Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Link Drop - July 29, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Link Drop - July 27, 2009

  • In an editorial published Friday, the Free Press urges Mayor Bing to pursue right-sizing -- shrinking the city to better serve its remaining population. Currently, the city has no plans to do so, but the new Detroit Land Bank Authority has begun meeting to better manage the city's vacant land (Crain's).
  • A column in the News raises a critical concern about DPS fiscal manager Robert Bobb: "His decisive and rapid reform plans make great sense, but they may very well fail if he does not build more community support for them."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Link Drop - July 24, 2009

  • "There's a reality that we all have to live with, and the reality of the City of Detroit is that we are broke and we are in a financial crisis." - Mayor Bing (Free Press).
  • Here's a bonus travel article on Detroit from a tourism website. This one's refreshingly positive.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Michigan's Urban Depression

Michigan's economic downturn is well known, but in the state's aging industrial cities, the crisis has reached a level comparable with the Great Depression. According to Michigan's Department of Labor & Economic Growth, twelve cities had seasonally-unadjusted unemployment rates above 20 percent in June. The two worst-off, Highland Park and Pontiac, had unemployment rates above 30 percent.

Even during the most recent economic boom, times were tough in Michigan's big cities. As the rest of the nation experienced an economic expansion this decade, Detroit's unemployment barely budged, hovering near 14% from 2003 to 2007.

Now that the nation has plunged into recession, the local crisis has deepened dramatically. Unemployment is not only rising but accelerating across the state of Michigan, especially in older cities like Detroit.

I think these statistics underscore the fact (yet again) that we need a comprehensive strategy -- at the local, state, and national level -- to stabilize Rust Belt cities. No city in the United States, however troubled or corrupt its institutions, should have to contend with thirty-percent unemployment.

Link Drop - July 23, 2009

  • The News profiles John Hantz, the business man who hopes to build a commercial farm on vacant property in Detroit. Few details here, but lots of anecdotal praise.
  • Esteemed local architect Michael Poris is blogging this week at Metro Mode about historic preservation and revitalizing Detroit.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Link Drop - July 22, 2009

  • Mayor Bing promises more cuts to services to decrease the deficit (Free Press).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Link Drop - July 21, 2009

  • The Wall Street Journal writes about the probable bankruptcy of Detroit Public Schools. Today the district officially lost its first-class status, meaning more charter schools may open in the city, perhaps hastening the district's decline (Free Press).
  • This Thursday, Net Impacts of Southeast Michigan will host a discussion on "Critical Topics in Sustainability: Land Use and Urban Agriculture" (GLUE).
  • Since 2005, the number of vacant addresses in Detroit has doubled to an astonishing 78,000, prompting community development groups to change strategies just to keep their neighborhoods intact (Model D).

Monday, July 20, 2009

Link Drop - July 20, 2009

  • In a blow to recycling efforts, the city will keep using the incinerator for at least a year and likely much longer (News).
  • A pilot program in Wayne County is deconstructing homes to salvage the parts rather than flat-out demolishing them.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Link Drop - July 19, 2009

  • The Free Press writes at length today about the possibilities and challenges of right-sizing, or shrinking, the city of Detroit. This one's a must read.
  • Speaking of wildlife, the News also reports that red foxes have been spotted roaming downtown!
  • The News (taking a step into digital media) also has a video up on the renowned graffiti in the Dequindre Cut.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mayor Bing interviewed on C-SPAN

Hat Tip: Detroit Yes.

Link Drop - July 17, 2009

  • The city's only Home Depot is also the region's most profitable, proving national chains can thrive in Detroit if they learn to adapt (Free Press).
  • The Cobo deal is pretty much a sure thing now, but opposition is still alive and strong among some Detroit activists (News).
  • In a Guliani-like move, new Police Chief Warren Evans aims to reduce violence by towing the car of anyone driving without a valid license. DPD is also in the news for its continued lack of compliance with federal decrees on civil rights issues, six years after the fact (News).
  • The new issue of City Journal, a right-leaning magazine on urban issues, attributes New York's long-term success to its constant economic innovation. Something to think about for Detroit.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Detroit Wildlife: Picturing the city post-people

Detroit Wildlife from florent tillon on Vimeo.

A French filmmaker is in town shooting a documentary on the return of wildlife to Detroit. Above is a long teaser he filmed a year ago in seek of financing. It's filled with long clips of an empty downtown, abandoned buildings, and pheasants prowling the urban prairie. It's definitely not an accurate picture of the city -- he goes out of his way to hide any sign of human life, effectively erasing the 900,000 people still here -- but he does admit in the comments that "my work is not exactly a realistic one." Rather, it's a  vision of the city post-people -- a vision all too real in some areas on the East Side.

Link Drop - July 16, 2009

  • Everyone is writing about right-sizing and redeveloping shrinking cities. The USA today is the latest with an article on Flint's innovative land bank.
  • An exhibit on Belle Isle opens tomorrow at the Detroit Historical Museum, where admission is free for the rest of the month (News).

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Link Drop - July 15, 2009

  • An offshore wharf is being added to the dock being built near Hart Plaza, enabling ferry service along the Detroit River (Free Press).
  • Sam Riddle and Mary Waters have been indicted for corruption, and more indictments may still be on the way (Free Press).
  • The DPS board is going to court to limit fiscal manager Robert Bobb's control over academics (News). The Free Press has a good editorial on the matter, wondering whether the board is being ignored because the city plans to switch to a mayor-led school system when Bobb's one-year term is up.
  • Mayor Bing wants to reduce city employees' pay by 10%, just as Cockrel originally proposed (Free Press).
  • A new Brookings Institution report says traffic patterns don't justify twinning the Ambassador Bridge, yet the authors still support the proposed public span (News).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Link Drop - July 14, 2009

    • Detroit keeps drawing journalists and filmmakers from around the world who want to showcase our decline and transformation (Free Press).
    • Boosters hope the renovated CCS Argonaut Building will anchor the northern-end of a creative corridor along Woodward.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    Link Drop - July 13, 2009

    • John Gallagher writes about the ongoing debate between preservationists and DECG (the city's development arm) over whether to save or demolish abandoned, historic structures (Free Press).
    • Quicken is moving into the Compuware Building downtown rather than building a new headquarters (News). Better than nothing, right?

    Sunday, July 12, 2009

    Interview: Saving Michigan Central Station

    On June 30, crews of volunteers from Summer in the City began clearing debris from Michigan Central Depot in a summer-long effort to beautify the decaying train station. Photos from the clean-up were posted on Flickr, and news leaked out on different blogs, sparking questions and criticism on the Detroit Yes forums and elsewhere about the use of volunteers, the role of Manuel Moroun, and the project's ultimate aim. As someone who has advocated saving the station, I wanted to learn more. So this weekend, I emailed the organizer, John Mohyi, a Wayne State undergrad and budding Republican politician, to learn the details behind the project. Here are my questions and his responses:

    1. What type of work are volunteers doing at Michigan Central Station? How much of the station is being worked on? To what final end? How often and for how long will volunteers work at the station, and what will they have accomplished when the project is complete?

    Phase 1 of the volunteer effort has focused on debris removal. In only four days time a mixture of volunteers and employees from the Ambassador Bridge Company (ABC) have been able to clear the two main rooms, a significant proportion of the second floor, as well as many other key areas inside the station. As a result we have filled four dumpsters worth of debris and scrap metal.

    I personally will be working on this project from beginning to end. Phase 1 is now nearing completion and we have already began exploring phase 2. Phase 2 consists of removing the broken glass and installing new windows and doors. ABC employees have already began sandblasting off graffiti on the exterior and will continue to do so as we progress. Phase 2 will rely on a more skilled group of volunteers. In addition to the well seasoned volunteers we already have, Home Depot corporate has expressed interest in the volunteer effort and with a little luck will jump on board.

    I suspect the Michigan Central Station grassroots volunteer effort will be a never ending community project. Although at one point I hope to see the station completely restored I expect to always see volunteer artists and the youth in general leaving their mark on the MCS for years to come.

    2. What is the genesis of the project? In postings online, you have mentioned Senator Brown and a meeting you had with Manuel Moroun. What was Senator Brown's role? What was yours and how are you two affiliated?

    It all started when the Detroit City Council voted for an "expedited demolition" of the Michigan Central Station on April 7, 2009. Shortly after I was invited to a Facebook group to save the station. Until that moment I was not aware the building existed. As I scanned the breathtaking photos of the MCS I was compelled to save something beautiful.

    I had recognized the situation before. You could sense the passion and the determination to save the station, but the efforts were devoid of leadership. I stepped in and centralized the effort. I started with an electronic petition to demonstrate the massive community support to the station owners, Detroit City Council, and the community itself. Next I created as a hub for the grassroots effort. Once I established a solid base of support a stroke of luck put me in the right place at the right time. After a drawn out conversation regarding the MCS, Senator Brown invited me along on a tour of the station with fellow senators, ABC President Dan Stamper, and other high profile individuals. This gave me the opportunity to get the station owners on board with the grassroots effort. Essentially Senator Brown provided the missing piece to the puzzle and has continued to provide his support in any way possible.

    3. How is the effort being coordinated and paid for? Why use volunteers?

    Summer in the City is the core organization for the volunteer effort thus far. They provided both experience and an established infrastructure that we were able to tap into. The station owner has paid for everything. In addition to all the supplies, they have provided a BBQ for the volunteers, paid for us to go to City Fest, and given us everything we have requested.

    To answer your question "why use volunteers?", as a volunteer myself I wanted to be apart of something great. When I look back and see what the Michigan Central Station has become I will be able to say with pride that I helped make that happen. Mr. Moroun may own the station, but at the end of the day it belongs to each each and everyone of us and I feel a responsibility to do my part. As we have progressed I have watched with my own eyes what the people of Michigan are capable of and I want to show that to the world.

    4. What is Manuel Moroun's and the Detroit International Bridge Company's specific role in the project? How have they contributed, monetarily or otherwise? 

    They pay for everything and do everything we ask of them. The station owner's wife also helped us plant 1,000 flowers in front of the station.

    5. Is there anything else people should know about the effort?

    Visit to sign up to become a volunteer.

    (Photos provided by John Mohyi and taken by Bruce Griffin.)

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Restoring Detroit from the bottom up

    Certainly, there is a committed corps of bright, dedicated business people who wear themselves out trying to fix Detroit's problems. But they're too few in number, and too few of them can be called giants. The erosion of Detroit's industrial base has left it without the concentration of wealth and power that produces world-class leadership ... But leadership of the Ford/Fisher caliber is what it will take to save Detroit.
    - Nolan Finley, Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit News
    In his column published yesterday, Finley laments the diminished power of Detroit's business titans. Once upon a time, he writes, big names like Henry Ford II and Max Fisher had the clout to raise millions of dollars and build city-saving institutions like the Renaissance Center. Without leaders like those today -- super rich and super powerful -- the city will never turn around.

    What he ignores, of course, is that the city fell apart on their watch. Since the 1950s, one "city-saving" project after another has been pushed by the region's business elite. Highways, museums, stadiums, hotels, casinos, the Renaissance Center -- each new project was heralded as the key to the city's revival. And each one, in its way, failed. Even as downtown has improved, the neighborhoods have kept declining, rapidly. And even downtown the pace of demolition has exceeded the pace of development. And go figure. With a few praiseworthy exceptions, the movers and shakers Finley expects to save the city have almost uniformly abandoned it. They might bankroll the cultural institutions (and deserve gratitude for that), but most of them long ago moved their own homes, their offices, and their factories outside the city's borders, draining it of the one resource it needs most: jobs.

    So pardon me if I don't sit around waiting for a handful of wealthy patrons to save the city. They have a role to play, certainly. The new light rail line being built from downtown to New Center is a great example of what private philanthropy can do, and there are some pretty big names behind all the region's major foundations, which have funded great, publicly-oriented projects like the RiverFront and the expansion of the DIA. But if the city's neighborhoods ever turn around, it'll be thanks to the small businesses, non-profits, and community activists that are planting trees, building community gardens, opening businesses, restoring historic buildings, fighting government corruption, and otherwise committing themselves to the city's restoration on a day-to-day basis. A few business titans, acting alone, can't save us. A community can.

    Link Drop - July 10, 2009

    • It looks increasingly likely that Detroit Public Schools will be the first major school district to declare bankruptcy (News).
    • The Free Press does a feature on land banks, a redevelopment tool that other declining cities, like Flint, have used with much success.
    • The Rosa Parks Transit Center, Detroit's great new transit hub downtown, is set to open Tuesday (Free Press).

    Thursday, July 9, 2009

    Link Drop - July 9, 2009

    • Detroit's Children Museum has been cut out of DPS's new budget, which may force it to close (Free Press).
    • Metro Mode points to an AP article on Greening of Detroit's efforts to reforest the city.
    • Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium recently received a grant to fix the roof of the closed facility and are holding a fundraiser on July 25 in an effort to reopen it.

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Link Drop - July 8, 2009

    • The Metro Times keeps following the incinerator story, which now has as much to do with government transparency as it does with the specific question of what to do with the city's trash.
    • While the U.S. slowly spends its stimulus funds on highway construction and other pork, France is investing billions to renovate historic buildings and keeps its cultural patrimony vibrant (NY Times). I wish we had such foresight here.
    • An op-ed in the New York Times argues Detroit is the next great biking city.
    • A well-known developer wants one last look at the Lafayette Building before it's demolished to see if he can save it (Crain's). No word yet on whether DECG will grant his request.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    Link Drop - July 7, 2009

    • Detroit Public Television and U of M Dearborn teamed up to interview all the candidates running for Detroit City Council or the charter commission (Michigan Messenger). You can watch the videos at Great way to weed through the candidates.
    • Does Obama have an urban agenda? If so, it's not a priority (Politico).
    • Next American City questions the economics (and aesthetics) of convention centers. Prescient given our protracted struggle to renovate Cobo to save one flagship event.

    Saturday, July 4, 2009

    Link Drop - July 6, 2009

    • In a "non-political" decision, Bing is making Warren Evans, perhaps his main political rival, the chief of police (News). 

    Friday, July 3, 2009

    Link Drop - July 3, 2009

    • A commentator in the Free Press worries "right-sizing" or "shrinking" cities will ruin them.
    • DRIC, the public bridge plan, will soon have the rights to riverfront land in Windsor, bringing it one step closer to reality (Free Press).

    Thursday, July 2, 2009

    Link Drop - July 2, 2009

    • Volunteers are sprucing up a section of Roosevelt Park across from Michigan Central Station (News).

    Wednesday, July 1, 2009

    Link Drop - July 1, 2009

    • Mayor Bing finally spoke in public yesterday on the need to reform the culture of City Hall (News). You can watch the speech here. (He speaks from the 4:25 mark to 45:10.)
    • A curbside recycling trial starts today in select neighborhoods (Crain's). The Council is still trying (likely in vain) to end the incinerator contract to ensure the program's a success (Free Press).
    • Kresge Arts in Detroit is keeping the city's art scene afloat almost single-handedly (Metro Times). The Kresge Foundation also funds the Riverfront Conservancy, the M1 light rail plan, and every major art institution and non-profit in the city. They deserve our endless praise.