Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012 2:48 PM
Once an Irish enclave, Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood now attracts
young hipsters with its inner city ambiance and lively nightlife.
Jay Walljasper is author of the Great Neighborhood Book, an associate of the Citistates Group and a Senior Fellow at Project for Public Spaces. He writes regularly about cities for a number of sources including OnTheCommons.org, Shareable.net, and Citiwire, and is a former Utne Reader editor. Reprinted from Planetezin, an urban planning news website, featuring articles, op-eds, jobs, courses and information for the urban planning, design and development community.
Sprinkled among gloom-and-doom stories coming out of Detroit is some unexpected good news: the city’s growing appeal to young people. According to plentiful media reports, well-educated twenty-somethings are streaming into the Motor City to test out new ideas, explore art and music projects or launch DIY revitalization initiatives.
The real story is a bit more complex than that, but you can spot a number of once-dormant corners of the city now pulsing with activity thanks to young entrepreneurs. Corktown, in the shadow of the much-photographed ruin of Detroit’s train station, sports pubs and restaurants that would fit in Brooklyn or Portland.
The Midtown district near Wayne State University and two major medical centers shows all the makings of a creative class hub, complete with hipsters hanging out at the Good Girls Go to Paris creperie, the Avalon International Breads bakery, and the N’Nmadi Center gallery, devoted to the rich tradition of African-American abstract art. Add in the venerable yet lively Detroit Institute of Arts, as well as handsome brick mansions still standing from the early 20th Century, and it’s easy to understand Midtown’s attraction.
Recent college grads can be seen all over town, from the bountiful Eastern Market to bustling Campus Martius square to festive Mexicantown to the scenic Riverwalk to the yummy Good People Popcorn shop downtown.
This burst of youthful energy—even in the face of the city’s continuing economic and social woes—debunks widespread opinion that nothing can be done to jumpstart the Motor City. While a new, more positive narrative about Detroit is welcome, there are problems in focusing entirely on idealistic young adventurers swooping in to save the city—it reinforces the stereotype of native Detroiters as hapless, helpless and hopeless.
The truth is, newcomers aren’t the only ones stirring up excitement around town. Good People Popcorn, for instance, was started by two sisters and a cousin, all of whom grew up here. Sarida Scott Montgomery, one of the founders who is also a lawyer and Executive Director of the Community Development Advocates of Detroit, says people are often surprised she grew up in the city. “Not in the suburbs,” she explains, “but in Detroit itself.”
Regina Ann Campbell, manager of the Milwaukee Junction Small Business Center incubator in Detroit’s North End, grew up on the Northwest side before earning a Masters in urban planning degree at the University of Michigan. “I welcome all the new people,” she says. “But it’s important for them to understand they are building on some things that have been going on for years. I want to help them appreciate the city though the eyes of the people who have lived here.”
Scott Montgomery and Campbell are both part of a new initiative that matches the talents of bright, young professionals with local organizations working at the frontlines of reviving Detroit. The Detroit Revitalization Fellows Program (DRFP) selected 29 Fellows with backgrounds in urban planning, economic development, finance, real estate, and related fields out of 650 applicants from across the country.
A lot of the buzz around the program highlights ambitious folks relocating from New York, Seattle, the Bay Area, Washington, D.C., Montreal, Chicago and Los Angeles to further their careers in Detroit, but in reality ten of the fellows were already living in Detroit and nine others had grown up in the metro area or previously lived in the city.
For many of them it was a long-awaited homecoming, which shows that continuing loyalty from the Detroit Diaspora is a hidden asset in the city’s favor. Jela Ellefson, who was working at a Los Angeles urban planning firm before moving back with her husband, an architect, and two children, says, “We always followed what was happening in Detroit, and noticed that the urban planning world was paying a lot of attention. Life in Los Angeles was coming to feel very stressful in terms of time, distance and money.”
The program—a Wayne State project financially supported by the Kresge Foundation, Ford Foundation, Hudson-Webber Foundation, Skillman Foundation and the university—placed fellows at organizations identified as being "actively engaged in building the Detroit of tomorrow." This covers everything from the Data Driven Detroit research firm to the Community Investment Support Fund, which directs investment capital to low-income neighborhoods.
Fellow Matteo Passalacqua works at the Vanguard community development corporation to rehab historic structures as affordable housing in the city’s North End, Owiso Makuku joined the governor’s Office on Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, Marcus Clarke at the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and David Barna at Midtown Detroit Inc. are collaborating to help city firms acquire a larger share of procurement contracts from large local institutions.
One of DRFP’s chief goals is that many of the Fellows will make a long-term commitment to help reviving the city, rather than just sampling the Detroit scene on their way to somewhere else. The program was modeled a similar one in New Orleans that brought young talent to the city after Hurricane Katrina—most of whom stayed after the Fellowship ended, according to DRFP Executive Director Robin Boyle, an urban planning professor at Wayne State.
Dan Varner, CEO of Excellent Schools Detroit who hired Fellow Eric Anderson as the organization’s Director of Digital Media and Engagement, sees the DRFP as important in reversing Detroit’s brain drain. “We’ve been losing talented folks for a long time. Part of what we have to do to recover our potential is stop that drain. The Fellows program represents that potential.”
Jean Redfield, vice-president for Public Programs at Next Energy, a sustainable energy non-profit working with the city, notes, “The program has allowed us to bring in backgrounds we would not ordinarily be hiring. Katy Wyerman fits that with her background in community planning and Erin Kelly with her passion for a waste-free economy. The Detroit Fellows program delivered for us access to skill sets we likely would not have been able to get.”
Despite this high level of enthusiasm, director Robin Boyle is frank about the challenges. He admits he did not anticipate the rippling effect the City of Detroit’s financial emergency would have on work all across the city. In doing it over again, he would also spend more time helping employers get ready for the Fellows.
Indeed, Boyle may have that chance. Discussions are underway about selecting another round of Fellows to start in the fall of 2013, but no firm decision has been made yet.
“The biggest surprise for me was has been how so many of these people fit in so quickly and incredibly well in the world of Detroit,” Boyle notes. “A lot of them are engaged in the community, inside and even outside work. Often I will go to a meeting of some kind or another and walk in to find 2 or 3 Fellows there. That’s a very positive sign.”
Another positive sign is how many Fellows have become ardent advocates of Detroit as a great place not only to make a difference in the world—but a difference in their own lives and careers. Allyson McLean, who grew up in the Detroit suburbs and has worked on brownfield redevelopment for Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and on strategic planning for the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security at the D.C.-area consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, is now aiding real estate development in low-income communities with the Community Investment Support Fund.
“Now that I am back,” she says, “it’s frustrating to hear from friends I grew up with who have no plans to ever return. In many cases they aren’t necessarily staying in places like Chicago because they’ve landed great jobs, they simply think it’s a cooler place to be. They have no idea what they’re missing in their hometown.”
Image courtesy of Sean Davis, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, May 11, 2012 3:13 PM
Available From Detroit Documentary Productions
There are few cities that
have experienced American history as dramatically as Detroit. During most of the 20th
had a reputation as a model city, and during World War II, as an arsenal of
democracy. Through the 1950s, the city’s largely integrated industrial
workforce supported a prosperous middle class. At its peak population level in
1950, the city’s median household income was a third higher than the nation’s. With
these facts, Deforce begins a
heartbreaking history of decline and violence that not only helps explain Detroit’s current crisis,
but also deeply challenges our understanding of poverty, urban politics, and
Deforce is a legal term
meaning unlawfully holding the property of others—in a larger sense,
displacement, alienation, loss of meaningful community. This idea of deforce,
the film argues, is central to Detroit’s
history, and the larger urban American experience. This is particularly true in
poor black neighborhoods, where police violence, a lack of basic municipal
services, and pervasive blight have damaged any connection to a larger
community. Today the effects are vividly felt in a city with a higher murder
rate than wartime Iraq or Northern Ireland.
And while it’s tempting to view Detroit as
remote or anomalous, Deforce situates
it well within the history of suburbanization and the 21st century
politics of urban America.
At the same time, for all
its devastating perception, Deforce
does not succumb to defeatism. Residents interviewed for the film talk as much
about the city’s resilience as about blighted structures or food deserts. And
it’s in this feeling of resilience that the film places much of its forward
momentum, rather than in particular goals or proposals. There is an
unmistakable sense that, even if displaced or alienated, Detroiters feel strongly about where
they come from.
reluctance to offer specific solutions is unfortunate, but it shouldn’t
overshadow the larger narrative. In exploring the deeper roots of Detroit’s ongoing crises,
the film asks difficult questions of its audience that seek to break down a “conspiracy
of silence about urban issues.” The implication is that urban communities
across the United States
suffer from some of the same illnesses, and it’s only by addressing these in a
direct and meaningful way that we can begin to move forward.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 11:45 AM
The decay of present-day Detroit has been well chronicled, and the new documentary film Urban Roots in its first minutes treads familiar ground as it unspools a now-familiar montage of crumbling warehouses and gutted bungalows in the ailing Motor City. But before you can hurl charges of “ruin porn,” the film shifts to its real focus: The gardeners who are turning the vacant lots of Detroit into fields of abundance. Let others focus on what’s dead and dying; this movie is about what’s growing here.
“Resilient” only begins to describe the determined, resourceful Detroiters who have seen jobs and neighbors disappear as the city depopulates. Instead of fleeing, they’ve stayed and begun growing vegetables. Lots of them. You may have heard or read about Detroit’s urban farmers, but Urban Roots really brings the movement alive by getting right down in the furrows with them.
The film, whose production team includes the producer of the Leonardo DiCaprio-hosted green doc The 11th Hour, introduces us to the guys at Brother Nature Produce, who have carved out a small farm that supplies farmers’ markets and a community-supported agriculture (CSA) operation. It shows us the Field of Dreams Mobile Market, which delivers fresh, local produce to sick or elderly people. A rap artist turned pepper picker finds “something positive” in his community garden work, and proud kids mug for the camera not with bling but with vegetables.
Yeah, Urban Roots is a feel-good movie, but in the best kind of way: The positive vibe is, to use the appropriate metaphors, organic instead of artificial, homegrown instead of Hollywood.
The only discordant note for me—and it’s a small one—is a futuristic illustrated montage at the film’s end showing skyscraping “vertical farms” and some ridiculous high-tech floating monstrosity called a “boat farm.” I understand the filmmakers are trying to think big here, but the basic economics of vertical farming are highly questionable at best, and anyway, this sort of large-infrastructure techno-fix is the very antithesis of the do-it-yourself spirit exemplified by the citizen-farmers we’ve just met. They didn’t sit around hoping for some eco-designer to build them a 10-story steel-and-glass farm. They just went to the vacant lot next door and started digging. As one of the farmers says, “It’s an act of self-determination.”
Source: Urban Roots
Images courtesy of Urban Roots Film.
Friday, June 24, 2011 2:11 PM
While the most famous images to come out of the Great Depression, such as Dorothea Lange’s “Migrant Mother” photographs, seem to have been focused on the people upon whom the Depression came crashing down, the prominent images of our tough times seem to focus on the buildings hardest hit. Whereas those Depression-era images force us to see the human struggle, some have argued that the images of today, ubiquitously known as “ruin porn,” allow the viewer to disconnect the human consequences from these dilapidated and abandoned buildings. They are, after all, places that people once lived, places where commerce once thrived, and in many cases, the people are still living just outside the lens.
Utne’s been covering this trend since at least as far back as 2009, usually focusing our attention on the fascinating journey of Detroit over the last few years. Of course, Detroit is not the only city where buildings have been neglected, where places have been abandoned. And the U.S. is not the only country to have its map spotted with such places. The blog fuckyeahghosttowns takes the reader all around the world, from an abandoned motel near Los Angeles to an earthquake ravaged town in Sicily. As with the latter, not all of these images are of places left destitute as a result of the most recent economic downturn. Many, though, do have in common the fact that they were left to wither because of some change on the face of the economy over the last century. Towns built up to cater to one burgeoning development, left to die when our fancies change course. Many of the images are accompanied by the back story that led to the unique place in time when the photo was snapped.
Though there are no people in these images, I for one cannot help but see human faces all over them. After all, it’s clear that these places were made for us. How can you not wonder where all the people who once lived, slept, played, worked, and ate at each of these places have gone?
Related: “Turning Suffering into a Still Life,” “Fallen City with a Heart of Gold,” and “The Problem with Documentary Photography of Urban Decay”
Image by ctsnow, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 12, 2011 10:02 PM
Editor note: Make sure to also check out an article from the May-June 2011 issue of Utne Reader on this topic, “Turning Suffering into a Still Life: ‘Ruin porn’ aesthetically disconnects human suffering from devastation”
Leave it to the French to find a strange and poignant beauty in the reeling and degraded remnants of the once-great American nation. This past April, after more than five years of exploration amid the back alleys, ruined halls, pot-holed streets, and emptied factories of the failing Queen of Midwestern Cities, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre released their photographic homage to the place, The Ruins of Detroit. And the results of these two French artists' prurient and somewhat sordid interest in the fallen city reveals—in much the same way that porn reveals—something about the hidden beliefs, latent habits of thought, and dark submerged impulses that exist in some subterranean place in the heart of our culture.
Detroit’s fall is poignant in both its rapidity and completeness. Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, up until the 1960s, Detroit was widely acknowledged to be a key American manufacturing center. The city's population swelled mid-last century to become the fifth-largest of all American cities, and, as Detroit's rose, the local cityscape filled with beautiful monumental structures: The United Artists Theater, the Whitney Building, the Farwell Building, Michigan Central Station. As Edmund Wilson said of Detroit in the 1930s, as was quoted in Thomas Sugrue’s essay accompanying the book, “You can see here, as it is impossible to do in a more varied and complex city, the whole structure of an industrial society.” Detroit was famous for making cars of course, but also for its establishing a massive war manufacturing works during World War II, for producing a national musical sound, and for being a touchpoint for industrial caprice and the accompanying labor unrest. “There is no better place than Detroit to observe the dialectical forces of modern capitalism,” Segrue writes, “often in their most exaggerated forms. Detroit is a place of both permanence and evanescence, of creation and destruction, of monumentality and disposability, of place and placelessness, of power and disempowerment.”
The initial frontispiece (untitled) image in The Ruins of Detroit
shows a plastered, faded aerial photograph of Detroit at its height. Parts of the image-within-the-image are peeling away, revealing chipped and gouged paint on the wall underneath, and in the middle of the image someone has spray-painted, "You are here," with an arrow pointing to the top of a central muscular skyscraper. Despite the fading colors of the photographed city, the peeling paper and wall paint, and the spray paint, the image still clearly shows a once-regal city. The buildings in the picture are strong, ornate, erect—if somewhat overly muscular in that way of America during its 20th century rise to power and riches. The boulevards are wide, and they angle in toward several lovely open public spaces and walking plazas. Detroit at its height was as beautiful and golden a place as there was in the world, which is world's away from what the city is now.
y, all-but abandoned by a diminished industrial base (that moved off-shore) and all-but evacuated by the white middle-class (that fled to the suburbs), Detroit has become, symbolically speaking, an urban hooker with a heart of gold. Compare for instance the faded photo of Detroit at its apex to another look at the same landscape taken by Marchand and Meffre from inside a now-ruined downtown building, “View on Woodward Avene, Broderick Tower." In the latter image, the city's once-elegant buildings have faded to squalidness. They are cracked and crumbling, hard and gray. The wide boulevard is uninviting, almost devoid of the former bustle of the mid-20th century version of the city. And this doesn’t even begin to describe the cracked, dingy, neglected interior of the Broderick Tower. Detroit in this image is a clearly diminished place, whose strength and beauty has faded under sustained abandonment. The once-beautiful woman, at least in these artists' view, has been used up and cruelly cast aside.
Dozens and dozens of images in The Ruins of Detroit explore this loss of vitality and beauty. And many reveal the violence inherent in such decay and ruin. In "Ballroom, Lee Plaza Hotel," the irrevocable destruction is fully on display. The once-luxurious, excessively ornate decor of the ballroom—all the plaster and marble and gilt that once covered the arches, vaults, recessed window bays, and doorways—is now cracked, crumbling, and turned to dust. The walls and floors are coated with ghost-white and dingy residue as thick as after a nuclear winter. And in the middle of the room, resting on its side as if violently cast aside, a grand piano gives another hint at the space's former grandeur. It looks, in its toppled state in this image, much like the "Dying Gaul," if that sculpture had been left out on the field of battle. These ruins, this decay—the dying piano seems to be saying with its wrenching last words—this is a death not just of a city and its monuments. This is the death, the piano gasps, of an entire culture.
On their website, Marchand and Meffre justify their sordid interest in Detroit by saying that "ruins are the visible symbols and landmarks of our societies and their changes ... the volatile result of the change of eras and the fall of empires. This fragility leads us to watch them one very last time: to be dismayed, or to admire, it makes us wonder about the permanence of things." What this means is scores of images of imploding or exploding buildings, blown-out, windowless, and element-ravaged; suddenly abandoned and ruin-strewn spaces, including schools, libraries, theaters, ballrooms, churches, and other sad remnants of a formerly thriving culture; and emptiness and squalor where a beautiful and vibrant city once existed. These photos of a shockingly ruined Detroit illustrate how transient and fleeting are youth, beauty, power, wealth—especially in a nation unwilling or unable to protect or care for such virtues.
Fascination with the ruin of Detroit, of course, is not particularly new. Books and photographic projects started appearing just before the turn of the last century, when what was happening to the city was becoming more apparent to observers. The DetroitYes web project, for example, has chronicled the decline of Detroit online since late 1997. The website, run by the artist Lowell Boileau includes thousands of web images, descriptions of lost and ruined historical and cultural treasures, and a discussion forum. And in Camilo Jose Vergara's book American Ruins parts of Detroit are featured alongside the ruined and decayed areas of other cities like New York City, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Gary, and Los Angeles. Still, the fascination with Detroit as the emblematic paragon of American decay has accelerated in recent years, coinciding with the recessionary times since 2008. In the past year alone, three large-format coffee table books depicting the squalor and ruin of Detroit have been released by major publishers. These include Marchand and Meffre’s book, as well as Lost Detroit by author Dan Austin and photographer Sean Doerr and Detroit Disassembled by Philip Levine and Andrew Moore.
To understand why Detroit so fascinates us today, we’d have to look back to what the “hooker with a heart of gold” archetype, which, while nearly as old as literature itself, continues to fascinate a variety of cultures. Characters as diverse as Mary Magdalene (from the New Testament) and Vasantasena from an ancient Sanskrit drama, Fantine from Les Miserables and Violetta Valery from La Traviata, and Vivian Ward from the movie Pretty Woman, Latika from Slumdog Millionaire, and pretty much any Heather Graham role (Boogie Nights, Hangover, etc…) are typically seen as a symbolic representations of good people (women) forced into desperate life situations by powers beyond their control. These characters serve as gentle warnings that even good people sometimes end up—despite their best intentions, despite their natural goodness—in less than savory life situations. Detroit has been degraded, debased, and turned to a shadow of what she once was, not by any inherent fault of her own—or, more to the point, by any fault of our own—but just because that’s the nature of the world.
Some cities in this world, in this heartless country of ours, are meant to be treated and feted like royalty. And others are meant to sell themselves off piecemeal to keep from starving. That’s just how it goes.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications. Read his previous posts here.
All photos, which originally appeared in Marchand and Meffre’s book The Ruins of Detroit, are included here courtesy of Steidl Press.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011 10:04 PM
In ordinary times, in the ordinary places of North America, emerging artists come and go like the passing seasons. If you’re a talented young video artist, say, living in Dubuque and gaining regional attention, or if you’re an edgy photographer who has won a big grant award in Baltimore, what you do, nine times out of ten, is move away. You take your potentially fleeting cultural capital and attempt to parlay it into a big-time career by going to the Big City. For most, this means escaping to New York, but it can also mean (if your art is more media-driven) going to L.A. or, if you're more intrepid and enterprising, Berlin or London. For years, the story of most smaller-market art communities—such as Minneapolis, Vancouver, Seattle (on and off), Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Portland, etc.—has often been more about who has left the scene than who remains behind.
This peculiar dynamic in art is due to the economic realities of art-making. That is, first and foremost, the market for selling art is a constant buyer's market. Because of the intrinsic appeal of the creative life (as well as other economic realities explained below), there will always be a plentiful supply of people wanting to be artists and never enough people to purchase what artists make. A 2001 Rand research brief reported that between 1970 and 1980, the number of self-identified artists in the U.S. doubled to 1.6 million, even though the U.S. population grew only about 11 percent over the same period. “Growth [in the number of artists] is not a sign that things have gotten better,” wrote Bill Ivey in his study of the business of the arts, Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights (2010). “Once entry into a creative profession has been secured, the challenges of piecing together enough income to sustain a quality of life commensurate with education or training become apparent. Worrisome trends in employment and compensation cut across the creative professions.” As a result of this dearth of opportunity and support, according to Ivey, “artists must practice where the action is, in big cities where the cost of housing and work space outstrips the financial resources of all but the most successful.”
In other words, the artistic draw of the Big City is also the result of another strange facet of the economics of art: It attracts, in a very limited way, very Big Money. Most art markets—in visual art in particular, but also in music, filmmaking, and so on—are essentially what economists call a “winner-take-all” economy. Meaning, for the very few who rise to the top of the market the payoffs are astronomical. But for those who don't rise up, income remains scarce. A few years ago, for example, the British artist Damien Hirst was selling paintings for more than $1 million apiece, and his steel glass pill cabinet installation piece Where There’s a Will There’s a Way sold for $7.15 million. And while artists are often conflicted about the influence of money on art—Hirst himself once said: “Money complicates everything. I have a genuine belief that art is a more powerful currency than money—that’s the romantic feeling that an artist has. But you start to have this sneaking feeling that money is more powerful”—very few artists would ever turn down a big paycheck for one of their works, nor would they propose spreading the paycheck around to support the activities of their peers.
Unfair as the art market is to the vast majority of artists, sustained economic malaise can be a great leveler. Poor times—like the ones we’ve been living through since 2008—can flatten the economic landscape, diminishing the advantages of living in the Big City in relation to the disadvantages of the monetary and personal/social costs. A recent, widely circulated story by Crain’s New York business website described the struggles that New York artists have been facing over the past several years: Increasing rents, heightened urban pressures, disappearing jobs, loss of sales, diminishing income, and the like. Because of these factors, a recent survey by the New York Foundation for the Arts found that 43 percent of New York’s artists expected their annual income to drop by 26 percent to 50 percent over the next six months, and 11 percent believed they would have to leave New York within six months. “In New York, you have so much pressure to survive,” one musician and composer said, “you don't even know what you did that day.” As a result, the report suggested, artists are fleeing the once-alluring Big Cities and giving smaller, more cost-effective American cities a try.
At the same time, a recently released report on the creative sectors in Los Angeles told much the same story. The report, conducted by the Los Angeles Country Economic Development Corp., found that the ten local creative industries it surveyed saw a 7 percent decline in overall income and a net loss of nearly 40,000 jobs. And while the report had no exact numbers regarding a potential artist exodus from Los Angeles, it’s easy to speculate, based on these numbers, that economic and other pressures on the local artist community will only continue, as in New York, to mount across the region.
So, with artists suffering in the two largest American cultural Meccas, where is a struggling artist to go? Where can artists find arms welcoming enough to provide a chance to sustain their careers? Well, as it happens, perhaps sensing an opportunity in the leveled fields of the current economy several of America’s bleakest, and most economically depressed, cities—Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland, among others—have begun making their case to become the next American artistic epicenter. All of these places have begun offering incentives like housing allowances (or otherwise cheap housing options), grants and other competitive awards, and other support to artists, even as they promise at least some of the cultural amenities—museums, arts events, and the like—that one can find in the Big Cities.
It will take a few years until we know for certain whether these smaller cities’ efforts will reap the cultural rewards that both urban planners and artists-on-the-make are desperate to harvest. Until things shake out, then, art lovers everywhere owe it to themselves to appreciate the art in their cities while they still can. Otherwise you never know: Next time you get around to looking for your favorite local artists, they may well be gone.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications. Read his previous posts here.
Michael Fallon is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Source: City Pages, Broken Pencil, Gothamist
, licensed under
Thursday, January 20, 2011 11:22 AM
On the heels of Utne’s Work Package in our latest issue, Boston Review has a forum on the possibilities for full employment in today’s economy.
Who says that wind power needs to come from turbines? Introducing: fibro-wind arrays.
In what may be the most important piece of news this week, Paul the Psychic Octopus’ soccer-predicting legacy will not be forgotten.
From Guernica: Detroitism: What does “ruin porn” tell us about the motor city?
A visual number crunching of the state of modern-day marriage. There’s nothing like graphs and pretty pictures to get the point across.
The New Republic’s art critic on the state of photojournalism.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 3:32 PM
Imagine a city transformed. High-rises become layers of indoor farms that grow produce all year long. Skeletons of old houses sheathed in plastic are now greenhouses. The goal is immediate access to food. That’s what investigative journalist Mark Dowie imagines for Detroit. But this isn’t some utopian vision. Dowie visited Detroit and traveled around with residents there who are transforming their city. He reported his findings in an article we reprinted in our November-December 2009 issue from the online art and politics magazine Guernica. The article was called Food Among the Ruins. Jeff Severns Guntzel spoke with Dowie about what he found in Detroit.
A conversation with Mark Dowie (13:58)
Or download the podcast at iTunes or the UtneCast blog.
Friday, August 28, 2009 2:37 PM
If thinking about Detroit conjures up depressing images of battle-scarred landscapes, you must read Mark Dowie’s proposal to turn the city into an “agrarian paradise.” Writing for Guernica, Dowie lays out an ambitious argument for why this maligned city—which is home to zero grocery chains or big-box stores and is very nearly a complete food desert—“may be best positioned to become the world’s first 100 percent food self-sufficient city.”
The most intriguing visionaries in Detroit, at least the ones who drew me to the city, were those who imagine growing food among the ruins—chard and tomatoes on vacant lots (there are over 103,000 in the city, 60,000 owned by the city), orchards on former school grounds, mushrooms in open basements, fish in abandoned factories, hydroponics in bankrupt department stores, livestock grazing on former golf courses, high-rise farms in old hotels, vermiculture, permaculture, hydroponics, aquaponics, waving wheat where cars were once test-driven, and winter greens sprouting inside the frames of single-story bungalows stripped of their skin and re-sided with Plexiglas—a homemade greenhouse. Those are just a few of the agricultural technologies envisioned for the urban prairie Detroit has become.
Dowie examines a few interesting proposals and checks in with several burgeoning urban-farming movements in the city, from nonprofits and schools to the “backyard garden boom” being spurred by immigrants from Laos and Bangladesh.
He also meets a few skeptics who are wary of a field-filled Detroit, but he remains excited at the prospect of the city’s “rural future.”
“Where else in the world can one find a one-hundred-and-forty-square-mile agricultural community with four major league sports teams, two good universities, the fifth largest art museum in the country, a world-class hospital, and headquarters of a now-global industry, that while faltering, stands ready to green their products and keep three million people in the rest of the country employed?”
Image by photofarmer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, August 20, 2009 10:57 AM
I must admit, I am a big fan of the popular genre of documentary photography known as “Urban Decay.” Images of abandoned buildings or city blocks gone to seed can make for some strange and beautiful photos. And if urban decay photography has a capital city, it’s Detroit.
Vice magazine is critical of photographers and journalists who visit Detroit and come away with the same old stories and post-apocolyptic Detroit photographs in this cheeky article by Thomas Morton. He talks to Detroit photographer James Griffioen, who says he frequently fields phone calls “from outside journalists looking for someone to sherpa them to the city’s best shitholes”:
You get worn down trying to show them all the different sides of the city, then watching them go back and write the same story as everyone else. The photographers are the worst. Basically the only thing they’re interested in shooting is ruin porn.
Not every story coming out of Detroit is bad news, check out Bloggers Versus Blight from our Nov.-Dec. 2008 issue, a story about the feisty newspaper Detroit News.
Image by John in Mich, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 11, 2008 11:57 AM
Since the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 2 million Iraqis have been driven out of the country, and observers have criticized the U.S. government’s reluctance to shoulder the responsibility for taking care of these refugees. The State Department has been slow to resettle displaced Iraqis within U.S. borders. By its own admission, the department has accepted only 4,238 Iraqi refugees into the country as of April 2008.
In a feature last week, Detroit’s Metro Times takes a more intimate look at the lives of these refugees, explaining the United States' obligation to them better than any set of figures can. The piece focuses particularly on people who have been subjected to violence because of their connections to the United States: Iraqis who worked with the U.S. government or businesses in Iraq, and with Chaldeans, a Christian minority group subjected to violence because the religion is associated with American culture.
One young man interviewed for the piece fell into both categories and fled Iraq after some harrowing harassment. Six of his coworkers were murdered, and he grew fearful for his own life after being followed home by cars of armed men and receiving anonymous phone calls demanding the names of his company’s Iraqi employees.
Metro Times also highlights the difficulties faced by Iraqi refugees upon arrival in the United States: struggling to master English, find jobs, and build communities while dealing with the emotional consequences of war. Some Michigan-specific organizations have cropped up to support them, but it's clear there are no easy solutions.
Last year, Congress passed the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act, which forces the State Department to create concrete strategies to resettle more Iraqis in the United States. As more refugees make their homes here, it's important to keep these stories visible in the continuing discussion about the United States' responsibility to Iraq.
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