Future of the D: The Detroit Works Breakdown

This week I attended a Detroit Works Town Hall style meeting on the East Side–

Let’s back up. The Detroit Works Project is Mayor Bing’s plan for the future of Detroit. “Business as usual” is not acceptable in his eyes, and DWP is his administration’s attempt to put everything on a level playing field and move the city forward. As of late, the most outspoken concern is that the plan will involve forced resident relocation as the mayor focuses development and concentration of city services in key neighborhoods in an effort to “right-size” the city. This has been voraciously denied by the administration.

The overall master plan will be drafted in four Phases that involve engaging the community at each step. Phase 1 took place between July and December 2010 and had the Mayor’s office listening and learning, meeting with 5,000 local Detroiters in town hall style meetings all across the city where residents voiced concerns and ideas. From those discussions, the three areas of need the community voiced were the necessity of improving city services immediately, a desire for improved transportation and proper use/development of vacant land.

Phase 2 is currently underway with another 30+ community forums, one of which I attended at the Brenda Scott Academy of Theatre Arts on the East Side this past week. Based on the chaos that came from some of the Phase 1 meetings I had witnessed, I was a little unsure of what to expect. That said, what greeted me was overly pleasant including a door greeting, some literature (beautiful literature by the way, all of it very nicely designed) and bins full of chocolate chip cookies. Really, really, really, soft and delightfully chewy chocolate chip ones (I ate a whopping four of them before even reading said literature).

I took a seat, handled my space-age remote control clicker participation device (at varying times throughout the conversation there are polls to which you respond and the results are shown in real time which is kind of cool, btw) and soaked it all in. The crowd seemed light but was almost a perfect half-and-half mix of male and female (this I know because of real-time surveying results), while attendees were most frequently in the 40 and 50 year old age bracket. People were calm, mostly kept to themselves and focused their attention on the front of the room. What ensued with the presentation is available online for viewing and I would highly encourage you to have a look for yourself. Aside from being visually pleasant, it provides succinct data on where the city is right now, what people have to say about that, and what issues will be targeted in future strategic planning. Really, just look at the damn thing yourself. It will take five minutes and it’s worth it.

Phase 3 (May to August) involves a draft framework plan and six more community forums. Phase 4 (September to December) involves five additional forums and the release of a final strategic plan.

OK. Cut to the chase. Bottom line: Detroit Works Project is important. It is the system by which our Mayor is choosing to re-envision the city and therefore the more perspective we can funnel in to the system the better. With greater community insight, the more reflective and genuinely response-driven the result will be. So this ain’t no fire and brimstone cry, but get out to one of these meetings if only to eat the cookies. The process, flow and interesting data (read: good source of intelligent sounding dinner party figures) I think will probably pleasantly surprise you, and really, the whole space-age remote control real-time survey results are kind of fun. And if you hate all that, then, don’t eat dinner that night and just eat cookies. But really, I think you might be pleased, and just think, when it’s all said and done and Detroit is leading Rust Belt revival you can say you were a part of it. So give it a shot. The city needs you.

Go ahead curious one, check out the Detroit Works Project official website.

Mayor Dave Bing Has a Twitter Account

Twitter has obviously become kind of a big deal. Celebrities talk about their trips to Jamba Juice, businesses craft entire marketing plans around Tweeting, and then, sometimes the city mayor even gets a Twitter account. Cory Booker, the fella behind the wheel in Newark, NJ has a twitter account. In fact, a huge proportion of Newark’s public image as an administration is disseminated through Twitter. Now, guess who’s joining the ranks of Tweeters?

Dave Bing.

You betcha. Here is a selection of his commentary, no clue on whether he is actually the one composing these messages or it’s one of his department aides:

“#Detroit is a destination for innovative people looking for opportunity.”

“Shrinking the city limits is not being considered.”

“We continue to be excited about the possibility of the Pistons returning to Detroit. The deal is not done, but we remain optimistic.”

“We are working diligently to rid our neighborhoods of residential structures that impede upon residents quality of life.”

“We are making progress 2085 of the 3000 residential structures scheduled for demolition in 2010 are completed. http://bit.ly/dve03j

“I welcome your comments and also invite you to be part of the solution.”

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do” – Eleanor Roosevelt”

“Enjoy your weekend! #Detroit”

It’s a baby step in the right direction, putting more visibility on the mayor’s office and reaching the people with messages and a directional focus on the future of Detroit. Keep up the conversation, Mr. Mayor. Bring back the Fireside Chats!


Three Reasons to be in Detroit

It’s the talk of the town– young people can do big things in Detroit. The NYTimes recently cashed in on that realization with an article about the arts and their effect on changing the image of Detroit and also attracting new settlers. Locally, it’s the hot topic in the media. Laura Berman over at the old Freep-tasty wrote a column today giving three reasons why being in Detroit is a good thing for a young person. The article is short and sweet, here are some snippets:

“You’re smart, you’re talented, you’ve got new ideas. In New York, you’re a sparrow. In Detroit, you’re a prized canary.”

“Detroit’s affordable. Really, really affordable. Here, a young couple can become landed gentry… for a fraction of the cost in a similar community anywhere else.”

“This is a place where you can take raw hope and be part of turning it into a brand new future… It’s a unique time and place.”

And there you have it.

Vice Magazine Blog Features DL! Mural Photo

The Vice Magazine blog, VBS Blog, featured a photo of the DL! mural I did near Eastern Market. The blog post discusses the sort of new American dream that can be discovered in Detroit.

“The city has become a place where enterprising classes can find the space and time to do whatever they want, cheaply and hassle-free. It’s a raw space where they can create community and start rebuilding their city from the inside out. The people we talked to were all eager to discuss the reasons they love Detroit, and, as importantly, what their vision is for it. Everyone is doing something—making music, buying and developing land, building businesses, and laying the foundation for a new Detroit with a creative scene that reminded us (the Euros among us, anyway) of East Berlin after the Wall came down. What we found there is a DIY paradise where people hustle to survive and use an anarchic sense of creativity to make shit happen.”

Lessons From Italy and Boulder: The Smart Grid

This post is part of an ongoing series called “Detroit’s Re-Invention: Lessons from Other Cities.” See all posts in this feature here.

OK. I will concede I am no guru when it comes to electricity or really anything related to electrical engineering. After all, the “door ajar” light on my dashboard has been lit for some three years because of a short circuit of some kind. The mechanic wants like $500 to fix it, and lord knows I’ll be toast if I try to fix it myself. I am happy to stick with DIY projects not involving a crircuit board. The light remains illuminated.

BUT. Here’s some thoughts on electricity. Read this. It’s a diagram outlining the benefits of implementing a smart grid in the state of West Virginia. A smart grid? What the hell? I asked the same question. This document helped. In a nutshell, a smart grid overlays the electricity distribution grid that most American cities currently have with two-way digital technology that more efficiently manages energy usage, therefore reducing costs and increasing the reliability of power. Within the smart grid, digital sensors and control devices are introduced in the system to control the transmission of power much more efficiently. For example, with the use of a smart grid, appliances can be controlled more intelligently through the grid as opposed to being manually controlled by the user which often leads to waste. Clouds are blocking the sun on a Tuesday while you are at work? Appliances (like your A/C or hot water heater) on a smart grid will be adjusted accordingly to conserve resources (and ultimately cost less for the consumer). Currently, Italy is the only country in the world with a full-scale Smart Grid in place that was installed in 2005. Right now, they are seeing savings of roughly 500 million Euros per year. The project cost 2.1 Billion Euros. You can do the math and see that while there is a large cost to install such a system, the annual realized savings warrants it. After four years, the project is mostly paid off.

In the US, ten cities have at least started or initiated the process of rolling out smart grid technology— and in most cases, there was federal money (stimulus and otherwise) involved to help. Boulder, CO is probably our country’s flagship example of a functional smart grid.

So, here’s an idea, Detroit. Based on that diagram from GOOD magazine that looks at implementation in West Virginia, we could create a hell of a lot of jobs on the homefront using some of our idle manufacturing capacity to start making smart meters and then employ people in aiding with the rollout of the new technology. Not only that, but with the Department of Energy in Washington supporting initiatives like this, we could probably get some financial help to do it all. In the end, by using the West Virginia example as our model and installing a smart grid, the economic impact means jobs are created, emissions are reduced to give it some environmental incentive, power quality and reliability is increased and we rely less on foreign oil. The estimated total cost savings of all this goodness? $12.6 Billion. At a cost of roughly $2 billion, that’s about as attractive a return on investment any tycoon could desire. It’s time to get moving, Detroit.

Detroit: Urban Gardening Leader

Urban gardening continues to provide an inspiring and positive storyline in the city whether it’s the consistent coverage the city gets or the cool projects that are sprouting up (like Jim from Sweet Juniper’s latest project at the Georgia Street Community Garden) in the city as a result. Speaking to the former, Detroit was recently featured in the Christian Science Monitor as a beacon of awesome in the urban gardening realm. The article talks about the occasionally controversial Hantz Farm, but also RecoveryPark, the lesser-known 10 year, $220 million project putting organic farms in four different struggling neighborhoods around Detroit. Quite possibly the most engaging part of the article is the fact that it exemplifies Detroit’s leadership in pushing forward an agricultural agenda in a post-industrial city. Meanwhile, other places like San Francisco are following suit, lending credence to the fact that Detroit is forging a new, innovative path for modern cities.

Assignment Detroit: Is Detroit the Next Leading Example?

The TIME machine is still churning out content over there in West Village. Steven Gray pumped out an interesting piece that certainly tells the consistent tail of Detroit’s issues, but follows it up with ample evidence that Detroit is certainly not alone as it attempts to pick up the pieces and start again. Gray rambles off a baker’s dozen worth of other cities across the nation in dire circumstances with budget deficits, necessary infrastructural improvements and things like tax bases that don’t support necessary public services. Hmm. So it is set up quite nicely that Detroit is positioned quite well right now to be a leading example of how these problems can be addressed all across the country. Kind of similar to something Toby Barlow said in a DL! interview, all cities, at some point, are going to be in Detroit’s shoes– and as Gray points out in the TIME article, there may be more than we think. So, if we take the lead right now, we could be looked at down the road for quite some time as a model of re-invention for struggling cities across the country. Quite a nice prospect. Time to get to work.

Former MT Editor Talks of Opportunity for Detroit

A recent article written by Ron Williams, former editor and publisher of Metro Times, wrote an article on Detroit focusing mostly on sustainability and Detroit’s potential to be a model city in this department. Some real jewels from the piece:

“… new leadership is coming from the place it always does in the end– from the bottom up. This new life cycle is a grassroots affair with an astonishing number of people fashioning solutions and affirming. There are now eight hundred community gardens on abandoned lots, peace zones for public safety, green retrofitting of empty houses, new open source media projects and an exploding hip hop and poetry scene.”

And concludes:

“Detroit is not about architectural ruins. The future of Detroit is happening in plain sight. The people of the D are re-imagining their lives and their city in fresh and courageous ways. They are on the front lines and there is a lot to learn from them.”

Umm. Cool.

Data Doesn’t Lie: Detroit Isn’t So Bad

Aaron Renn, the urban planning thought leader from Indiana, has taken something of a liking for Detroit. A few months back he wrote this article touting Detroit as something of a new urban frontier, a place potentially capable of providing a strange new American dream as Mr. Barlow once put it. That said, the last article Renn wrote for Urbanophile isn’t the point of this post. It’s his latest article that’s a treat. It goes down like a tall glass of lemonade on a sweltering Saturday. I mean, good God, nobody has talked this nicely about Detroit WITH photos and data to back it all up. He compares Detroit to other cities in the country and gives some side-by-side analysis that’s refreshing. Then he mentions the sexiness of “Brand Detroit”– the idea that the city has some international accolade and name recognition. I mean, think about it: when you go to Paris and are struggling to order a cappucino in some tasty little backalley cafe and you tell the guy at the counter you are from Cleveland, he is going to choke on his pastry trying to understand where the hell that is. But DETROIT?!!?! “Ahhhh. Oui, oui,” he says. Yep, they know we’re kicking over here in the D.

IceHouse and the Future

Lots of pieces to tie together.

For one, the dudes at IceHouse Detroit have finished up their project! They have revealed their location and the house is fully frozen. Go see it before the sun takes over and melts that baby. 3920 McClellan is the address, or check out the IceDudes blog. In the spirit of congratulations to Greg and Matthew for pulling off the IceHouse (and avoiding, for the most part, jokes about cheap beer) and to rip off the ingenuity of Jerry over at LOVELAND, it is very possible another piece of Detroit will be frozen in the appraoching days. Stay tuned.

I became aware of a project recently called DART (Detroit Area Rescue Team). These guys are trying fill in the gaps in the charity scene, which, from the looks of their site, translates to them hitting the streets with gobs of food and clothing to give out to those in need. Pretty cool. They have some photos posted of the latest drive.

Stumbled across this video that gives a snapshot of THE FUTURE with high speed light rail and the way it could affect our lives in different ways. It’s part uber-cool and cheesy at times, but either way, it makes a case for how cool it could be with a ubiquitous high speed rail system in place in the US.