Category Archive: Projects

A Three Year Retrospective: Urban Innovation Exchange

For the last three years we’ve interviewed and talked to thirty different individuals and organizations re-tooling and evolving the idea of social innovation for the Urban Innovation Exchange. The effort, underwritten by the Knight Foundation and supported by a host of Detroit-based foundations and organizations along with ourselves, cumulatively looks at hundreds of efforts across the city and their affect on the trajectory of Detroit. What does the value of a community garden have on a neighborhood? What about the guy with a “gang” of friends that mow vacant parks in Detroit? And we’ve all heard of Detroit SOUP, what’s the cumulative impact of the money they’ve injected in to community level projects? Muralists, incubators, community spaces, street artists, neighborhood philosophers, blight busters– what does it all amount to?

For our part, we created thirty different videos interviewing and examining the work of but a handful of the thoughtful and innovative projects in the city. The idea was to try and understand in greater detail what social innovation actually amounted to. Where it’s easy to value, say, a new hotel downtown, given that it generates a certain amount of tax base income which affects citizens, how do we value those that don’t create traditional capital? It’s still kind of a perplexing question that’s tricky to answer, but certainly enough, the cumulative effect of all these efforts create a recipe for thinking about how next-generation cities grow. The thirty videos we created along with the stories and portraits all across the UIX site provide a springboard for thinking differently about how we evolve as citizens and communities. We were very proud to be a part of this three year effort and have put together a retrospective film to understand a small piece of all the work to date.

See the video on Vimeo.

See the rest of the videos in the series here.

Call for Walls: Mural Project Needs You!

Here at DL!, we have a pretty simple business model– 70% client work, 30% whatever. That’s a head scratcher, sure, but the “whatever” is what keeps the business true, playful and honest. The “whatever” has created some of our best work: the documentary After the Factory, the clothing line, posters on your walls, the remote-control race car track at Georgia Street and all the public art projects. In truth, the “whatever” is that thing we call the “social brand.”

For the last few years we’ve been chipping away at a mural series called MANTRACITY. The project is heavily inspired by the work that Stephen Powers started in Philadelphia with “A Love Letter For You.” We paint message-based murals in locations throughout the city that aim to uplift and bring a smile. It’s that simple. Here are some of them:

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We’ve done four murals, which is cool, with all of the labor and cost coming out of our pocket. Each of the murals still stand today, and each has taken on a little life of it’s own: the “Kahn” mural amidst countless “taggings” has been mysteriously cleaned up (fixed) by strangers, wedding photos have been taken in front of the Martian Mural, magazines have included photos of the “Dreaming” mural, etc. This is part of the whole process for us.

Thing is, we want to do more. A lot more. So, we’re making a “call for walls.” We need walls with permission to paint, and we’ll work on handling the rest. So, if you’ve got any ideas on locations, give us a shout (, send us a tweet, a FB message… or, hell, a smoke signal. The key is this: we need you.

“After the Factory” Now Playing on Amazon Instant Stream

After the Factory Film Trailer from DETROIT LIVES! on Vimeo.

After the Factory,” the documentary we worked on in 2012 looking at solutions for post-industrial cities told through Lodz and Detroit, has officially hit the “shelves” this afternoon on Amazon Instant Stream. The film is viewable there in all its infinite glory, along with the trailer and other relevant content.

Having worked on the film for a long time with a relatively meager budget, we are so proud of the trajectory it has all taken. Perhaps the best part, however, is that the project continues on. We were in Lodz last month continuing to chronicle and capture things as they continue unfold across the pond. We will do the same here. So, suffice to say, I think this is only the beginning of a fun ride with the film and the process of looking at what comes after the industrial era.

The film’s officiate site can be found here
Watch the film via Amazon Instant Stream here

MANTRACITY Mural #1 Gets a Tune-Up

We like doing a lot more than making videos, hence the effort behind the ongoing mural series MANTRACITY, whereby we paint simple message-based murals throughout the city of Detroit that aim to casually uplift and inspire. The first one we ever did was at Brush and Milwaukee. The message? “We Kahn Do it!” — an ode to Albert Kahn who designed three buildings seen off to the right as you look at the wall. See the evolution of the mural here:

So that mural was painted over two years ago, and as the cookie crumbles, fell victim to some tagging that defaced the lower portion of the wall. Interestingly enough, someone unbeknownst to us repainted over the tagging, or at least tried to. But of course, they came back. So we decided to really give it a proper tune up to get it back to its proper glory. The result is pretty nice, we were quite happy with how it turned out:


MANTRACITY Mural #3 Complete! “Plant a seed, watch it grow”

We are still rolling out the MANTRACITY series of murals– simple, message-based paintings throughout the city– that aim to uplift and casually inspire. The latest installment in the series is part of the Georgia Street Community Collective and is located on the east side of Detroit at Georgia Street and Vinton.

Mark Covington, the garden and community collective’s chairman, has been a longtime friend of DL! and so it’s been fun working with him to create a mural that spiced up the area behind the collective’s community center, greenhouse, goat pen and children’s playground.

Funding and concept for this mural came from DL!, with design skills from Nick Jaroch. Nick also led all the painting and has been involved in all of our MANTRACITY murals to date. Alex Lauri was out there for his first mural. Nick has been brought on boar with DL! to lead the charge pumping these murals out until it’s too cold! Stay tuned for more.

Pics below:




New Client Work: Green Garage Detroit

We’ve been fortunate enough to chronicle the growth and evolution of the Green Garage over the last couple years in Detroit and have put together a piece looking at their work in the city for the Urban Innovation Exchange. The Green Garage is primarily a co-working office space Midtown, but the building itself is pretty amazing– specifically the fashion in which it was renovated. In 1920 it was a Model T showroom, but beginning in 2008 Peggy and Tom Brennan started its rebirth as a fixture in the community. Over the next three years they conducted a zero waste renovation project which implies that essentially nothing was put in the dumpster in the renovation. Old drain pipes are now rails for the staircase, flooring was re-planed and made in to decorative shelving, shingle and tar materials were sold to the state to go in to paving roads, etc. Pretty incredible. Listen to Peggy talk about the building and the community that is formulating around it, giving Detroit’s entrepreneurial community a nice spark.

Urban Innovation Exchange: Peggy Brennan, Green Garage from DETROIT LIVES! on Vimeo.

Lean, Mean and Green: A Look at the Future of Detroit and Other Rust Belt Cities

We’ve been very fortunate over the last year or so to be talking quite frequently about the future of American cities after making the film “After the Factory” and taking it on the road through the USA and Europe. The conversations– ideas about teaming up with other cities, building idea sharing platforms, personal stories, brave ideas, other projects– have been nothing short of phenomenal. It’s both invigorating and enlightening to be a part of all that dialogue.

Beyond our project, it’s amazing to see others popping out of the woodwork from seemingly every angle expanding on the idea that something has to happen to fuel the revolution. Given the trials and tribulations of many places in the Americas/Europe/Asia, What will next-generation cities look and feel like? How will we tackle income inequality? How do we fine tune the strength of the middle class? How do we re-tool our values system to help put our cities on the right track– not just in the Rust Belt, or in Detroit, but in places across the Atlantic, too? Hell, even China?

A great new project that seems to expand beautifully on this platform is the film project “Lean, Mean and Green” by One of Us Films and Carrie LeZotte. It serves as an extension of John Gallagher’s book “Re-imagining Detroit” (which this blog has discussed on many occasions). Carrie is working to complete the film in the near future and has initiated a Kickstarter campaign— the same platform that funded the work of “After the Factory.” Consider becoming a supporter with just $10 getting you a digital download of the whole film. In the meantime, check out some snippets below that unearth some really great material on this incredibly important topic.

More interviews and snippets from the film can be found here.

New Client Work: Quicken Loans, “Made in Detroit” World Series TV Spot ft. Kid Rock

We were pleased to shot some of the footage used in Quicken Loans’ “Made in Detroit” TV spot featuring Kid Rock. It aired during Game 4 of the World Series just after Cabrera smashed a two-run home run to give the Tigs the lead. The ad kept the momentum going when it appeared, though unfortunately, the series didn’t end in our favor. That said, the commercial stands as testament to the momentum and cool things happening in the city right now. Check it out here:

Detroit: “Get up off your ass and do something”

For almost a quarter century– geez, that sounds pretty intense– John George has demonstrated boundless energy in the pursuit of making Detroit a more livable and friendly city with his organization Motor City Blight Busters. How? By working to re-activate the 100,000 vacant parcels and structures throughout Detroit by eliminating blight. To be around this guy is like somehow having a direct line of adrenaline tapped in to your carotid artery. He is a machine, speaking only in progress and efficiency. His relentless vision and never-say-die attitude represent the possibility that this city holds if each of us were to take but just a smidgen of his tenacity.

We were very proud to do a piece on John George and his work with Blight Busters for the Urban Innovation Exchange:

Urban Innovation Exchange: John George, Motor City Blight Busters from DETROIT LIVES! on Vimeo.

“After the Factory” Tour Film Revealed

In early 2012 we toured through Europe premiering the film in Poland, Germany and the Netherlands. From those days on the road we created a tour film showing the value of getting “After the Factory” out in to the world. The film is a short piece that aims to share a bit of the fun that comes along with traveling to places and creating discussion from the film. We hope you enjoy it.

After the Factory – On the Road from DETROIT LIVES! on Vimeo.

Today, the Rust Belt Tour continues as we go through cities throughout the United States that have falled victim to much of the same circumstances as Detroit and Lodz. For more information on screenings and the film in general, see the ATF website.