landfills and are not biodegradable. We should phase them out, too.