GRAND RAPIDS, MI — In Michigan, images of people jogging, bicycling and fishing by the riverfront are usually associated with Grand Rapids, not Detroit.
But the beautiful scenes of riverside recreation shown at the Grand Rapids Art Museum were all east side on Tuesday, during a presentation on promising urban revitalization efforts and innovations happening in Michigan’s largest city.
“In this country, we used to turn our backs on rivers because we used them as a means of transportation or as sewers,” said Sam Cummings, managing partner at CWD Real Estate, who moderated the first in a series of “leadership conversations” staged in conjunction with the museum’s “Cities in Transition” exhibit.
“In Detroit, they have started to celebrated the resource and it shows.”
Panelists on Tuesday said Detroit is at a unique point in time where the efforts of high profile redevelopments like the ambitious Detroit Riverfront Conservancy project are starting to bear fruit, while scattered neighborhood revitalizations are starting to bubble to the surface, driven by urban innovators literally carving success stories one by one from the guts of abandoned buildings.
“I bought a $40,000 building and decided it was time to learn carpentry,” said Phillip Cooley, owner of Slows Bar BQ in Corktown, a popular destination restaurant that has become a symbol of possibility in a city largely defined by crippling unemployment, crime, racial segregation, troubled schools and Rust Belt decline.
Cooley has become something of an ambassador for the Motor City after starting the restaurant in 2005 across from the long-abandoned central train station. The success of Slows, profiled in a 2010 New York Times article, has helped draw new commercial tenants and instill a sense of community in the neighborhood.
“What’s incredible is the innovation that’s happening essentially though desperation” in scattered neighborhoods, said Cooley, a runway fashion model-turned entrepreneur whose latest project, Pony Ride, offers cheap or near-free rent to socially conscious entrepreneurs and artists committed to improving the community.
Elsewhere in the city, multi-million dollar efforts are underway to take the massive vacant Globe Building on Detroit’s east riverfront near the William Milliken State Park and convert it into an interactive nature facility, said Faye Nelson, president & CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy.
Dan Carmody, president of the Detroit Eastern Market, said the redevelopment of the Dequindre Cut, a non-motorized trail that starts at the Detroit River and extends to Gratiot Avenue, has opened up a pedestrian link between the riverfront, the market and many of the residential neighborhoods in between.
The market, which dates back to 1891, draws as many as 50,000 people on a typical Saturday morning, said Carmody, despite being mere blocks away from neighborhoods that still “look like a Mel Gibson ‘Mad Max’ movie.”
The “Wild West” -like regulatory atmosphere is drawing young people with energy, said Carmody. “There’s things being done here that are maybe impossible in other places.”
Across the city, urban farms are starting to grow on abandoned lots and in between empty buildings. More than 1,300 community gardens have started in Detroit and the potential economic impact of sustainable urban agriculture is immense, he said.
“Peel back the hood and start looking at where food comes from and there’s a lot of local jobs you can create,” he said. The framework for addressing the structural unemployment problems in Detorit and elsewhere by concentrating on agriculture jobs can be modeled after the successful resurgence in craft beer across the country.
Big multinational brewers like InBev have been unable to stem the tide of lost market share to smaller craft brewers despite millions spent in advertising aimed at males in their 20s and 30s, he said, and “if that largely blockheaded group can resist the temptations of such marketing prowess, we should be able to do the same thing with food.”
“Until the advent of the railroad, food formed cities,” he said. “As we back off on our carbon footprints, I think we’ll see food start to have a larger impact on how cities are shaped.”
June 14, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Uncategorized | No comment
Ponyride Open House - 4-9 p.m. 12/8
Come to Ponyride for food, drinks and of course the great work of our tenants!
Check out Ponyride's very own Jitting Jesus.
Meet Runjit Detroit. RunJit Detroit’s goal is to do community outreach for Detroit by offering affordable dance classes to those who would like to learn JITTING as well as Hip-Hop and other styles of dance.
Ponyride is located at 1401 Vermont
in Detroit's Corktown neighborhood.
Ponyride is a study to see how the foreclosure crisis can have a positive impact on our communities. Using an 'all boats rise with the tide' rent subsidy, we are able to provide cheap space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work and share knowledge, resources and networks.