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Life at the intersection of public-private partnerships, neighborhood regeneration and real estate development.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

THIS…IS ALSO DETROIT

I decided to write this blog post after spending a week in Detroit helping Mayor Dave Bing and his planning team explore solutions for a land use challenge on Livernois Avenue in Northwest Detroit. Our team of experts, sponsored and led by the Urban Land Institute’s Daniel Rose Center, traveled through a number of neighborhoods in the Northwest parts of the City.    

I saw beautiful neighborhoods with well-kept majestic homes.
I met smart, native Detroiters, black and white, whose passion for Detroit was contagious. 
I met entrepreneurs, young and old, who were investing, today, in urban Detroit.
I felt the energy, I saw the beauty, and I saw the possibilities.

At some point, I looked around and thought to myself: “This…is also Detroit”
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THIS…IS ALSO DETROIT
You’ve probably seen the headlines, read the articles and viewed the pictures.  Detroit, without a doubt, is a challenged city.  But if your only experience with Detroit is what you hear on the news, see on the Web, and read in the magazines, you’d think urban Detroit was solely a place of maladies.  But there is another part of Detroit, hidden from view and drowned out by the chorus of “woe-is-Detroit” stories.   So I write this post to talk a little bit about what I saw and heard as I experienced Detroit first hand.

THIS…IS ALSO DETROIT







 




The story of Detroit’s neighborhoods also includes well-manicured homes in stable, long-time neighborhoods, not just long vacant homes on blighted blocks. These are pictures I took while we toured neighborhoods like Sherwood Forest, Green Acres and the University District.  Neighborhoods where black and white people live on blocks not overwhelmed by vacant houses, but bolstered by long-time Detroiters who live, work and play, yes, in Detroit.



THIS…IS ALSO DETROIT

The current story of Detroit includes historic Class-A skyscrapers not just vacant buildings.  I encountered towering office buildings, bustling with corporate activity, like the Guardian Building pictured above, a Class-A office building in downtown Detroit.  We met with the City’s planning team as well as the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation in this gorgeous building which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.   The second picture is an interior picture I took as I walked in. I fell in love with the incredible Mosaic (Couldn’t help it!) of art deco tiles that make up the jaw-dropping inside of the building.  

THIS…IS ALSO DETROIT



The story of Detroit is not just disinvestment and crime but personal investment and pride.  I met and talked to young entrepreneurs like Don Studvent (top picture) whose new restaurant on Livernois Avenue called 1917 American Bistro is all the rage of old time Detroiters and new comers alike.  I also had a great conversation with Glenn Wash of Livernois Plaza, who has been investing in urban Detroit for decades.  Mr. Wash was the developer of the CVS Pharmacy anchored strip center and is an example of the type of development and investment that can be brought to the corridor.  We may have quibbled on some urban design principles, but his passion during our public Q&A was contagious- a new chamber of commerce was created on the spot!   Don and Mr. Wash both represent the Detroit of today- and its future.



The story of Detroit is not just disinvestment and crime but personal investment and pride.  Let’s not forget the ladies!  Long-time female Detroiters are also taking the lead in the revitalization of Detroit.  I took this picture of the marvelous threesome (from left to right) of Karla Henderson (Group Executive of Planning and Facilities) and Marja Winters (Interim Director of Planning and Development) who are arguably the two most important people in Mayor Bing’s city government cabinet.  Third in the picture is Kim Tandy, whose University Commons Organization has been moving forward the Livernois corridor in Northwest Detroit for years.    In the second picture is another one of my Detroit faves – Nancy Varner.  I probably don’t have to admit (it’s a little obvious) that I lifted Nancy’s picture from the web, but it’s mainly because the picture I took of her didn’t do her beauty justice!  Nancy sat at my charette table, participated in our public forum, and has been an advocate for the beautification of the Livernois corridor for years.  Also, if you look a little closer at Kim Tandy, who is the third person in the picture on top, Kim’s resemblance to Nancy becomes clear- Nancy’s her mom!

THIS…IS ALSO DETROIT
  
The current story of Detroit is not a solely African-American story, it’s a Detroiter story.  Urban Detroit is also Mexicantown.  The picture to the left is of a mural painted on the entire side of a large building in the Mexicantown neighborhood in Detroit, where Mexican-Americans have invested their time, energy and resources in revitalizing a neighborhood.  Mexicantown is also home to fully-leased shopping centers with anchor corporate tenants, a new coffee shop and a feeling of pride.  Urban Detroit is not all black folks.   










This picture to the left is of Olga Stella, Vice President of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and a native Detroiter.  Olga, along with Karla and Marja above, is one of our Detroit ULI Daniel Rose Center fellows.  She is passionate about the revitalization of her native Detroit, is young, and didn’t just move to Detroit. 





There is one part of Detroit’s current story that the media has gotten exactly right.  It is the story of Detroit’s unflappable Mayor Dave Bing, who moved to Detroit in 1966 and never looked back.  Mayor Bing is our lead Detroit ULI Daniel Rose fellow, and *news flash* grew up in Washington, D.C.  Mayor Bing’s story of sports, business and now political success has gotten plenty of coverage.  His commitment to Detroit’s excellence and push for change is also well-documented.  He is passionate about Detroit, smart as a whip, and gracious enough to take a picture with yours truly at dinner.  


Mayor Bing is also not satisfied with the idea that the new Detroit can only emerge 20 years from now.  He fully acknowledges the heavy lift facing Detroit, but isn’t going to settle only for glacial change.  He believes that Detroit can move into its future…now. 

At one point at our dinner table, someone asked Mayor Bing what he would like to see from our Livernois Avenue study.  He smiled and quickly said “Thanks for your work.  But don’t study long. Give us something we can get done now.”

THIS…IS ALSO DETROIT

11 comments:

  1. Thank you Calvin for not only recognizing, but also publicly acknowledging, that Detroit is not all bad and that there are in fact many, I appreciate your comments and would again like many, many good aspects and areas of Detroit. to thank you and your team for the time you spent in Detroit as well as all of the great proposals and input you gave us while you were here. Thank you again and Thank you for recognizing the whole Detroit. I am passionate about our assets and We, the passionate are also Detroit. Kim Tandy

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  2. Patrick Murray, a Detroit residentJanuary 26, 2011 at 7:19 AM

    Without meaningful mass transit which requires permanent climate controlled stations, something that would make even bus service meaningful, there is no hope for this region whatsoever. The alternative to mass transit, personal transportation, the most expensive and luxurious form of transportation, is what the Detroit region has opted for and look around you for the effect it has had on property values and population decline.

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  3. I am not an "original" Detroiter as I was born and raised in neighboring Cleveland, OH. I married a Detroiter and have lived here for the past 24 years and I have witnessed many changes, some good some not so good. Yes, I have been critical of some of the major flaws comparing the two cities, i.e. Detroit's need for better public transportation, concrete streets instead of asphalt, and the need to get old business owners to repair their run-down buildings, but I have never seen sooooo many different cultures live in and love their neighborhoods,own businesses and defend their city at all costs! This beautiful article is a great example! Keep up the good reports and it (Detroit) will be back!!! I believe those persons that have left Detroit, will be back. Honestly, I would rather be here than Cleveland!

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  4. Dear Patrick Murray,
    So are you optimistic or pessimistic about M1 Rail?

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  5. For those of you who are not familiar with Jim Frac's reference to "M1 Rail" here's a article on the novel public-private M1 Rail project: http://money.cnn.com/2010/02/15/smallbusiness/detroit_m1_light_rail/

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  6. Thank you for recognizing the "positive" aspects of Detroit. We often we receive unflattering media attention (much of it from our own home town media) and it is so refreshing to see that you took the time to see some of our gems. We have great stories throughout the City of Detroit (and our region) of people doing great things to help revitalize the promote the City. I would like to personally thank you for helping get the word out.

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  7. Thank you for your recognition of existing Detroit strengths. It is important for us to do a fearless inventory, recognizing and addressing chronic problems but also celebrating and supporting the good. Say nice things about Detroit!

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  8. Has anyone seen this?? Kids promoting Detroit!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCK8Ql82zBA

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  9. Great post Calvin...enjoyed reading it as well as the DFP article.

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  10. Lawrence WilliamsonFebruary 1, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    What Up Calvin! Great Post. Very Good observations.I have lived in Manhattan during my Columbia University Days, Cincinnati, Chicago, Los Angeles and Macon GA. Now I call Detroit home sine June 2011. I was reluctant to move here but realize Detroit is a great City and is primed for a rebirth. Its a great place to get in on the ground level and build wealth and help rebuild a City(double bottom line). It reminds me of downtown Los Angeles in 1998 (i worked at the Downtown BID)before the rebirth when many thought Tom Gilmore was crazy for buying downtown buildings at $5 to $10.00 psf next to skid rowe. I rent(doorman, river and city views, food market & fitness center all for $600/mo) and walk to my office in downtown. I just purchased a historic mini-mansion in Boston Edison for pennies and plan to buy value add apartments next.Detroit has it's issues like other cities but one issue i quickly discovered was the lack of marketing and promoting the City and the good things happening here. Your post is another positive drop in the bucket. Keep at it!Lawrence Williamson

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  11. Glen wash is also the owner of schafer and lyndon storage facility in Detroit. He runs a terrible business, and is a bad businessman. I wouldn't suggest anyone to store their belongings at this place. There are holes in the ceilings which led to custormers getting thief belongings wet and molded in storage. Rats and bugs and rats are also on his premises. He treats his employees like slaves, and is racist against his own people, and calls his employees the N word. He is a demon. Stay away from this man and his businesses.

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