[Originally published by ModelD. All photos depict homes that were occupied when they were acquired by Detroit Land Bank Authority but are now vacant.]
Detroit’s greatest paradox is its abundance of space and its scarcity of quality housing.
The massive stock of single family homes once sustained double the current population. Yet each year, more Detroit homeowners become renters, squatters or altogether homeless. The problem is complex but the solutions do not have to be: what is needed is an immediate, scalable solution that will create stability and an upward trajectory for people, property, and the city at large.
Above the land, exposed and hard
they’re aching just for touch.
They chase a thousand beaded dreams
but never have enough.
When aching grows, it overflows-
a sharp and biting cuss,
In our eyes, their reflection,
so, they tried to bury us
Inverted dome, we made it home-
a womb beneath the crust.
We bore so deep, in waking sleep,
like seeds with waterlust.
And when the river didn’t sate
We dug still lower wells,
unbudded branches lay in wait-
those fallow patient cells.
From depth restrained, and dark contained-
no count of nights gone by-
until that time, again we rise
roots first, and then the sky.
This poem is written as a message of solidarity from Detroit to Standing Rock, with particular recognition for the Pueblo Camp who taught me the significance of building shelter underground in the womb of the earth.
In the early morning light, a line of people slowly builds at the front doors of the 36th District Court. A bail bondsman in parachute pants stands patiently beside the line, waiting for the grinding gears of justice inside the building to churn out some clients for him.
The 36th District Courthouse is near the hub of Gratiot’s spoke, in an area that hosts an unlikely mix of functions: large-scale entertainment and criminal justice. Comerica Park and Ford Field are blocks away, and so is the unfinished jail, which is the possible site of a possible arena for a possible MLS team. The court itself is the subject of rumors about being turned into a hotel. Perfect. The sports-and-justice district brings an interesting variety of people here at different times of week and day. Sprinkled throughout are parking lots and hotdog vendors that are surprisingly well suited to both client bases.
From where he sits in his tiny booth on the north side of the Fisher Building, Gerry can see about half of a city block. Gerry is the attendant for Tony’s Parking on Lothrop Street. He has spent at least 60 hours a week here for the past 30 years, and he knows this place and its people with an alarming intimacy, though he is oblivious to what occurs just around the next corner. When I moved into the apartment building adjacent to the lot that is Gerry’s province, I had no idea that this outspoken parking attendant would have such a persistent, if minor, role in my life.
Above all else, Gerry is a witness to this neighborhood. His official territory includes only the parking lot, but his domain extends as far as his vision. He is the type of figure that Jane Jacobs would herald as the best kind of “eyes on the street,” with mutual trust, if not affection, on the part of the observer and its subjects.
Gerry arrives to work every day before 7 a.m. He calls “information” to make sure the time on his clock is perfect so no one can say he overcharged. He surveys the area, shoveling snow away from the sidewalk or sweeping puddled rainwater into the sewer. As people arrive, he files cars in rows according to the duration of their stay to maximize capacity and minimize block-ins. It’s an endless game of horizontal tetris.
“How long you gonna stay?” he says in his faintly antagonistic way. Gerry is so severely gruff that it’s almost endearing because he seems to care so little about what others think of him. In Gerry’s eyes, everyone has an agenda and he’s not in it. He preempts others’ dismissal with casual conspiracies about people who look at him the wrong way “I know what she’s about.” Gerry knows that the people who visit his lot aren’t there for him; they are there for a service. After a brief exchange of money and words, Gerry is left to watch people’s prized possessions, alone, like an underappreciated nanny.
Gerry is famous for his non sequiturs: “Good morning!” might be answered with “My life is more complicated than yours” or “Ain’t nobody else could do this job.” Sometimes he just repeats himself by way of extending a conversation that lacks momentum: “You gotta go? You gotta go now? Where ya going? You gotta go?” This elementary form of interrogation actually works to the point that Gerry is the keystone of gossip in the surrounding social landscape. (You’d be surprised how much personal information you give away when everything you say is answered with “what else?” five consecutive times.) Continue reading “Parking Lot Gerry”
Gov. Rick Snyder has apologized for the inexcusable failures of leadership that led to the current situation in Flint, where tens of thousands of individuals, including children, have been poisoned, dismissed, neglected, and lied to. What’s clear at this stage is that great harm has been done to both people and the city’s infrastructure.
Now that state and local government have acknowledged the truth, they will have to do something about it. Any good nerd knows that “I’m sorry” doesn’t de-corrode miles of water piping or detoxify children – we need money to pay for that. But how will we find it? Here are some policy suggestions that could help ameliorate the water crisis in Flint and buttress the rest of our state’s deteriorating infrastructure.
Top it off
In the midst of ongoing financial and social instability in many of Michigan’s cities, the price of oil happens to be at a 10-year low. The current approach to this happy circumstance seems to be to just enjoy the break at the pump, but we are missing a real opportunity. The fact is that Michigan is facing grotesque infrastructure disinvestment, with aging roads and water infrastructure that our governments have proven to be either unwilling or incapable of addressing. We need to take collective action to take advantage of the opportunity that low oil rates present. What Michigan needs is a “Top Off” law that would set a price floor on gas prices.
Under this law, any time market rates of gas fall below $2.00/gallon, the gas station would become a savings account for state and local infrastructure fund. The differential between market rates and that indexed value (which could grow gradually over time) would provide funding for projects from road repairs to water pipeline modernization. If market rates exceed $2.00/gal, then we pay nothing. If prices stay above that index, well, we’re no worse off than we are now. The law would create a fund to address infrastructure issues that aren’t getting paid for now, and certainly won’t be when gas rates hike back up again. Continue reading “Policy ideas to fix Flint’s water crisis (and help avoid another)”
Since I moved to this city, I’ve kept a note on my phone to keep track of the weird ways that my phone interprets the word Detroit. They’re not exactly electronic Freudian slips, but it’s still fascinating to see how my careless spelling is contorted.
Post-bankruptcy Detroit is a place of undeniable opportunity, and people from all walks of life are eager to make the most of it. Massive tax foreclosures led to a record 24,000 properties being up for auction this fall, pitting residents against speculators for the chance to buy a home on the cheap. Everyone is trying to take advantage, but not everyone’s advantage corresponds with the best interests of the city.
So what is best for the city? It comes down to short versus long-term interests. Renters have shorter-term interests than their landlords and landlords have shorter-term interests that owner-occupants. One who depends on a home to raise their kids in has a different incentive to care for a property than one who sees it as a complement to their investment portfolio. For individuals, homeownership provides security in two major ways: First, by offering shelter, and second by offering stability. For speculators, property ownership provides a low-risk, low-effort form of passive income.
A study by the Journal of Urban Affairs bears this out, showing that in Detroit, the prevalence of rental properties is a strong indicator of neighborhood crime (even more so than blight). The type of benefit a property owner gains from owning a property has a direct correlation to how much the community benefits in response. Continue reading “Taking Advantage of Detroit”
Today is the one-year anniversary form the day my soccer team bought me a brand new computer. With one exception, it is also the longest I have gone without throwing up in 11 years. 5 years ago, I enjoyed a 3 month reprieve during which I truly believed myself to be free and clear and cured. I was wrong– I was far from cured and it was far from over. Of the 4,000 days in this decade-plus of addiction, I probably have passed 3000 of them with one, or two, or three, or a dozen violent acts of purging somewhere between waking and sleeping. For most of this time, a week without vomiting was a heroic and rare occasion. For much of the time, a day without it was impossibly hard. For a long stretch, every meal contained a sacrifice to the toilet and all that was digested was what had been absorbed before I got rid of it and what remained after the mighty tide took the rest away. I was not well.
I have always hated this disease, have always known it was wrong. From the very beginning, I confided to friends and sought therapy and fought against it. But it was deceptively strong and I found I couldn’t control it so eventually I gave in to it. It demanded a lot from me: I lied, I stole, I wasted money and time, I lost my self-respect to keep my addiction alive. For as much as I gave to enable it, it is nothing compared to how much I have given to overcome it. I took medication and years of therapy. I went to rehab. I ended my marriage. I went to rehab again. I quit my job and walked 700 miles alone through the wilderness. I moved to Detroit. I went to rehab again. I got in a relationship. I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and flew a kite on the summit to symbolize my recovery. I ended a relationship. I got into a new relationship. I ended that. I got back with my old boyfriend. I broke up with him again. Each of these things played out in a concert of reading, writing, medication, hypnosis, self-intervention and public confession; each of these and in whole or in part was an effort to get well, to overcome my demon, to save my life.
One year ago, at some miserable point along that cycle, I took a routine trip to CVS to buy food for a binge. Returning to my car with a carton of Moose Tracks, a box Cinnamon Toast Cruch and a gallon of milk no more than 3 minutes after I had left it, I encountered a scene that rocked my entire world: broken glass, broken window, missing computer. The platform for all of my writing, the home for all my photos, the means for all my income– gone in a moment. And for what? a $9.00 8,000 calorie high that was destroying my body. Continue reading “You Righted the Wrong Girl”
Discussion of the demolition of the Park Avenue Hotel, as published by Deadline Detroit
“So devastating, but so controlled.” That was the eloquent observation of Uncle Nate, a homeless man and self-professed Detroit historian who summarized the demolition of the once-beautiful Italian Renaissance, Park Avenue Hotel Saturday morning. To him, the instantaneous obliteration of the massive, 13-story structure at 2643 Park Avenue in the Cass Corridor was a clear reminder of how much easier it is to destroy than to build. This is a truth that Detroit must reckon with every day, which is why it is so important to carefully consider what we allow to be taken away.
New York used to be the city with no past– beautiful edifices were sacrificed with minimal controversy to make way for the new and the better. New Yorkers who disagreed with such practices lamented the loses, but ultimately surrendered to their powerlessness to stop the forces of progress and change, the loss of something so irretrievable as a demolished building. That was, until, the original Penn Station was destroyed and replaced by the current iteration, which is to the old station what cardboard is to marble. Not coincidentally, the removal of Penn Station also made way for the construction of Madison Square Garden, the stale arena which is architecturally stale.
This was the final straw– New Yorkers, historians and architects organized to create the landmark preservation act, which was immediately used to protect Grand Central Station. It has been responsible for saving hundreds of historical structures since. It also paved the way for national preservationist movements of the same form. Continue reading “Another One Bites the Dust”