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Survey wants your insights on downtown Detroit


If you haven't been to downtown Detroit in say the last decade, you might not recognize the place. It wasn't long ago when the center of the 14th largest metropolitan area in the United States could feel like a ghost town on weekends and after working hours. Today, cranes and construction equipment -- along with significant increases in pedestrian and small business activity -- signal a new era for downtown Detroit.

As it plans for the future, the Downtown Detroit Partnership (DDP), a group of civic and corporate leaders that "advocates and develops programs and initiatives designed to create a clean, safe, and inviting Downtown Detroit," wants to know how you perceive the downtown area and what you think it will take to make it a better place. The survey will be accepting responses all of October.

DDP says that it intends to "proactively use survey results to inform our programs and services to better serve businesses, residents and visitors contributing to Downtown’s revitalization" and "wants to tell the positive stories about living, working and experiencing the Downtown neighborhood."

Those who complete the survey are eligible to win $100 gift cards from Pure Detroit and Blumz by JR Designs.

You can complete DDP's survey here: http://www.downtowndetroitsurvey.com/

Source: Downtown Detroit Partnership

The strange tale of the Garwood, an inventor's mansion that became an iconic rock-and-roll squat


In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Detroit's rock-and-roll scene was at an apex. Legendary venues like the Grande Ballroom and the Easttown Theater were premier spots to see performances by local bands like the MC5, the Stooges, SRC, and the Bob Seger System, as well as internationally renown touring acts like The Who.

But one of Detroit's best venues to see live rock-and-roll wasn't really a venue at all -- it was a mansion on the east riverfront.

In 1927, legendary Detroit speed boat racer and inventor Gar Wood had a mansion built on Grayhaven Island on Detroit's east riverfront. After Wood retired and sold his home in the 1940s, the mansion that came to be known as "The Garwood" went vacant until it was leased by 19-year-old Mark Hoover in 1969.

According to the Detroit Free Press:

When Hoover started throwing rent parties with live music in the mansion's cavernous ballroom, his more conventional roommates fell away and were replaced by a different cast of characters. They coalesced around a rock band called Stonefront, and the house took on the air of a commune dedicated to countercultural enterprise.

The Garwood eventually became a destination for touring acts travelling through Detroit:
 
The uniqueness of the surroundings and the loosey-goosey atmosphere of Hoover's parties soon attracted rock royalty. Some bands would finish their shows at the Grande or the Eastown and then repair to the Garwood, where they'd perform another whole set. The acts that unexpectedly graced Gar Wood's beautiful ballroom included Van Morrison, Sly & the Family Stone, the Allman Brothers, Cactus, Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes, Tim Buckley and Mountain. Leon Russell recorded one of his performances there. Johnny Winter loved the place so much he inquired about renting a room.

"They were madness. They were barely controlled chaos," said Merryman of the rent parties. "But in all those nights, there was never a fight, not one. Well, except for the time Hoover had to throw Alice Cooper out because he was too drunk. Considering the thousands and thousands of people that came through the place, there was no violence. None."

Eventually, however, the authorities shut down the parties and the tenants were evicted. A short time later, the house was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.

Read more about this amazing chapter in Detroit rock-and-roll history in the Detroit Free Press.

How Detroit grew around Hamtramck and Highland Park


If you have studied a political map of Detroit, you've probably wondered how the city ended up with two separate cities inside of it. Thankfully, WDET has explained how the cities of Hamtramck and Highland park came to be surrounded by the city of Detroit.

According to WDET:
 
As Detroit’s population grew, so did its landmass thanks to annexation. Surrounding townships didn’t have a local government and only existed for election and property tax purposes. So cities could easily swallow up them up. By 1891, Detroit had annexed its way to the modern day southern borders of Hamtramck and Highland Park. 

An encroaching Detroit spurred the areas to take action. And to strengthen local government, Highland Park incorporated as a village in 1889 and Hamtramck two years later.

 
When the state of Michigan passed the Home Rule Cities Act in 1908, Hamtramck and Highland Park were able to incorporate themselves as cities, thus protecting the economic interests that had grown within their borders.
 
By the time the Home Rule Cities Act was introduced, Henry Ford had already purchased land in Highland Park to build his Model T complex. The Dodge Brothers were two years away from opening the Dodge Main in Hamtramck. And as 1915 rolls around, Detroit started moving north again, annexing more and more of Greenfield and Hamtramck townships. Within a year, Detroit had completely surrounded the villages. 
 
At around the same time, the two villages exploded in population, thanks to the auto industry. This growth was enticing to Detroit. There had been formal attempts by Detroit to annex Highland Park and Hamtramck after 1908 but they failed to even make it to a vote. Why? Lupher says the answer is simple. Corporate power.
 
Read more about the origins of Hamtramck and Highland Park at WDET.org.

Write A House selects first winner, poet Casey Rocheteau of Brooklyn


Last week, Write A House, a group awarding free houses in Detroit to writers, selected its first winner, poet Casey Rocheteau of Brooklyn.

Rocheteau was selected from a field of hundreds of applicants from around the country by a panel of judges that included former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins and local writers dream hampton and Toby Barlow.

According to Write A House's blog:

"Rocheteau is a writer, historian, and performing artist. She has attended the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop, Cave Canem, and Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, and she has released two albums on the Whitehaus Family Record. Her book, Knocked Up On Yes, was released on Sargent Press in 2012, and her second collection, The Dozen, will be published in March 2016 by Sibling Rivalry Press. Rocheteau can be found online at www.caseyrocheteau.org and @CaseyRocheteau."

Write A House purchased a house in Wayne County's annual auction of tax-foreclosed properties last year and partnered with Young Detroit Builders, a 10-month training program that helps 18-24 year old students working towards their GEDs develop skills in the building trades, to renovate it. Rocheteau will move into the house in November.

In the mean time, Write A House will install a house sitter at the home.

Write A House opens a new round of applications in early 2015 for its next set of houses, which are located in the same neighborhood where Rocheteau will reside. Until then, the organization will continue to raise funds to purchase and renovate Detroit homes for its residency program. Donations can be made through Fundly.

Source: Write A House
 

The New York Times wants to hear from real Detroiters like you


Detroiters often criticize non-Detroit media organizations for failing to dig deep for sources when they cover the city. Case in point: a story entitled "A Gleam of Renewal in Struggling Detroit" that The New York Times ran in June. Aaron Foley of Jalopnik Detroit took The Times to task for its lazy coverage that excluded minorities and used the same sources it had in two previous stories.

Noted Foley, "There used to be a time in Detroit when the city's populace would be giddy about getting coverage in The New York Times, especially if the paper wrote something flowery about how things are slowly improving. These days, not so much."

Well, it looks as if The Times is making a real effort to deepen its coverage of Detroit. The Old Gray Lady has issued a call for Detroiters -- current, former, and new residents -- to share their experiences living in the city. The paper will use these submissions to inform its coverage of the city's emergence from bankruptcy.

According to the New York Times:

"As part of our reporting on Detroit and the city's emergence from bankruptcy -- the largest municipal bankruptcy in United States history -- New York Times journalists would like to hear from current, former and new residents. Did you leave because of the bankruptcy? Or did you stay? Perhaps you moved there recently because of cheaper housing prices or an entrepreneurial opportunity.

Your name and comments may be published, but your contact information will not. A reporter or editor from The Times may contact you to learn more about your story."


Detroiters can submit there stories here.

Source: The New York Times

Park(ing) day comes to Detroit on Sept. 19

On Friday, September 19, Park(ing) Day comes to Detroit. 

A one-day, global event where "artists, activists, and citizens collaborate to transform metered parking spots into temporary public parks," Park(ing) Day happens annually on the third Friday in September. The tradition began in San Francisco in 2005 and has since spread to cities around the world. The idea is to reclaim, if only for a day, a small amount of precious urban space that we have sacrificed to the automobile.

This year, Wayne State University will be facilitating the temporary conversion of three parking spaces on Cass Avenue at Putnam into mini-parks. For a schedule of activities, click here.

 

Got what it takes to make a whizbang website for Hamtramck?

The city of Hamtramck, Michigan's densest city, is requesting quotes for the redevelopment of its website.

According to an Request for Quotes, "The City of Hamtramck seeks qualified vendors to provide professional Internet web site design, development and implementation services for the redesign of the Cities [sic] current Website located at http://www.hamtramckcity.com. The city is seeking a redesigned modern work product with an enhanced graphic identity, value added features to provide capabilities and functions not currently available and capabilities to encompass emerging technologies such as GIS and streaming video for future enhancement.

Quotes must be submitted to:

City of Hamtramck
Clerk’s Office
3401 Evaline
Hamtramck, Michigan 48212

Quotes are due by September 23, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

Local governments in metro Detroit don't have a great track record of building great websites -- anyone who's spent time on Detroit or Hamtramck's sites can attest to that. This is an opportunity to help a local government enter the 21st century.

Finally! A biergarten on Belle Isle

Since the state took control of Belle Isle, police officers have begun to enforce the city's rules banning alcohol on the majestic island park. On Saturday, September 20, however, you can enjoy a tasty brew on the island with complete impunity.

The Belle Isle Conservancy Emerging Patrons Council is creating a pop-up beer garden to raise funds for the installation of bike racks on the island. The beer garden will be located on the grounds of the White House, the oldest building on the island, built in 1863.

Atwater Brewery will be serving a variety of beers at $5 a pop. Tickets for the event cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door. All proceeds will go to the island's "Bike Rack Fund." Purchase beer garden tickets via EventBrite.

Detroit Food Academy is raising funds to support young food entrepreneurs

A non-profit organization that partners with Detroit high schools, the Detroit Food Academy is in the midst of a $12,500 Patronicity crowdfunding campaign to raise money to fund its operations. 

According to Detroit Food Academy's Patronicity campaign page:

"The Academy is a 25-week program during the school year. Participants graduate with a polished values-based food product, a certificate in food entrepreneurship, a network of potential employers, and an opportunity to enter our summer employment program.

Small Batch Entrepreneurship Camp is a 6-week summer program that puts Academy graduates in the driver's seat of their food business. They are paid a stipend and employed 25 hours per week to launch, operate, and perfect their triple-bottom-line food business at farmers' markets and retail outlets across the City. The summer culminates in the 'Summer Finale Event’, where DFA’s young leaders pitch their businesses and leadership stories for a chance to win endorsements from the DFA Mentorship Board, scholarships, internship opportunities, and the addition of their handcrafted product to our emerging line, Small Batch Detroit."


Money donated to DFA will support these programs.

Bus rapid transit comes to Michigan

Last month, Grand Rapids became to first Michigan City to complete construction of a bus rapid transit (BRT) line.

The $40 million Silver Line connects Grand Rapids, Kentwood, and Wyoming, mainly serving the Division Avenue corridor.

Rapid Growth's Tommy Allen had this to say about riding the Silver Line for the first time:

"As I rode the bus on Monday with others who sat in the seats for the first time, a new chapter began. And I loved how people conversed with one another (those who did not engage were often caught eavesdropping, as a slight smile would emerge, giving away their hidden giddiness).
 
"At the Central Station launch of the Silver Line, Michigan Department of Transportation's Director Kirk Steudle shared that being first comes with many eyes watching what we do here, while we're hoping to replicate the successes of other cities in the U.S. who have seen a positive benefit as a result of the BRT lines."


Bus rapid transit, a less expensive alternative to fixed-rail rapid transit systems, features buses with signal priority traveling in dedicated lanes.

Read more about the Silver Line in Rapid Growth Media.
 

Senior housing at risk in revitalization of downtown and Midtown Detroit

Downtown and Midtown Detroit are in full-tilt development mode as rental occupancy hovers just below 100 percent and rent prices near the magical $2-per-square-foot over which housing developers and landlords drool.

While these numbers are welcome news to many, they come at a cost to some of the most vulnerable residents of downtown and Midtown Detroit: senior citizens. According to a story by MLive Detroit's David Muller, senior housing complexes in those neighborhoods are threatened by the desire of developers to convert them into market rate apartments.

A group of Metro Detroit housing experts called the Senior Housing Displacement-Preservation Coalition recently issued a report saying, among other things, that "at least a dozen senior apartment buildings in Detroit's Midtown and downtown areas could convert to market rate apartments in the next 10 years, forcing thousands of seniors to find new homes."

The coalition formed in response to the of the death of a senior in his apartment at 1214 Griswold after he and other tenants received eviction notices so that construction could begin to convert the building from senior housing to market rate apartments. 1214 Griswold's developers, Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services, Inc., are renaming the building "The Albert" and marketing its redeveloped apartments towards young professionals who want to live in downtown Detroit.

The MLive story (a part of Aging Together, a collaborative effort of MLive Detroit, WDET FM, and Model D that examines issues around aging in metro Detroit) raises questions about what measures can be taken to ensure the inclusion of seniors and other vulnerable residents in visions for a revitalizing greater downtown Detroit.

Read more on MLive Detroit.

Knight Arts Challenge People's Choice vote ends August 29

While four small business vie for $50,000 in startup funding in the Hatch Detroit contest, five arts organizations are vyeing for a $20,000 People's Choice Award in the Detroit Knight Arts Challenge.

As a way to shine the spotlight on smaller groups, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is asking the public to vote by text for their favorite of the five nominees to determine the People’s Choice Award winner. To vote, the public can text the nominees individual code to 22333 in the U.S. or 747-444-3548 toll-free, through Friday, Aug. 29. The effort is part of the Knight Arts Challenge, now in its second year funding the best ideas for the arts in Detroit.

The Knight Arts Challenge People’s Choice nominees are:

A Host of People: a theater group celebrating the do-it-yourself movement in both food and the arts by creating a site-specific piece to be performed in community gardens around the city; (Text Detroit1 to 22333)

African Bead Museum: a center for African culture that wants to renovate its facilities and create more exhibition and programming space; (Text Detroit2 to 22333)

ARTLAB J: a troupe strengthening Detroit’s dance community by presenting Detroit Dance City Festival, a three-day celebration highlighting both local and national artists; (Text Detroit3 to 22333)

Ballet Folklorico Moyocoyani Izel: a dance group that wants to bring the traditional dances of Mexico’s La Huasteca region to Detroit by teaching the choreography locally; (Text Detroit4 to 22333) 

Detroit Drumline Academy: a group of former drummers from Detroit-area schools that wants to prepare the next generation of percussionists by teaching and mentoring middle and high school students. (Text Detroit5 to 22333)

For more on Knight Foundation’s arts initiative and to view a full list of Knight Arts Challenge winners, visit www.KnightArts.org. Connect on the Knight Arts Facebook page here and via @knightfdn and @knightarts on Twitter.

'I Was Here' event to highlight experiences of homegrown Detroiters

In recent years, certain Detroit neighborhoods have experienced significant investment and succeeded in attracting new residents -- all in the face of a citywide trend of population decline that has persisted for over half a century. The development of these neighborhoods and the experience of new Detroiters who move into them have been well-documented in the media -- from stories found in Model D to national stories in the New York Times -- yet narratives of long-time Detroiters are often overlooked.

A new conversation forum, however, will attempt to remedy that by exploring narratives of homegrown Detroiters who were raised in the city and choose to remain there.

On Tuesday, August 26, "I Was Here," a new series of speaker events, kicks off at 1515 Broadway at 7 p.m.

Detroiters Ryan Barrett and Lauren Hood, both of whom grew up in the city, decided to launch "I Was Here" in order to create a safe space for long-time Detroiters to share their experiences.

"Lifelong Detroiters have these conversations all the time," says Barrett. "Now we can take them to a wider audience."

"People are dying for this kind of conversation," says Hood.

In addition to monthly events, "I Was Here" organizers are in the process of launching a blog that will feature transcribed interviews with lifelong Detroiters. So far, the blog promises to be a rich resource of Detroit oral history.


"So far I've completed 24 interviews," says Barrett.

The first "I Was Here" panel will feature three women raised and currently residing in Detroit who will share their personal histories and current relationships with the city.

They are:

Allison Kriger, LaRene & Kriger, PLC
Angelique Robinson, Treats by Angelique
Sara Aldridge, Our/Detroit Vodka & Nothing Elegant)

The event on the 26th is intended to be the first of many. Follow the "I Was Here" Facebook page for updates.

Changing speeds: Detroit Bait Car is now Bait Bike

Local entrepreneur and idea man Andy Didorosi, founder of the Detroit Bus Company (DBC) and Eight & Sand, announced last week the launch of a crowdfunding campaign to build Detroit's first ever bait car. (For the uninitiated, a bait car is a vehicle modified with GPS tracking technology that is deployed in areas with high auto theft rates and is used to catch car thieves.)

On Friday, Jalopnik Detroit reported that the DBC and Didorosi have pivoted. Instead of raising money to build a bait car, they are now raising money to build a bait bike. The campaign seeks to raise a total of $7,340.

According to the Let's Build a Bait Bike Tilt campaign page, there was more to building a bait car than originally anticipated. Here are three reasons for the shift from cars to bikes:

1) A bait car is "a concentrated sting effort that really should be led only by the police because it's dangerous, complicated and full of risks."
2) It's not the DBC's goal to send people to prison, which is where those caught stealing a bait car would invariably end up. DBC's goal is deter crime, not punish people.
3) Bait cars are really expensive!

DBC now hopes to deter bike theft in the city of Detroit by teaming with several cyclists and outfitting their bikes with GPS tracking technology. In the event that one of these bikes is stolen, the GPS will help DBC and the owner find it easily.

The real goal of the campaign, however, is to make would-be thieves think twice about taking bikes in the first place. To that end, DBC will distribute free stickers at local bike shops and bike events that read, "Is this a bait bike?" According to DBC, "Through a public awareness campaign, it'll be known that it's much riskier to steal a bike now than ever before.

If the project is funded, Detroit Bait Bike will join another technology, the Detroit Bike Blacklist (which we reported on in July), in the fight against bicycle theft in the city.

If you are interested in donating to Detroit Bait Bike, visit the project's Tilt campaign.

Source: Jalopnik Detroit

M-1 Rail update: First shipment of rails arrives in Detroit (with pictures!)

After years of planning, debates, meetings, and reconfigurations, construction finally began on M-1 Rail earlier this summer. When completed, M-1 will be the first streetcar operating in Detroit since 1956. Lane closures and construction trenches in Woodward Avenue signal what was once almost unbelievable: M-1 Rail is actually happening.

This week, things got even more real as the first shipments of steel rails (atop which the streetcars will run) have begun to arrive in Detroit on flatbed trucks. The shipment consists of dozens of 80-foot-long pieces of rail from Indiana weighing over 3,000 pounds each. Approximately one third of the rail needed for the 3.3-mile-long project will arrive in Detroit over the course of this week and next, while the rest will be shipped next year.

We will continue to update you on the progress of M-1 Rail's construction until the project is completed.

To see remnants of old Department of Street Railways streetcar rails, simply walk into the middle of Michigan Avenue in Corktown, where the steel rails are re-emerging as the asphalt pavement covering the center lane deteriorates.
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