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.


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