Street Smart Chicago

Why Detroit?

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Illustration by Detroit's own Stephen Schudlich

Illustration by Detroit’s own Stephen Schudlich

Chicago’s smaller cousin to the northeast has been suffering a fair bit these recent years, becoming something of a punching bag for out-of-town media, politicians and comedians. But from its depths, something special is underway. Detroit is reimagining itself, and starting to live up to its “renaissance city” moniker. We started taking notice of this during the great recession, when artists from all over the world started moving to Detroit, lured by its bargain real estate and urban grit. Like Berlin a half generation or so ago, it’s becoming a creative mecca, and with that seeing new life in its culture, a rethinking of its design and built environment, and new vigor in its entrepreneurial spirit. The future of Detroit seems unbound from its one-industry past. To coin an overused ad slogan from its automotive legacy, this ain’t your father’s Detroit.

In the spirit of our annual summer road-trip editions, several of our writers and editors—some Motor City expats, others Chicago through and through—visited and explored. At the same time, we connected with writers, artists and designers with boots on the ground, who added a native’s insight. What better way to celebrate our nation’s birthday than with a deep meditation on one great American city? And in doing so, gain some insight into our own city, and ourselves?  Read the rest of this entry »

For the Love of Detroit: Reimagining A City By and For Those Who Stayed

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buffalo st neighborhood.jpb

Photo: David Kukier

By David Kukier

My earliest memories take place on Detroit’s west side, in the 1980s still a patchwork of working- and middle-class neighborhoods anchored by churches, bars and multigenerational businesses. I would return as a resident in 2003 to a vastly different landscape: holdouts, areas sustained by the sheer tenacity of residents and a strange sense of freedom created by so much disinvestment and mismanagement.

In the real estate boom of 2006, Detroit’s core neighborhoods would suddenly enjoy a renaissance of those drawn back to urban life and a market buoyed by rising demand. And I would move again, from a century-old hodgepodge of artists, eccentrics and a fellow tenant who once welcomed my arrival by vaguely threatening me with a knife while trimming roses, cautioning me to ignore the cocaine-induced violence that his apartment played host to on Saturdays. I settled in the low-rent district of a shabby but workable immigrant enclave, where the process would repeat itself again a decade later, the standard Craigslist banner screaming, “Tired of outrageous Midtown rents? Move here!”

Recession slightly slowed development downtown and along the Woodward corridor, but its effect in the neighborhoods was devastating. Suddenly anyone still working at all could afford to flee failing schools and the constant specter of crime for the relative peace of the suburbs. Mortgage scams imploded and neighborhoods I drove through daily started to disappear as owners and tenants walked, and scrappers, firebugs and the elements moved through. Read the rest of this entry »

Rotland Funnies: Detroit Comics

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Edited by Ryan Standfest.( Click to enlarge.)rotland_funnies-final-version2

After the Rapture: Unforgettable Journeys to the Four Corners of Detroit

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Dequindre Cut/Photo: Andrew Jameson

Dequindre Cut/Photo: Andrew Jameson

By F. Philip Barash

I greeted the millennium from a former laundry factory near the old Tiger Stadium. It had been indifferently converted to lofts and managed with the lightest of touches. On game days, the neighborhood did brisk trade in beer and parking. Otherwise, it felt as if the rapture had happened and only we few were left behind to indulge in sin. The whole city felt like that, and you sensed that if you stuck around Detroit long enough, you’d know every last sinner by his Christian name.

The loft, which I shared with a roommate who was always either between jobs or girlfriends, served as a headquarters for a constellation of friends and acquaintances who, although not yet out of their teenage years, had been thrust into worldly knowledge by the very fact that they were daily immersed in Detroit, a fact we all carried with us like a dark and tattered halo. The first night in the loft, as we were unpacking records and blasting jazz, a neighbor came by to tell us to knock it off. We discovered later that he was the great Detroit DJ Stacey Pullen. Our other next-door neighbor was a woman approaching middle age and possessed of the calm and poise of a spiritual guru; she ran a porno studio from her two-story loft. It was decorated with floor-to-ceiling fabric panels that seemed to never cease billowing, a few leather settees, and not much else. On weekends, when her young daughter visited, the space would fill with the smell of baking. Once, they left a platter of fresh cookies at our door.

A neighbor down the hall was imbued with an intense, Mephistophelian, charm; slight, dressed well but without flash, and invariably polite, he traveled flanked by a pair of Rottweilers. Because he was a well-known drug dealer, the unit he shared with his dogs and lieutenants was not infrequently raided by the cops. He always knew when a raid was coming and was exceedingly apologetic when he informed us of them. “I hate to be presumptuous,” he’d tell me after knocking on the door, “but I’m expecting a visit and wonder if you might spare room in your refrigerator for”—and here he would enunciate especially clearly—“a volume of acid.” He handed over a pickle jar filled with pure liquid LSD and invited us to use as much as we might want, and so we praised him as a good neighbor and stayed awake for days. Read the rest of this entry »

Dime Stories: H is for Hawk—and Helen

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Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

Illustration: Tony Fitzpatrick

By Tony Fitzpatrick

Every once in a while a book sneaks up and surprises you. What fascinates me the most about Helen Macdonald’s exquisite “H is for Hawk” is what it is not. It is an intimate, fierce memoir of furious loss, falconry, as well as a meditation on the lonely legacy of Arthurian novelist T.H. White; it is also a love letter to the English countryside which she renders in lyrically brackish beauty when describing the winter “hawking.”

What it isn’t? It isn’t like anything I’ve ever read—and this is a good thing. It’s a serious book about how you negotiate life when tragedy and death blindside you and leave you alone in the world.

The book is written in a language so rich one must read it slowly to savor the story and its telling, which unfolds after the passing of Helen’s father—a news photographer, a watcher and a transcriber of the mysteries of planes that fly over. He casts an immense shadow over this story and his daughter’s grief is enormous.

She decides to lose herself in the training of a goshawk. An experienced falconer; she endeavors to tame and train the most contrary and fierce of hunting hawks. Even experienced falconers—good ones—approach the idea of flying goshawks with great pause. Read the rest of this entry »

Farm City: Sampling Detroit’s Thriving Urban Agriculture Movement

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Plum Street Farm

Plum Street Farm

By Sharon Hoyer

It was an unseasonably brisk day in late April that I donned my denim overalls and headed out to an empty lot on the west side of Detroit to help build a seasonal high tunnel (better known as a hoop house to some of us, mistaken for a greenhouse by many others) on a residential street. When I arrived around 10am, half a dozen workers were milling about or atop ladders, joining the ribcage of a 2,000-square-foot temporary structure that would allow Raphael Ortega to transform the vacant land next to his home into a productive farm three seasons a year. Assuming things warmed up a bit, that is. I rubbed my hands and found myself wishing I’d worn gloves and a wool hat instead of rugged overalls. A rooster crowed in Mr. Ortega’s backyard, unfazed by the overcast day.

The volunteer workday was part of a series of free agricultural education events hosted by the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and Development Council. From February to October, the RC&D is hosting free events in and around Detroit for anyone interested in urban agriculture as a potential future career. Financing came from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and technical expertise came from Michigan State University (which, as a land-grant college, has a highly reputed agricultural program), along with the nonprofit Keep Growing Detroit. A lot of resources were going into the programming specifically geared toward job creation. The high tunnel on Mr. Ortega’s land must be used to grow produce for sale at market. The high-tunnel construction project would take three days, start-to-finish, and anyone was welcome to come lend a hand and learn for any length of time. About mid-afternoon a neighbor, well into her seventies and clad in a Tigers windbreaker, approached a small group of us wrapping up installation of baseboards along the western side of the structure and asked, “Who’s the foreman on this job? I can’t kneel, but I can work.” Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of July 2, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): To determine whether you are aligned with the cosmic flow, please answer the following questions. 1. Would you say that your current situation is more akin to treading water in a mosquito-ridden swamp, or conducting a ritual of purification in a clear mountain stream? 2. Have you been wrestling with boring ghosts and arguing with traditions that have lost most of their meaning? Or have you been transforming your past and developing a riper relationship with your roots? 3. Are you stuck in a gooey muck? Or are you building a flexible new foundation? Read the rest of this entry »

Free Will Astrology: Week of June 25, 2015

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By Rob Brezsny

ARIES (March 21-April 19): During my regular hikes along my favorite trails, I’ve gotten to know the local boulders quite intimately. It might sound daft, but I’ve come to love them. I’ve even given some of them names. They symbolize stability and constancy to me. When I gaze at them or sit on them, I feel my own resolve grow stronger. They teach me about how to be steadfast and unflappable in all kinds of weather. I draw inspiration from the way they are so purely themselves, forever true to their own nature. Now would be an excellent time for you to hang out with your own stony allies, Aries. You could use a boost in your ability to express the qualities they embody. Read the rest of this entry »

Capping It Off: Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa Walk Into A Bar…

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Brad Richards - Chicago Blackhawks" by Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA - IMG_7583. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Brad Richards – Chicago Blackhawks” by Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA – IMG_7583. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Don De Grazia

Like many adults self-consciously seeking intellectual justification for their maniacal attachment to a sports team, I maintain that my obsession with the Blackhawks quest to regain the Stanley Cup was largely cerebral, spiritual even—as edifying and inspirational as any philosophical text, and chock full of practical-yet-profound life lessons: Hustle and flow, grind and glide. Never give up, never lose confidence, every new contest is a clean slate. Adversity is the greatest motivator, and it’s never too late—but don’t cut things too close, or you might get smacked down by a random roll of the dice in the form of a floppy puck bouncing off your own player into the net to hand the 2014 LA Kings the golden ticket.

During the last NHL pre-season, I was having a nightcap at a mostly empty West Loop bar when I realized that the three men sitting stiffly at a table across the room were none other than Marian Hossa (my all-time favorite Hawk), Patrick Kane (the greatest stick wizard in hockey) and… some other dude. I realized that this was The New Guy—Brad Richards—who had just been brought in to center for Kane. Richards was a star in his own right, and had sacrificed an awful lot of money (and ego) to sign a one-year deal with the Hawks.

I’m no expert on body language, but the situation at their table seemed crystal clear—Richards and Kane were on an awkward first date, in anticipation of their arranged marriage, and Hossa was there as a sort of… well, wingman. But Hossa soon departed, and left the two Conn Smythe winners staring silently into space. My impulse was to go buy them a round of drinks and see if I could get an inside scoop on the upcoming season, but I am far too respectful a person to ever do something so intrusive. So, I encouraged an attractive young woman sitting next to me to do it instead. Read the rest of this entry »

The Company Factory: Is 1871 an Incubator, a Community, Endless Summer Camp or All Three?

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Photo: Emerson Dameron

Photo: Emerson Dameron

By Emerson Dameron

It is not a typical Tuesday at 1871, the labyrinthine tech-startup hub located on the twelfth floor of the Merchandise Mart, because there are no typical Tuesdays here.

David Johnston is here. He is Canada’s Governor General, a position noble enough to merit a large floating entourage and the attention of much of 1871’s leadership. Thus, as I wait for my afternoon date with CEO Howard Tullman, I am left largely to my own devices. I explore. I chat up various people who don’t appear too engrossed in their work. I struggle to find the men’s restroom, which is about as far from the women’s room as it could physically be.

1871 does have a ping-pong table, but it’s stashed in the mailroom and does not seem to have seen much use of late. The closest thing I can find to an interactive game is the Higi Station, which measures BMI, pulse and blood pressure. It is one of several such kiosks scattered around the city.

Quantification is not a perfect paradigm for measuring success, but it may be the most useful we’ve currently got as a species. In some respects, I’ve done well enough trusting my intuition—it’s led me to fruitful creative work, wonderful friendships, and a marriage that saved my life with no facilitation from OKCupid or eHarmony. In other respects, it has not served me so well. My personal finances were a wreck until I discovered the Mint app. And although my health has ticked up since my hard-partying days, it has always been a source of painful anxiety.

Nerves aflutter, I submit to the cold, numerical wisdom of the Higi Station. My BMI is safely in the “normal” range for my height and age. That’s an improvement. My blood pressure, though, is dangerously high. That’s… disheartening. Read the rest of this entry »