Detroit has become the veritable poster child for the emerging movement to downsize and shrink older industrial cities. Here’s the Detroit Free Press on “10 Tips for Downsizing Detroit.” These five strike me as imperative:
Stop calling it downsizing
Never try to forcibly relocate residents
Stop selling vacant land to speculators
Don’t expect urban farming to solve all the problems
Use data to understand Detroit’s neighborhoods
While you’re at it, check out Roberta Gratz’s terrific article over at Planetizen where she asks if the shrinking cities construct is really “urban renewal revisited” and this response.
After returning from the whirlwind that was the CHRA’s Annual Congress (with keynote speaker Richard Florida to boot) and DJ-ing at Urbana – a charity gala put on by a local housing developer to end homelessness in Ottawa – my mind is abuzz with housing issues. While at the congress, we took a tour of Regent Park’s redevelopment and, as with any redevelopment project, there was much talk/concern about gentrification with respect to community renewal.
Meanwhile, on the internet, some blogs were also abuzz with housing issues related to gentrification. From the Clyde-Fitch Report I fished out this Wall Street Journal article about the much-discussed and debated role of artists in community renewal and the gentrification process:
Artists have long been leaders of an urban vanguard that colonizes blighted areas. Now, the current housing crisis has created a new class of urban pioneer. Nationwide, home foreclosure proceedings increased 81% in 2008 from the previous year, rising to 2.3 million, according to California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac. Homes in hard-hit cities such as Detroit and Cleveland are selling for as little as $1.
Drawn by available spaces and cheap rents, artists are filling in some of the neighborhoods being emptied by foreclosures. City officials and community groups seeking ways to stop the rash of vacancies are offering them incentives to move in, from low rents and mortgages to creative control over renovation projects.
But looking at the artists profiled in the WSJ piece, I couldn’t help but notice – they all seem to be, for lack of a better term, white hipsters doing, again, for lack of a better term, white hipster art. I’m forced to wonder: what do we really mean when talking about artists? What are we valuing?
Here’s another perspective on gentrification from the always sublime blog Model Minority:
Gentrification has very little to do with white hipsters moving into the ‘hood and everything to do with process of people who earn higher incomes moving into neighborhoods where folks reside who are earning comparatively lower incomes.
A more sustainable, honest and comprehensive conversation about gentrification would involve a discussion of the income of the gentrifiers and not just the race of the gentrifiers.
And that’s what the WSJ piece seemed to elucidate implicitly – beyond race or even occupation, the artists valued in the gentrification discourse seem to be more important as an economic entity than as a creative one. Because these blighted areas like the Bronx or Detroit actually generate some of the greatest abundances of high-potency art and artists in the world. Hiphop culture and that entire industry emerged from the 1973 Bronx, and artists are still coming out of the BX at high rates. Detroit breeds some of the world’s best street artists with a lopsided ratio of good music emerging from the 313. What is the difference between them and the museum curator who buys the $100 house down the street? Only that the street artist from the Bronx or the D are actually from the area and are often creating from a position of poverty it seems.
So are the artists we refer to in the gentrification and renewal discourse really more of an economic model – liberal people with fixer-upper money, within a limited margin? Why doesn’t it seem that local street artists who are embedded in the community, often telling the story of the community, don’t have the same renewal/gentrifying value as the sculptor or the graphic designer who move in? And how can we create that value?
And now, as always, some topical music. Video Style:
Tune in to hear Richard Florida’s interview on NPR’s Morning Edition. On the table for discussion – Detroit, specifically the post-automotive era. Richard offers a relatively hopeful vision of how this city might pull out of its economic misery by attracting innovative start-ups and creative people to run them. Listen to the broadcast here.
What do you think Detroit could do to improve its future?
Listen in to hear Richard Florida interviewed on Lawrence O’Donnell’s To the Point on NPR last Friday. Some details about the appearance:
From Detroit to LA, the Recession Reshapes America
With Detroit home prices at record lows, is this the end of a great American city or its best chance for a revival? How will the crash reshape America? That is the title question of Richard Florida’s piece in the Atlantic this month.
Last week, we discussed D.C.’s quick aggregation of power and wealth in recent years and months. At the other end of the spectrum is Detroit. A combination of factors has put the Detroit Metro in its current situation; the WSJ had a few interesting pieces over the last week on the failed metropolis.
Firstly, a book review of Luke Bergmann’s Getting Ghost, a non-fiction account of life in Detroit for two young drug dealers: Dude and Rodney. From reviewer Julia Vitollo-Martin:
Mr. Bergmann offers no cheery prognosis – not even the vague possibility of a better tomorrow. His story ends grimly enough. Dude is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for killing a man and is sentenced as an adult to a minimum of 10 years in the state penitentiary. Rodney, who had been trying to turn his life around by starting a car wash, is murdered in a hail of bullets, presumably by associates in the drug trade. The girlfriends of both young men struggle on, raising children, caring for troubled relatives, trapped in their neighborhoods, perpetuating a communal downward spiral.
A Detroit Free Press reporter, Barbara Stanton, once wrote of the city’s troubles: “Instead of a single, stupendous explosion, there is a steady relentless corrosion.” “Getting Ghost” allows us to see such corrosion working its way through individual lives and, it would seem, through the very soul of a city.
While Bergmann’s book seems to paint a pretty grim picture of Detroit, Governor Granholm of Michigan is flashing a billion dollar smile. Her latest idea to ‘Save Detroit’ comes from the old film/entertainment subsidy play book.
According to the WSJ, Granholm is planning to build a $54 million film studio on the site of a shuttered auto plant in Pontiac. There are many incentives as part of the plan and apparently (according to DetNews.com) there is an animation studio going in on the site of a former casino in Detroit. The state is expecting up to 5,000 or so jobs from these efforts and a thriving film industry.
Anyone in Detroit or L.A. or Austin have thoughts on this? Is Granholm onto something? Producers, actors, directors, special effects folks – are you heading to Michigan? Can the state legislate and lead creative industries?
This is a big question – for which there are no easy answers. Some cities are quite resilient: places like NY or London seem to be able to remake themselves seamlessly for new economic times. Others falter and never bounce back. But reading stories this weekend on two of my favorite cities - Pittsburgh, where I lived for nearly two decades, and Detroit, where my wife Rana’s family lives and where we visit often – got me thinking.
The superb article on Detroit by Lawrence Ulrich in the Sunday Times captures the true soul and very real dilemma facing that city. It is a must-read for anyone who cares about cities and Detroit in particular.
The second article, also in the Times, takes a looks at Pittsburgh’s rebirth and, among other things, suggests there may be lessons there for Detroit and places like it.
It’s hard not to compare the two cities and regions, but they are really different places. Pittsburgh for one developed before Detroit. Its core industry was steel which emerged in the late 19th century; and it also had a more diverse industrial base – with leading firms like Westinghouse, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, Alcoa, Heinz, and others across a wide and diverse group of industries. Plus it was a financial powerhouse, with the Mellon interests not only being banking titans but functioning as an early sort of venture capital firm. Its major universities are located in the city. Its downtown core is intact (much of the worst decline was concentrated in mill town along the rivers outside the city’s limits). The city retains several very high-income neighborhoods and several excellent urban public schools. It has perhaps better “material” to work with and certainly a longer time frame to rebuild.
A colleague of mine once speculated that it takes at least two generations to overcome an economic crisis. And that seems to hold, at least generally, when looking at, say, the crisis of steel in Pittsburgh or the crisis of manufacturing a generation or so earlier in Boston.
Detroit, while it has long faced urban decline, is facing its real economic test today. Yes, it has many assets, as Ulrich mentions. And, yes, it has to imagine and act on a future after auto. Auto has a role in it, particularly in design. But design itself is a bigger part of it, as Ulrich notes, Detroit was – and is – a center of design broadly. But it also must realize that even more so than Pittsburgh or Boston it cannot save itself. It is home to several good universities, but its major intellectual assets are outside the city – the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Michigan State University in Lansing. It also has to realize that it can benefit from greater connectivity to major metros and mega-region hubs nearby – Chicago and Toronto.
The economic crisis is having highly uneven geographic impacts. Detroit for one is being hammered. David Crary and Corey Williams of the Associated Press provide a detailed look.
The jobless rate has climbed past 21 percent, the embattled school district just fired its superintendent, tens of thousands of homes and stores are derelict and abandoned … “It’s a depression — not a recession,” McDuell said, with the authority of someone who has lived through both. “It will get worse before it gets better.”
Money quote: “Even with no hurricane or other natural disaster to blame, Detroit has — by many measures — replaced New Orleans as America’s most beleaguered city.”
The latest issue of Dwell Magazine looks at one of America’s first (and often considered the most successful) urban renewal projects. Detroit’s Lafayette Park, now undergoing a subtle transformation as a new wave of residents including Keira Alexandra and Toby Barlow settle in, remix the past, and make the place their own.
Given the uncertainty looming with the likely restructuring of the automotive and manufacturing base in this area, it’s encouraging to see a vibrant and stable cooperative community within the city that has endured the region’s many changes over the last 50 years. And, who knows, what comes next may in fact be orchestrated from this place.
I’m in Detroit for the fantastic Creative Cities Summit taking place over the next few days. Detroit is the center of modern musical innovation giving rise to genre upon genre from the proto-punk of the MC5 and The Stooges, to Motown, techno, and, of course, Kid Rock, Eminem, and The White Stripes among so many others.
It is now one of the most affordable cities around. According to this story in the local paper, the median price for a house or condo sold in Detroit in September 2008 was less than $10,000 ($9,250). In affluent Oakland County, which boasted some of the most expensive real estate in the world when I was a boy, the median price is $132,000. That could be turned into a powerful lure in this era of financial turmoil, authenticity, and frugality.
Kristin Palm writes about several recent small-scale infrastructural projects in my hometown of Detroit in Metropolis Mag’s P/O/V. In A Walk in the Park(s) I am struck by two “raw” projects that make do with what they’ve got while superimposing new readings of the city on top of the old. The Dequindre Cut, Detroit’s grassroots counterpoint to New York’s Highline, takes a different approach to re-stitching vibrant areas of the city fabric in contrast to the former’s en masse real estate speculation.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit also takes a similar approach. The museum, literally carved from a former car dealership on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue that had its façade stripped away during the artery’s widening generations ago, has been re-faced with a series of artworks and signage that signal the nature of the cavernous interior galleries it shields.
Palm goes on to say that these projects aren’t “raw” because it’s the hip thing to do, but rather “because it’s the Detroit thing to do.”