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 »

Race Review: Proud to Run (June 27, 2015)

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Proud to Run

Proud to Run participants pre-race/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: After the landmark decision by the Supreme Court on Friday, Saturday’s Proud to Run event—a 10K run and 5K run/walk that has been around since 1982—celebrated its biggest year yet, with more than 1,700 registrants (for the last several years the event has hovered around 1500 participants). And walking up to basecamp in a grassy expanse of Montrose Harbor, it was clear that there was indeed plenty of celebration going on, with thumping music, colorful costumes and excited runners.

I spoke with race director Justin Koziatek before the race and he stressed that the race is “here for people to celebrate Pride in a fun and healthy way,” but also that the 5K includes a walk option to make it clear that anyone can participate regardless of experience. He also pointed out an effort to be more inclusive by tailoring the running categories to “male-identified” and “female-identified.” Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Gettin’ Quigley With It

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Mike Quigley

Mike Quigley/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

If you’re not a transportation geek like myself, you may be most familiar with Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL 5th) from his hilarious segment on “The Colbert Report.” His North Side district includes Boystown, and he’s known as a strong ally of the LGBT community. Therefore, Stephen Colbert, in his persona as a conservative blowhard, baited Quigley by insisting that homosexuality is a choice:

Quigley: I don’t think you choose. It’s from birth. You’re gay, and it’s the rest of your life.

Colbert: Gay babies? I find that offensive, the idea that there are gay babies out there and they’re looking at me, and they’re sexually interested in me, as a man.

Quigley: You have a point. It’s not a good point, but it’s a point.

However, Quigley, a blue-collar dude, built like a fireplug, is something of a rock star when it comes to bringing home transportation funding to the Chicago region. He’s the only Illinois member on the House Appropriations Committee and its subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development, with the memorable acronym THUD. He helped secure funding for the federal Core Capacity transit grant program, which will help bankroll the CTA’s rehab of the North Red and Purple Lines, and the TIGER program, which funds various sustainable transportation projects in cities. 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 »

Business and Buzzwords: In Search of Technology at Techweek

Education/Training, Events, News etc., Technology No Comments »
(l to r) Sam Yagan, Dr. Jennifer Jones, audience member/Photo: Zach Freeman

Sam Yagan, Dr. Jennifer Jones, audience member/Photo: Zach Freeman

By Zach Freeman

Billed by CEO Katy Lynch as a “week-long celebration of all-things tech,” Techweek is a lot of things to a lot of people, but in terms of this year’s physicality, it is essentially a taking over of a large section of the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart with dozens of booths, three stages and a teeming mass of badge-sporting “innovators, disruptors, entrepreneurs, developers, VCs and visionaries.” Walking amongst them for the last two days I found it hard to get excited about much of what was being marketed, pitched, sold or displayed to me (except for the free food from gogo—that was pretty easy to get on board with). But maybe that’s because I’m just a grumpy old programmer.

A little backstory: I direct a small technology office for a large college within a large university—we build web applications to simplify manual processes, run reports to provide units with decision-making data and maintain the social media and website for the college. In my role, I not only lead a team, I gather requirements, write code, test, run code reviews and solicit feedback from our users. I also teach a databases class at another university.

I like being involved in all aspects of the software development lifecycle and encourage my team to be as well. In previous positions I’ve worked with teams that divide things up: project managers talk to clients, managers set goals, developers write code. I’m sure it works for some but it always seemed so inefficient and divisive to me, especially when the unfortunate result is that only the developers end up knowing anything about how the system actually works and why.

At Techweek, I felt the confusion coming back to me as speakers tossed out phrases like “technology literacy” without a clear definition of what it implied (Knowing how to code? Understanding social media? Owning the latest wearable? All three?) and representatives running booths seemed confounded by questions about how their software actually works with no one around to help clarify. Why do developers still get hidden away behind the scenes? I know we’re not always the best communicators or the most fun to talk to, but shouldn’t we be out there taking some credit for the stuff we’ve created? Or at least on hand in case some annoying nerd has a question besides “Where can I buy this?” or “How did you come up with the idea?” Read the rest of this entry »