Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Just Keep Giving...Until there is nothing left to give

Talk about a reality check! John George with the Motor City Blight Busters took me and a colleague through his transformation of Old Redford the other day. I was blown away....

They have taken control of their little corner of the world in order to give something back. The Old Redford theatre is amazingly playing movies on the weekends. Back alleys have been transformed into community gardens and gathering spots. Every Saturday night, people gather at the Artist Village, to listen to music and relax.

Old masonry commercial buildings that have long since lost their usefulness have been retasked into blank canvases for murals and private gardens. This local example is the most creative adaptive reuse i have seen in this city yet. In a town and country that prides itself on demolishing anything it had ever built, John George's gut instincts should be a lesson for planners, developers and architects the world over. Its a simple lesson, and one that seems to be lost even on the next generation of planners and new urbanists. As cries of demolition and destruction of the past sixty to one hundred years of history seem to be growing louder and more pronounced, this man simply builds on what is already there.

Energy is a precious thing. The energy to build structures in the first place should not be taken for granted. No matter how misguided their pursuits. The energy spent to demolish a structure should be considered only as an end all, be all last resort. In fact, the act should be criminalized unless cities and municipalities can prove that all other options have been taken. But, not just for the site of the existing building, but for the entire city. This is especially true in Detroit. In a city with miles and miles of vacant land, our leaders and our citizens fixate on existing structures as barriers to progress. The real barrier to progress is not promoting growth and accountability of private property holders. We need to give reasons to build, not to tear down.

So John George, i commend you. You are a visionary. Ever since that day 20 years ago when you took a stand against a rotting out crack den. Your instincts to simply build upon what we have, to simply make lemonade out of lemons, and not to try and cut out the roots in order to grow an apple tree is a shining beacon of hope. Hope not only to the citizens that live in the neighborhood, who have waited so long for someone else to care about their city, but hope for developers that can now see good investment dollars going to simple labor intensive expenditures to raise property values and build communities. Hope to our city leaders that can now see the beauty in the old and decrepit. There is wisdom in those old masonry walls and steel beams.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Regionalism NOW!

That was, effectively, the mantra of our transportation speakers tonight at Russel Industrial Center, hosted by Model D and the Detroit Chamber of Commerce. Regionalism will save us. From regional trailways to regional mass transit, regionalism is the word we should be embracing.

However, i should point out one little blip, that might have been overlooked at the meeting tonight. The very last speaker (i forget his name), said something profound. He was talking about the importance of TIFF (Tax increment finance fund) money to be used as the local match to federal dollars. What he said was so critical to our nations survival that words fail me in expressing the importance and ramifications of its portent. What he said was simply this 'we need to invest in our transportation corridors'. He precluded that statement with the historical argument of why this is so important, he said 'we have tried the whole sprawl thing, and we know now that it simply does not work'.

O.K., so i'm 'paraphrasing'. but whatever. He is right, we tried the whole endless suburb thing and have subsequently witnessed the complete meltdown of our economic and environmental foundations. We are now a country without a firm footing. Call me paranoid, but i'm scared to death of 1.3 billion Chinese holding the note to our land. If you were scared of Iran getting Nuclear weapons, you should be more scared of the United States of China.

Hopefully, those fears are unfounded, and i'll welcome anyone that wants to come to this country to start a business and help us grow (but i won't stand an invasion). But it doesn't lessen the importance of investing in stable development patterns. We are a mobile civilization. We built this country on transportation innovation. We will save this country by innovating again.

So get too innovating :).

Monday, October 20, 2008

World Changing Blog...hopefully

The following is a blog i hope will be posted on http://www.worldchanging.com/.

Dawn in Detroit:

So what happens when a city that changed the course of the world wakes up to the consequences of its actions? Where does a city, built on manufacturing, diversity and transportation, turn to when the world it created can no longer afford to sustain the 20th century model of consumption? The answers are varied, but from the moment that Peter Kageyama kicked off the Creative Cities Summit 2.0 in October 2008, the gauntlet had been thrown.Detroit now finds itself laid bare under the full brilliance of the sun on the dawn of a brave new world.

In order to survive, Detroit will need to get creative. This is an understatement, to say the least, and an old hat for cities around the world dealing with millions of citizens. However, the circumstances that have carried Detroit through the periods of global influence, prosperity and ultimate decline, have set the stage for a population with the means and the know-how to redefine the American City. All that was lacking was the underlying imperative to do so. So, armed with an arsenal of World Changers, the Creative Cities Summit 2.0 has ignited the flames of competition within the city.

Detroit is no stranger to competition. For years, however, the competition has come from the top down. Take, for example, the malicious dismemberment of the street car system by General Motors and Firestone in order to secure a future for the busses and automobiles that they produced. Take, for example, the advent of the 5-dollar work day that signaled the rise of the middle class. Take, for example, the single-minded pursuit of the ‘City of the Future’, from the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, culminating in the American Landscape we are now all too familiar with.

Now combine the City’s competitive nature from the top down, with a budding grass-roots movement towards sustainability. For years, inspired Detroiter’s have worked tirelessly to create havens of innovation and enterprise. Business and technology incubators have sprouted up in the form of Tech Town under the guiding touch of one the largest urban universities in the country, Wayne State. Arts and culture have been a driving force behind the resurgence of Detroit’s midtown area. Local artists have staked claims within abandoned car factories, warehouses and disinvested neighborhoods. Small businesses have sprouted up to fill the gaps in tourism, retail and groceries; all promoting walkability and appealing to the lifestyle of a locavore.

Somewhere in the middle, the bottom-up drivers of a new Detroit needed to meet with the global leaders of finance and manufacture. For too many years, the outcome of such a meeting would be perceived to result in a cataclysmic clash of competing interests. Michigan, and it’s Metropolitan areas has never been perceived as fertile ground for the venture capitalist looking for innovation and the prospect of wealth that comes from risk taking. With the message outlined from the Creative Cities Summit 2.0, and with inspiration given by leaders in innovation, the tables have now turned.

The dreaded meeting between grass-roots and corporate moguls now seems fit for a marriage made in heaven. Developers and real-estate professionals, with nowhere left to turn amidst crashing market forces, are turning to the organic neighborhoods for guidance. Local Farmers markets are proving to be safe havens for investment. Creative corridors are luring in the next generation of urbanites. Entrepreneurs are finding out the benefits of catering to local appetites and conscientious consumption. Even car companies are starting to see the lucrative possibilities of small urban vehicles as the Chevy Volt is set to start production in Detroit’s Hamtramck Assembly Plant.

So when the sun set last night and Detroit lay down in its bed, it exhaled a comforting sigh of satisfaction rising from the depths of its soul. It had changed the world. But, as dawn approached, the Motor City opened its’ eyes to the carnage it had created. The fires had burned uncontrolled through the night and nations had mobilized to fuel the flames. The world had changed. Now under the full glare of the morning sun, the gravity of the situation can now be seen in all of its uncompromising colors and shades of grey. Detroit has now unleashed its task force to surmise the damage and to greet the dawn in a spirit of cooperation and shared goals, for all of our survival.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Raising Detroit's economy from the dead

Lately i've been advising people i know to pool their money together to start local banks. Today i came across this blog where the term was aptly coined 'locabucks'. You don't have to read the blog as it really has no pertinence here. The writer was reposting an article about how some European countries were able to work through the Great Depression (don't tell me that fleeting thoughts of tent cities sprouting up in Campus Martius hasn't crossed your mind) by creating their very own currency.

So all my sage advice may have been barking up a wrong tree with all of the local credit unions we have around here, but here's the difference. Local banks would solely be invested in the community they belong to. But don't get too excited, there is one more element that would be required to make this work and to breathe life into our communities. The local bank would have to set a deal with the City to guarantee a portion of property taxes.

I've been told that this idea would be similar to a TIFF (Tax Increment Finance Fund). I'm not an economist, so i'll take their word for it. In my mind, the bank would set a geographic area and be guaranteed a precentage of property taxes to loan money against. For example, the Palmer Park Bank would set itself up as a not-for-profit bank and would lend low interest loans to the residents of Palmer Park. The residents would use that money for home improvement repairs, education expenses or even be applied to developers that would seek to build concientious developments under the strict supervision of the local Community Development Corporation.

Feel free to nail me to the stake for this proposal, but i welcome any thoughtful insight you may have to see if this thing has legs.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Santa came early...with last years X-Box?

I am aware that this post does not specifically address Detroit in the present term. A large retail developer has not set their sites within the city limits for a long time now (not counting the 8 mile & Woodward initiative). This post is about Grand Sakwa's development proposal for the city of Royal Oak at 13 mile and Coolidge.

The implications of the outcome of this development will bode significantly for the City of Detroit as Grand Sakwa creeps in closer to the city limits from the outer-burbs, setting it's sights on the organic communities coming alive within the city proper. But, for now, this is where Grand Sakwa, the City of Royal Oak and its citizens will need to duke it out, and a definition of a 'walkable' environment will need to be reached.

If an amenable definition of 'walkable' cannot be reached, we can expect a 'business as usual' model of growth for our communities. And even if it is not Grand Sakwa, it will be another large retailer eying the City of Detroit soon. Remember, Santa came early to large corporate interests this year in the form of a $750 billion buyoff from everyday taxpayers, and those interests are hungry to tap into new markets that spark of the word 'sustainable'.

Royal Oak will need to step up to the plate and welcome the opportunity to marry the services we need with the stewardship we demand. In essence, Royal Oak is presented with the first local example of a tax-payer base having a direct stake in a development through the lending institutions as financers. Effectively, making all of us part owners and setting a precedent on how our new investments will be handled.

Though one of the larger 'inner ring' suburbs, Royal Oak has been building itself towards a consensus of having 'walkable' environments that attracts money, builds communities and in some small part, influences development in surrounding regions (how many ex-urbs have recently either proposed main street agendas or have tried emulating a main street model). But what Grand Sakwa has effectively left out of their 'walkable' development plan, is the word 'community'.

They claim that it is a 28 million dollar development. Their pitch is that is a 'walkable' retail center set to have a grocery store and a standalone restaurant component with enough parking to take care of Memorial Parks' events. Whatever other amenities it may offer, it is set to compete with the closing Northwood shopping center for semi-regional dollars. Plain and simple.

The site is unique in that it is slightly off the beaten path of Woodward Avenue and is a significant transition point to the neighborhoods and, effectively, the heart beat of the city. Memorial Park is a highly utilized area, and on any given weekend and most days after school, is swarming with kids and families. I won't be the first to dispute the income generating potential for the site, nor it's potential need within the community. Even during the presentation for the city commission, residents were begging for more walkable amenities such as ice cream and a local grocer, which carries with it the appeal of a social atmosphere apparent at our local Oberweissen.

However, if this project is not handled properly, we will have lost an opportunity to bridge a gap that has been sixty years in the making, too become simply another notch in the pole of our propensity to make poor decisions for our region. I will not get into the whole 'downward spiral' effect of traditional strip mall development, but i will simply ask the question (to cut to the heart of the matter) of how the city and Grand Sakwa plan on adressing the burden placed on the already confusing and congested intersections at 13 mile, coolidge and Woodward Ave.?

I could post a hundred examples of walkable environments here in order to help answer that question, but i don't think that would help the cause (I may post some in later blogs though, so stay tuned). In the end, it would only generate more arguments about a traditional zoning ordinance's definition of 'parking requirements' vs. a progressive zoning ordinance's language infused with the notion of a Planned Urban Development (PUD) vs. a 'New Economy' based zoning ordinance, that hasn't even been put on the table yet.

So instead of posting examples of what other cities have done and have proven successful, and in lieu of listing everything that is inherently wrong with the proposal submitted by Grand Sakwa, i will simply encourage everyone to embrace the opportunity.

My hope is that you will walk away from this article with nothin less than a determination to get involved in this process and to encourage the City to approve a PUD development from Grand Sakwa at this sight and even consider backing a plan to help further subsidize a conscientious development under the condition that all of us 'stakeholders' can feel comfortable with the investment in our COMMUNITY.

The proposed site plan is essentially a retail stripmall with a large sea of parking between lease spaces. Grand Sakwa has stated that $200k per year in property tax would go to the city of Royal Oak and $500k would go to the schools, per year. Also, the golf course is probably on board due to a water feature amenity from storm water runoff that gets built when Grand Sakwa gets rid of the driving range and potentially the batting cages. Not really a good trade-off, as golfers would most likely golf at the same course they practice at, but the Golf Course doesn't own the driving range.

Though Grand Sakwa has not stated who the retail/grocery component is yet, it would be a good bet that it will be a large 'chain' to compete directly with small business owned grocers. It is a typical development pattern seen throughout metro-detroit. Go to Northwestern Hwy. and Orchard Lake. Go to Six Mile and Haggerty. For an older model of the same plan, go to 11 mile and middlebelt....etc. (i can't say 15 mile & Coolidge, as it lacks the stand alone restaurant or outbuilding). In short, I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised if Grand Sakwa's current tenants (Big Box) were looking to indulge us with their idea of 'change' by slipping in a Costco outlet for the residents. Whoopeee! More imported goods over increasingly long distances undercutting local businesses.

Arguably, the only walking that this development is primed for, is from the car to the grocery store or to the park. It potentially would encourage loitering and potential for 'parking lot' crimes (so bring your dobermans). Given, crime is not rampant in Royal Oak, the burden this type of layout places on a city's infrastructure, however, increases drastically over time.

So just let me leave you with this, so you can bounce it around in your heads. It's about the implications on our current standards set for street lane widths, parking space requirements and connectivity to the neighborhoods. Today i witnessed my first small three wheel electric urban vehicle. Now add to that, the prevalence we see of Vespa's and other small urban vehicles. And lastly, add to that, the Chevy Volt and the Chrysler...whatever (give me an electric Smart Car). Though the last two would require normal parking requirements and would fit in easily with the automobile infrastructure, the incentive to demand a new model of the Urban Strip mall has fallen into the hands of the City of Royal Oak.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Give me HEMP!

Why is Industrial Grade Hemp not allowed to be grown in the Continental United States?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The race is on!

So, DTE just submitted their application for a new Nuclear Power Plant next to Fermi. From my understanding, the application review process will take a couple years, and construction will take a few more. So let's call it, six years from now, is when our major energy company will have reached a point of no return from which their investment dollars will be locked up in Nuclear for the next thirty years.

Grim scenario. Not one in which we should be sitting idly by waiting for. Good for them though, they will have secured a power source with easily controllable rates and consistent, reliable output. This is what we demand isn't it? We wouldn't want to not be able to watch the John Stewart Show if the wind wasn't blowing would we?

The one big argument against wind energy is that it is sporadic and produces energy at off peak times, requiring large 'utility' scale storage facilities. This is unpractical at best. Most other arguments are aimed at protecting fossil fuels, so we won't go into those here. But the second big argument against wind energy is actually a convuluted mess involving entrenched politicians and 'utility' scale lobby efforts. Alot of that argument goes to the heart of the matter and that has to do with subsidies and tax credits. But, again, these arguments are on a 'utility' scale and really have no basis for our purposes. I'll explain those in a moment.

The question is, how do we get a point where we can produce enough electricity without having to build a large 'utility' scale nuclear power plant? And, how do we do it within the next six years? The answer is fairly obvious in that we need to take the 'utility' out of energy equation (this is why the second argument has no basis).

So what do we replace it with (once the horrifying screams die down in the background)? How do we deal with the jobs that the utility companies create? How do we deal with shareholders that are heavily invested in consistent power output at consistent rates?

Good questions. We have until the end of October to answer them. I can give you a hint though and i can also give you some food for fodder in a time when our federal government is assuming responsibility for our insurance, our mortgages and our ability to pay back debt. We need safe investment vehicles for our money that don't flucuate when a hurricane comes through. And since you and i are now proud owners of a portion of some these debts, we should be using it to leverage clean investments that will still be growing 100 years from now.

Smart grids could play a large part in breaking down the notion of a 'utility' scale to the personal scale fairly easily without having to compromise the utility companies current investments in the grid or their ability to employ people to maintain them. The issue of a secure investment would require collaboration from multiple organizations and across industries. Localized storage would make more sense for the utility companies in lieu of large, dangerous facilities. Now imagine some of those personal storage facilities could get us to the office.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Nevermind the Bullocks...

Who ever said that we have time to contemplate the last 100 years of rapid industrialization? I'm not sure it matters. The current situation we exist within is not one of rapid industrialization, but increasingly limited resources.

Politicians can argue ad infinitum about the reality of the situation, so let me break it down to you in simple terms.

If we want to survive, we have to invest in unlimited growth.

Think about it. What exactly does that mean for Detroit?

It means that we have to come to terms with our geographic boundaries. Upon understanding those boundaries we can understand the necessary resources allotted to us to sustain a population.

Believe it or not, this state has everything it needs to sustain unlimited growth.

I think that is all i will say for now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Reposting some best of Detroit picks....

'K-9 to five' still wants your dogs. For Day-care that is. I'm a hoping (and a wishin..) some field trips get scheduled, cheap fun. Better yet, after school (during school??) dog walking programs. Hmmmm, any schools near '9 to 5'?

Anyway, an easy way to get some parents involved without permission slip waivers allaround: they are having a doggie First Aid class on Oct. 12th. check their website: Canine to Five

Here's the posting as promised, I feel is should warn the unsuspecting 'clicker', well...that was the warning

Metro Times Best of Detroit 2008: The Supergay Slate

Best Detroit Riverfront Attraction : Bike Rentals (from our friends at Wheelhouse!)

Best Dog Park : Doggy Style co-presenter
Canine to Five's urban dog park

Best Local Radio Talk Show : Detroit Public Radio's
Detroit Today (because sometimes they let me talk on it)

Best Local News Blog : Detroitist (

Best Local Pop Culture Blog : Supergay Detroit! (

Best Florist : This is a toughie, there are two deserving gay-owned florists. My pick this year is
Blossoms because, while they are located in Birmingham, the owners just spent like $17 million renovating the Frank Lloyd Wright Turkel House in Detroit. Blumz owners also live in Detroit, and they have a location here, but this past year their money went into expanding the Ferndale location. It's really kind of a wash, so pick your fave.

Best Place to Buy Furniture :
Mezzanine (although Art Van always wins this category, so you may want to save your vote for ...)

Best Indie Home Furnishing Store : Mezzanine, or
Bureau of Urban Living. (both are deserving - and while Mezzanine is gay-owned Bureau is as gay friendly as you can be. Pick your fave!)

Best Gourmet Grocery Store : Zaccaro’s (because they really are quite lovely, if you are not buying produce, and I need them to stick around because they are so convenient)

Best Health Club : Downtown YMCA

Best Bike Shop : Wheelhouse

Best New Nightspot (Last 2 Years) :
Park Bar (last chance in this category!)

Best Gay Bar : Detroit Guerrilla Queer Bar (because it really is)

Best Beer Selection in a Bar : Park Bar

Best Place to get a Martini :
Centaur, home of the original gay straight guy, and great friends

Best Jukebox :
Honest? John’s Bar & No Grill

Best Jazz Club : Cliff Bell’s

Best Restaurant Under $15 per diner :
Bucharest Grill (inside the Park Bar)

Best Restaurant Under $50 per diner : my fave,
Atlas Global Bistro

Best Hangover Brunch : Honest? John’s Bar & No Grill

Best Barbeque Restaurant : Slows Bar BQ

Best Neighborhood Pizza :
Motor City Brewing Works or ...

Best Gourmet Pizza Place :
Supino Pizzeria (Dave Mancini’s great new place in Eastern Market - thanks Open City! Let's give the new guy a boost!)

Best Brewpub Restaurant : Motor City Brewing Works

Best Beer Selection in a restaurant : Slows Bar BQ

Best Bakery : Avalon International Breads (family owned and operated, if you know what I mean!)

Best Tea Room : No comment (do they mean what I think they mean??)

Best Indie Coffee Shop:
Rowland Café (in the Guardian Building)

If you have to ask how these postings are sustainable, I'll have to tell you someday. In the meantime...speaking about dogs,

I hear that our local Animal Control Shelter is still hard at work keeping the fires going. I wonder what the issue is? Could it be a simple matter of feeding large quantities of dogs? I know it has nothing to with some of our local populations ability to deal with dogs. We get Cesar 'the dog whisperer' on our cable here. Dogs love soccer. Maybe some of them are so mean because they are frustrated. Maybe some are too far gone to have a good temperment.

Some dogs are extremely high energy, demanding dogs. Not for everyone. Just don't have expensive furniture in the house, and make sure they can get along with the cat. That could take some serious 'whispering' though.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Power to the people...wind that is

So i guess my idea of energy independence is a little different from our corporate govern..i mean, federal government.

If you read the following link, you'll notice immediately that you are appealed upon, in an unassuming manner to 'get on their side'. They tell you what you want to hear. Big Government taxes unfairly. Fossil fuels get big subsidies, renewable gets little. O.K. so we knew that, we like where this is heading.


But skim on down to where it says that renewables can only make up 25% of our energy needs. They then, sneakily endeavor to put the burden on us, by telling us to shell out money if we want to see more renewable. O.K., i won't kill the messenger here. If i want renewables, i can help foot the bill.

But 25% percent?? 25%????? What this little figure does is gives free reign to continue with fossil fuel subsidies. Fine, whatever, that is their prerogative i suppose. If they want to put the burden on us, so be it. Detroit is now in a position to open the doors to renewable energy. There is already the makings of laws that will allow Michigan to produce wind power locally and require utility companies to abide by the rate structure that would allow for selling power back into the grid (i'm a little hazy on the details, but that's not the point here). For what it's worth, the State of Michigan wants 20% renewables by...some random date when it won't even matter anymore...but the foot is in the door, so to speak.

So let's open the door, shall we. Let us privatize and localize our energy production. If Duke Energy, DTE or whoever, want us to pay for it and lay the burden on us to determine wether or not it is worth their time (Greencurrents anyone?) then we should happily oblige.

Hey, I even found a model ordinance on one of my links.


I'm not saying it can't be fine tuned, but that's not the point either here. The point here is that when we start talking about 'energy independence' it does not even skim over the infantile thought of a fossil fuel. That is soooo the Bronze age.

Edit - I know that this is a one time scenario due to extreme wind conditions, but there is hope! pffft 25%. http://www.enn.com/energy/article/33594

The Good Stuff

Now these are the types of things that make me happy. I am, of course, reposting without permission.

Saturday, September 13, 2008, Ladels Children's Book Boutique Will Host Two Big Events:

Local Authors’ Bazaar
  • Ladels’ Storybook Writing Competition
  • Award’s Ceremony
    Sept. 7, 2008. Ladels Children’s Book Boutique, Detroit’s premier children’s shop, is hosting a Local Authors’ Bazaar, starting at 1:00 pm. Book signings and readings will be conducted by Sandra Epps, Imani Has the Most Exciting Dream; Cheryl Pope, 25 Ways to Make Your Child(ren) Feel Special; Nonnie Boggess, A Rainbow of Browns; Linda McLean, The Heidelberg Project; Sharon Chess, Grandma’s Ready (bi-lingual); and Robert Jackson, The Silly Side of Me. These are all Detroit area authors promoting positive messages for young people – through books. Though Ladels sells children’s books from all over the world, they have a particular affinity toward local authors, as many are self-published and in need of a special outlet for their books.

    Later that evening, Ladels will host an Award’s Ceremony and Reception, at 6:00 pm, to honor the winners and participants in its first Annual Storybook Writing Competition. Awards will be handed out in two different age categories. The young participants were asked to write and illustrate a picture book on any topic from 6 – 16 pages. All entrants will receive an award. The winners will have their book printed, their illustrations displayed at a local art gallery, receive a trophy, certificates from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Motown Museum, The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Detroit Science Center, Royal Popcorn, Mudgie’s, Ladels, and supplies from Utrecht and Chrysler, LLC. Judges for the competition were Poet -- jessica Care moore, author/artist/teacher – Linda McLean, educator – Sylvester Lane, librarian – Janet Batchelder, and community activists – Mahima Mahadevan, and Shane Bernardo. Food for the event will be provided by Mudgie’s.
    All are invited to spend the day at Ladels.
    Contact us with any questions or concerns.
    Proprietors: Lauren Walker Thomas and Debra Walker

    Friday, September 5, 2008

    Kill, Baby, Kill...in the name of energy independence

    That seems to be the mantra of the Republican ticket coming from today's rally in Sterling Heights. First, click on the link to the right to get yourself situated. I call it 'Killing in the name of'.

    So, what are the Republicans killing now? From Sarah Palin adamantly stating a few days ago, that under John Mcain's presidency, that they will lay new pipeline; to John Mcain, declaring today, with no uncertainty, they will drill for more oil offshore.

    Normally, national topics like ANW[a]R would not be addressed in this blog, but when Michiganders start screaming 'Kill, Baby, Kill', even if it's in Alaska, i can't help but think, Hey, this is my planet they are screaming about killing, and this mob
    of sheep, bah-bahing to the Wolf in the Exxon suit, was a mere few miles from my doorstep today. If they are so hell bent on committing global suicide not only for themselves, but for their children as well, then maybe they should just do us a favor and cut to the quick.

    We already know that Michigan is the backdoor for Canadian shale oil. That's the devil i can trust. The devil i don't know, is the one i thought i might try and listen too and get a feel for. A war hero, and a good smile, he seemed like a person i would want to like. But today's little demonstration has given me due cause to align on the other side of the fence.

    Not that anyone cares about my political views. Let's just say, i was even willing to give Palin a chance, if it meant there was the possibility of a Playboy spread. But that woman puts Hillary's pursuit of power into a warm light. The dark, cold abyss emanates from those two, Mcain/Palin. At least Hillary had something to prove. This woman only has something to gain.

    So what does a Michigan future look like from it's citizens screaming for blood thousands miles away? What does that signify for our irreplaceable natural resources that we swim in and camp in and breathe in, right out our front doors?

    If Republicans want jobs and cheap energy, i don't see the problem with giving it to them. I only ask that we not be zombies. I simply ask that every Republican, Democrat, Independent or impartial observer, to ask themselves first, 'is this what i want? or is this what they tell me i want?'. We cannot simply take what they give us. We have nothing to gain from four more years. We have gained nothing in the past eight. We only have everything to lose.

    Wednesday, September 3, 2008


    Don't ask me why, i have worms on my brain. I'm thinking of landscaping my yard with vermiculture walls. I get enough sticks and leaves to ring to wind around the drip zone of the trees. The worm boxes would drip their good stuff back into the tree.


    ...water, water everywhere.

    Last time i checked, we play host to 1/5 of the worlds fresh water. Wow! That's pretty significant, wouldn't you say? 20% of the entire world's naturally occurring fresh water, right out our doorstep. As someone that lives and plans in an area with so much bountiful water, i can't help but keep tabs on the current state of things. And the current state of things is that we have failed miserably to protect one of this worlds greatest resources.

    Click on the link on the right hand navigation

    Dare is say, we should first think about Smart Growth? Would it be terrible of me to think that a moratorium should be placed on any new housing, commercial or industrial developments, subsidized by our tax dollars and outside of existing metropolitan boundaries, that would either feed into the storm system or otherwise leach contaminants through septic fields? I don't think it that awful to consider. Considering that our major cities account for close to 80% of our states population. Considering that our cities have witnessed a mass exodus to sub-urban areas. We've effectively and continue to pave over some of this countries most fertile farmland. Regardless of the use of the land, i feel it is completely irresponsible of us to continue to develop more land when we haven't even figured out how to properly use the land we have currently available to us. Take Detroit for example, some estimates show that upwards fo 60% of the geographic area of the city is sitting vacant. Over 2000 brownfield sites exist in Wayne County alone. You say you wouldn't want to live on or near a contaminated site, but what about the migration of contaminants into our watershed? How can we conscientiously develop new land when we have a hundred years worth of toxic waste to deal with? Where is our sense of responsibility?

    I simply can't concieve of a developer or an REIT contemplating purchasing land in Michigan that isn't a brownfield. Any thought of it sends my moral compass spinning uncontrollably wild. Any greenfield that they would think about developing comes with it a burden that you or i would shudder at to think of. But our state glibly subsidizes it for them with them mere mention of bringing jobs into the region. Great! Jobs for two years versus a hundred years of tax payer dollars trying to come to grips with overburdened storm systems. increased commuting and pollution from cars, larger strains on our electrical grid, loss of property value for those actually living in viable communties competing for market rate housing with those too ignorant to know any better, loss of habitat to fundamental ecological systems that actually have the know-how in filtering out our polluting habits, increased supply chains for fast food and bix box stores...the downward spiral continues...and for what? A few short lived jobs that last only as long as it takes for the young and industrious entrepreneurs to realize that they can't compete with government subsidies and have to move into urban environments.

    So let's plan properly here! Let's skip the whole downward spiral into oblivion and take stock of what we need to do to make our Great Lakes healthy. In doing so, we can attract the investment we want, nay, the investment we need. Smart Growth is a step in the right direction. It can't stop there though.

    Sunday, August 31, 2008

    Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

    So i could talk about 'actual' wolves here. And how much i like them. Look at Yellowstone for example. Look at the undisputable benefit from releasing wolves back into the eco-system. Now imagine a 'Lewis & Clark' type system that the Yellowstone system could feed into. I'd like to see some wolves back in Michigan. I almost shit my pants when a friend told me he saw a bear up North. I thought...it wasn't busy eatin snowmobilers...odd. But that's a story for a different day.

    But, Wolves don't specifically have anything to do with this posting. Instead, the title is referring to our inability to fight the cannibalistic machine. Especially, here in Detroit, we deal with alot of upper echelon backroom handshakes and tips of the hats. A sub-culture, if you will, of; the few big businesses willing to continue to exist within this flailing city of ours, the mega-property owners within this town vying for the suburban entertainment dollars, the city government playing mixed-roles with mixed bags trying to skim a few off the top just to keep basic services running (personal or public), and a notoriety driven ego component. The wolf becomes big money in big hands, fumbling with large quantities of investment dollars, for the satisfaction of its sociopathetic -'wolf-like' trait.

    The wolves i'm talking about here are simply large invested interests in the city/ies. Their inability to come to terms with the other 2% invested interest has simply left them competing against each other for the same percentages on any given day. The players have changed over the years, but the same game exists. On some days, Poletown gets erased and a major Chyrsler Manufacturing Plant gets built, on others, Campus Martius pops up. But what they failed to realize, was that the 2% of the population was the other 98% of their food supply.

    In some small respect, those percentages put the food supply into a fairly leveragable position. So, being a sheep, i feel pretty confident that the wolves will start acting like wolves, with a 'pack' mentality. As i said, I like wolves, we can't be afraid of them, we just need to establish the rules of the pack to them. It's simple, this is the geographic boundary we exist within, this is where people will tolerate us, these are the bounds of our family. We may eventually be able to even get along with other packs, but for now, let's simply leave an open invitation, and welcome them to the table.

    Our territory is the single most important thing to both the sheep and the wolf.

    Friday, August 8, 2008

    Competition is in our nature

    It's probably fair to say that Detroit is in the fight of its life right now. Day by day we get sucker punched by something new. I like to think, however, that we are simply doing the rope-a-dope. Dodging, ducking...taking a few glancing blows...we have a strategy...Don't we?

    Week after week, the news media slams our little city with impunity. We've been tagged as one of the worst places to do business, we been slandered with being at the pinnacle of criminal activity, most recently...we've been labeled as one of the fastest dying cities in America. We took a one-two with the mayor being hauled off to jail like a common thug. What does that say about us? Is America's perception of Detroit, that of common criminals...? Don't answer that, i know the answer.

    But i have to ask, all of my fellow Detroiters, are we more than the sum of our local government? I'd shake my magic 8 ball if i had one, but i can see the strategy sparkling in the eyes of my friends and coworkers. I see our careful manipulation of American perception as a tactic. Let me explain...

    This city was built upon our ability to compete. Dating back to our founding by the French, this city was a strategic position for trade. The Brits recognized the value of our city and it's geographic location being prime for corralling natural resources. When we became part of the Nation, the competition continued with the lumber barons all the way up to our ability to compete for labor with the advent of a living wage. Competition has always ruled the form and size of our city. Even Augustus Woodward recognized this as his masterful masterplan for the city was abandoned for more competitive parcel sizes conducive to businesses at the time.

    Over the years we have competed to provide what we have now as the cities current form, the pinnacle of an American ideology.
    We have the perfect mix of rural living with city amenities. We have what 'The City of the Future' promised, an auto-centric lifestyle. Every convenience we need, is a short car trip away. Every desire we have, can be found within a few hour trip. Camping, skiing, cinema, theatre, arts, entertainment, libraries, snacks, fashion...etc. But as it stands now, it is something we are simply clutching at with both hands to desperately hold on too. What is left once an apex is reached? There are only two directions on that path, it's either down, or we find a new path.

    As it stands now, we are competing for intellectual labor. With that comes quality of life. There is a fundamental shift occurring in the populace. The world is becoming urban. This isn't to say, that we should not have seen this coming. For two thousand years, civilization has naturally evolved into city structures capable of sustaining life. It is only within the past sixty years that we have turned our backs on evolution and shunned the natural order of things. So whether or not people can explain why they want to live in cities is irrelevant. It only matters that it is natural for them to want to do so. We are losing the brightest and the best to places that will be where we are now in a few short years. This puts us ahead of the pack. When the sunbelt starts charging water for what it's worth, Michigan will start to look pretty appealing.

    As a student of cities i can honestly say that Detroit is strategically aligned, and becomes more so every day, to redefine the American city. We may be standing with our backs up against the ropes, shifting and ducking, but i like to think we are merely conserving our energy for the final round. So when national press paints an unflattering picture of us, or when our mayor ostracizes his regime a little further, i can honestly say that those are happy days for me. I have been around this nation and have seen the places we are competing against. I know what Pheonix has to offer and i know the draw of sunny San Francisco, and to me, those places are illusions. I stay here because we are rooted in reality. We roll up our sleeves and get to work. At the end of the day, we can sleep well knowing that what we accomplished mattered. This is the Detroit i know. The more we are underdogs, the harder we will work to prove our worth.

    So what is our strategy then? you ask. I can only ask you the same question. This is Michigan after all, if you have a seed, simply plant it and then watch it grow. We have the intelligence and the manpower to make our dreams come true, now we have to ask, do we have the consensus and will power to compete at an international level?

    I'm game. Are you?

    Sunday, July 27, 2008

    The Beginning of something big...

    Where would a Detroit blog post about sustainability and community be without starting with the people in the trenches, cleaning up their neighborhoods, having weekend quasi-block parties and starting community gardens? Derelict, most likely.

    I originally thought about the American Institute of Architects (AIA) award to Detroit in the form of the 2008 Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT). I thought about giving you readers the chance to see how far we've come from a simple mass email signaling a call for participation to full on task forces led by the leaders in our city. But the 2008 SDAT, which began as something idealistic, has been slowly gaining speed and quietly confronting barriers to our insured existence as a city. This process will continue into the future, slow and steady, step by step. Hence the title 1.0. Volume 1 of the SDAT is the careful study of our past two hundred years as a city and region. The culmination of 1.0 will be on November 1st with the publication and distribution of the Detroit SDAT 2008. Volume 2.0 is taking those determinations, revelations and directives to the streets, to the people and to the politicians. Volume 3.0...slow and steady, step by step. Maybe we won't need a volume 3.0...

    Maybe the initiative of metro-detroiters will rise to the occasion and our city will regain it's world class status as a desirable place to manufacture products people can feel good about using. Maybe we can figure out that we are more than the account numbers on our credit cards and DTE energy bills. Or, that it is possible that we can take responsibility and control of our own future. Maybe the sheer will power of our residents will spark an outpouring of compassion and neighborliness to the entire region. Maybe we can look back at one young man's vision to reclaim a vacant, rotting parcel of land and turn it into a urban garden and community gathering place, free to all, for all to own and take pride in, as the dawn of Detroit - Sustainable City.

    He goes by the name of Cub. His mother, 'mama cub', and they are rapidly reclaiming this city as their own. It began as something small. I met him back in February at a non-profit meeting and he was looking for volunteers. We talked about rain barrels and drip irrigation. He said that he didn't need anymore seeds, he had enough. He needed hoses...hence the discussion about harvesting rain water for future use. A few weeks later i read about his progress in our local forum, 'Detroityes'. My heart went out to him and his fellow gardeners. They have a had a rough go of it. Frost scares, midnight plantings, thieves and whatever else man or nature could throw at them. Day by day, though, this group of residents has steadily created something miraculous. It's now almost August, and in those few short months, he's been able to move mountains.

    This weekend, this group of Detroit's forgotten and lost did something else that defies our post World War II traditions of isolation and segregation. They held a community reading and movie night for the neighborhood kids and parents. True to form, the event was open to all, free to all. Small dishes were delectably contrived from the fruits of their labor. Neighborhood kids came out in numbers to be a part of this historic event. Cub reported the excitement of the day as child after child approached him before the reading to make sure it was still going to happen. They read from Harry Potters first book and then settled in to watch Transformers (one of Detroit's most famous local filmings). Next week they will do the same. Saturday nights at the Georgia St. Garden.

    So when we talk about living sustainably and we talk about reform. We should look no further than the Georgia St. Garden to garner inspiration. I may write blogs about change, i may research for hours on how best to accomplish change and what policies work, what environments are suited towards a sustainable future, but Cub and gang have rolled up their sleeves and gotten to work. Everyday new opportunities arise from the few small seeds he planted. Everyday lives are changed by the compassion he shows for his surroundings and those that are left behind. We forget to quickly that we are all on this rock together. We too easily get wrapped up in global changes and threats to our way of life that we feel can only be solved by legislation and reform. We all have our parts to play to insure a vibrant planet and a vibrant city. But we mustn't look past those that have to live with our decisions. Cub hasn't looked past the people that are the actual ones we talk about helping and making into productive members of society. Cub is the everyday hero that simply takes those around him by the hand and says 'i care' and 'yes, you are relevant'.