Wednesday, April 30, 2008

$1.25 million for retail on Jefferson

The Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan is sponsoring a $1.25 million program through the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation to spark retail development along a 3-mile stretch of East Jefferson from Downtown to McClellan St., near the eastern end of Belle Isle.

Gleaners goes green

Model D has a nice article about the public/private collaboration behind Gleaners' "green" renovation of its historic warehouse.

Woodbridge plan unveiled

The Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation will unveil its new development plan, LEVERAGE: the Woodbridge Connection, at the 4731 Gallery (4731 Grand River Ave.) this Friday, May 2, from 6 to 8 pm. The plan will remain on display throughout May.

Hat Tip: Model D.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Light rail plans officially announced

Model D and Metromode have an enthusiastic report on Monday's official announcement of the DTOGS plan for a Woodward light rail line.

Meanwhile, according to Crain's, the anonymous group that's considering privately funding a light rail line on Woodward from Hart Plaza to Grand Boulevard will meet with DTOGS, presumably to discuss coordinating the plans.

Tastefest (Cityfest) 2008!

The lineup has been announced. The official website has it in Word format; head to Web Vomit for the copy-and-pasted list. Headliners include George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Broken Social Scene, and Calexico. I'll be there.

Update: The 2009 lineup can be found here. The festival runs from July 1 to July 5 this year.

People's Records is back

According to the Detroit Yes! forums, Brad Hales has signed a lease on a new Woodward storefront across from Zacarro's Market, the new high-end grocer in Brush Park. The original People's Records store burned down in the Forest Arms fire in February.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Should Detroit downsize?

Last week wrote about Youngstown, Ohio's plans to shrink the city to make city services more cost effective:

Now, in a radical move, the city - which has suffered since the steel industry left town and jobs dried up - is bulldozing abandoned buildings, tearing up blighted streets and converting entire blocks into open green spaces. More than 1,000 structures have been demolished so far.

Under the initiative, dubbed Plan 2010, city officials are also monitoring thinly-populated blocks. When only one or two occupied homes remain, the city offers incentives - up to $50,000 in grants - for those home owners to move, so that the entire area can be razed. The city will save by cutting back on services like garbage pick-ups and street lighting in deserted areas.

In Sunday's Free Press, columnist Stephen Henderson said Detroit should do the same. He even suggests that community development groups should stop constructing new low-income housing, quoting a Wayne State professor:
"In the sparsely populated areas, we shouldn't be cheering groups that build 50 units of new housing," he said. "That's aggravating the situation. You've got to move people around, and build in denser areas to allow the city to operate more efficiently and effectively."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

“Slooooooooooan! Slooooooooooan!”

I have to hand it to Detour: Rock City sounds sweet. I'm so ready for Sloan (and TAN! and SSM and the Terrible Twos and Deastro and Mason Proper and the Great Lakes Myth Society and on and on).

June 12-14. Majestic Theatre & CAID. $30 for weekend passes, $20 for one-day only.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lessons from Pittsburgh

The Free Press sees parallels and lessons to be learned from our Rust Belt cousin in Pennsylvania.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Don't forget Cobo

The Free Press has an article on the crumbling of Cobo Center. The facility not only needs to be expanded, the existing structure needs to be fixed. But the region seems ready to drop the ball yet again and further postpone renovation plans.

The housing collapse quantified

When the housing market is healthy, homes sell in three months. The Free Press reports today that Metro Detroit has a 18.9-month inventory of houses. The city proper is unbelievably worse: 51.1 months, or more than four years.

If you want to sell your home, this is terrible news. But if you have money to burn, now is truly the time to buy. Can the market bottom out any lower? (Let's hope not.)

The News to DPS: Reform or die

The News has begun a four-part editorial series on Detroit Public Schools. The message: reform or die.

I don't endorse their formula for reform (charter schools, privatization), but the News has one thing fundamentally right: a sense of outrage. The disintegration of the school system is the single greatest failure of the Kilpatrick administration. DPS has lost more than 50,000 students in the past five years. Of those who remain, 80% qualify for a free or reduced cost lunch. Only 25% of high school students graduate. And when enrollment finally falls below 100,000 (which it will in the coming year), the caps on charter schools will be lifted.

This is a school system in absolute crisis. On this point the News is right: "Too much time and money have already been wasted. Detroit Public Schools and its employees must recognize that their survival is at stake." More importantly, the future of Detroit's students is at stake. The status quo is unacceptable.

We. Need. Transit.

Two great editorials on transit in Sunday's Free Press. The first explains the critical need for a "comprehensive national transportation policy" and the second brings the article closer to home, emphasizing how badly our region needs a major transit success story.

The editorials are part of an excellent, ongoing series in the Free Press "on the nation's glaring lack of an agenda for cities and viable solutions to the problems affecting our most populated regions." Previous editorials discussed the critical importance of cities, the problem of urban poverty, and the need to fight urban crime. The whole series is online at

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Privatization of City Airport sought

Like every mayor before him, Kwame has a plan to revive City Airport. This time, the News reports, it's runway expansion and privatization along the lines of the Detroit Zoo or Eastern market: the city would retain ownership of the airport but a private group would manage it.

Any plan would improve upon the present strategy. The city began buying out local property owners 13 years ago to create a "safety zone" around the airport and prepare for a possible expansion. The expansion never happened, the buyouts were never completed, and the neighborhood has been needlessly decimated. It's long past time for the city to follow through on its plans and make something of the airport or restore the surrounding community.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Quick update

I haven't had much time to blog this week, but I recommend this week's issue of Model D and Metrotimes' Eat, Drink, and Take Action section, especially the article addressing food deserts.

Hopefully I'll have more this afternoon or tonight.

Monday, April 7, 2008

City bureaucracy cedes some control

The Free Press's John Gallagher talks about the growing importance of public-private partnerships in the city. Non-profits and public/private partnerships are managing major assets like the Riverwalk, Campus Martius, and Eastern Market, and other important projects, like the Clean Downtown Initiative, arose from the private or non-profit sectors.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Vacant Detroit schools vandalized

Most of the schools that DPS shuttered last year have been secured. Those that have not, the Free Press reports, have been stripped of valuables and vandalized. The story is accompanied by a stunning photo gallery of the damage done to Joy Middle School in just the past ten months. Sadly, the more damage done to any of these schools, the less likely they are to ever be redeveloped.

No future for the train station

The News has two stories on Michigan Central Depot today. The first gets nostalgic with old photos of the gorgeous structure. The second reports that Metro Detroit's worst citizen, Matty Moroun, the owner of the station as well as the Ambassador Bridge, will no longer permit film crews to enter the building.

The article closes with a sad quote of George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation: "The only real option for that train station is to tear it down, and I have no idea if that is going to happen anytime soon."

Detroit's most famous structure seems truly doomed:

Robert Kennedy's speech on MLK

Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed forty years ago today in Memphis, Tennessee. That night, Robert Kennedy gave an impromptu speech on King's passing before a black and white audience in Indianapolis. The speech is brief, beautiful, and moving, and I post it today in King's honor. The transcript may be read here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Spreading the good news

Issue Media Group, publisher of Model D and Metromode, is expanding into Washtenaw with a new online weekly called Concentrate. Like its Detroit cousins, Concentrate will highlight development and job growth as an antidote to traditional media that focus solely on "unemployment, fire, murder and crime."

I like to poke fun at the unerringly upbeat tone of these publications, but I truly appreciate what they're doing. Model D is a weekly reminder that Detroit is not dead. Indeed, in many respects, it's on the upswing.

Hart Plaza remake

The Free Press's John Gallagher discusses plans for a greener Hart Plaza with an outdoor amphitheater. The amphitheater would replace the vacant Ford Auditorium and possibly house the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the summer. The plaza itself would be recast as a park with greenery and trees.

This would be a wonderful improvement over the present: an abandoned theater and an unbroken sea of hard, ugly concrete. The catch, of course, is money. The remake would cost $40-50 million, and neither the city nor foundations have stepped up yet to finance it. But here's what it might look like:

Detroit stimulus plan proposed

Kwame Kilpatrick revealed details of a new $300-million economic stimulus plan today (see the Free Press or the News). The plan includes:

  • $75 million for a rainy-day fund
  • $15 million for business loans
  • $10 million to prevent foreclosures
  • $200 million for public works projects including "new Eastern District police headquarters; new fire stations for the east and west sides; new fire training complex; streetscape improvements; demolition of 50 abandoned commercial buildings; park upgrades, and dozens of other projects."
Now for the caveats.
  • The city may need state approval to issue bonds.
  • The mayor assumes casino revenue will increase substantially; if it doesn't the city will have to dip into revenue currently earmarked for other projects to pay back those bonds.
  • Many on the City Council contend infrastructure can wait -- Detroit needs to rehire firefighters and policemen first.
  • The Council is loath to pass anything proposed by the mayor.
So with that said, we'll see if this goes anywhere.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Time for a new trash policy

The Metrotimes goes in depth on the incinerator. By July 1, the city must decide whether to continue leasing, buy the facility back, or (let us pray) stop incinerating its trash altogether and start exploring other options, like landfills coupled with curbside recycling.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

More money to make Paradise Valley

The News reports that City Council plans to spend another $7.5 million in its effort to transform Harmonie Park into Paradise Valley, a downtown district that the city hopes will be a hub for black-owned businesses and black culture. The name honors Paradise Valley / Black Bottom, the black neighborhood that was demolished in the era of "urban renewal."

The city certainly deserves a thriving black-owned area, but the article's quote of Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins still strikes me as needless: "Someone suggested to me it would be easier if we said Harmonie Park/Paradise Valley. I said no. This is Paradise Valley. This is not Harmonie Park anymore." In other words, the city once demolished Paradise Valley, so the city will now erase Harmonie Park in turn. So much for the spirit of historic preservation.

DPS making smaller high schools

The News and the Free Press both report that DPS will totally reconfigure five high schools into smaller, more specialized units. The district is removing all teachers, administrators and staff at each school and subdividing the buildings into three or four smaller schools. The "Turnaround School Plan" will be financed through the 21st Century Schools fund that Granholm announced in her State of the State address.

Reform couldn't come soon enough. A report issued today revealed that Detroit once again has the lowest high school graduation rate among all major cities in the United States.