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Revisiting the legacy of Belle Isle landscape artist Frederick Olmsted

As the nation's founding father of public parks, Frederick Olmsted is most celebrated for his East Coast creations, like New York's Central Park and Prospect Park. Canny locals know his imaginative green thumb extended to the Midwest, including our own most famous city green space, Belle Isle.

While Belle Isle's appearance has strayed from Olmsted's original intent, his sinuous, weaving canals tracing through the island park are virtually untouched.


I took a boat tour of the canals, accompanied by Keith Flournoy, Belle Isle's ever-resourceful park manager. (We were in a small, motorized launch, but you could get pretty much the same experience by renting a paddleboat.) We glided past weeping willows and under a series of wonderfully varied footbridges. "This is how Olmsted meant this park to be seen," Mr. Flournoy said.

Find out about Olmsted's other Mid-American works here.

SmartBuildings Detroit awards almost a half million in grants to downtown skyscrapers

10 buildings in greater downtown will receive energy-saving improvement grants from the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) of the City of Detroit, totalling $447,000.

The grants, capped at $100,000, are expected to leverage $5.2 million in additional building investments from property owners and other sources. In the CBD, Broderick Tower, Chase Tower, the Dime Building and the Madison Theatre Building received sizeable grants to help fund energy-efficient HVAC equipment, among other uses.

Detroit's EDC is implementing the SmartBuildings Detroit program by way of a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to encourage energy-saving improvements to optimize real estate values in the greater downtown district.

Find out more here.

Spirit of Hope urban farm brings bounty to blighted neighborhoods

In Detroit, it's still illegal to plant a garden on an empty lot without a primary house. That's the main reason Kathleen Brennan says she began farming on the grounds of Grand River Ave.'s Spirit of Hope Church.

Four years later, four parcels of land produce an overwhelming bounty (just a quarter of the year's produce helps stock 160 different food pantries) and an education on using what's around (old tires as soil beds, for example) to build something beautiful.


Spirit of Hope fills what used to be four residential parcels, and it's nowhere near the largest in the city. Brennan says that the urban gardening community is tight-knit, and organizers and volunteers feed off one another's energy and dedication. "It's technically illegal, so it's good to hang out with other people doing illegal stuff," she laughs. On a more serious note, she continues, "For the city as a whole, the whole gardening movement is good. It gets people active, healthier."

Dig in here.

PBS examines city's urban garden and sustainability issues

Journalist Desiree Cooper asks the tough questions about urban farming and Detroit's future on the DPTV series Sustainable Detroit, which aired its second episode Sunday nationally on PBS. She talks of the next wave of fortune-seekers to the city -- not property-flippers, but hoe-wielding gardeners who see promoting urban agriculture as a necessary next step for repairing, as Cooper says, the city's social fabric.


"If you're a caring person and you're surrounded by what seems to be just nothingness, it's a heavy, heavy burden," said Myrtle, adding that the gardens are a visible sign that someone on the block values the land, themselves and others. "When property is neglected, it says, 'We don't care, we can get away with dumping, and we can get away with vile behavior because nobody is watching.'" What they are really planting, said Myrtle, is a revolution in values.

Check out Cooper's blog, and cllick here to watch the video.

Conner Creek to host Detroit River kayaking tours

Hey, East Side Model D readers -- we've got the lead on a summer outing just for you. Residents of these East Side zip codes -- 48205, 48207, 48211, 48213, 48214, 48215, 48224, and 48234 -- are eligible to participate in a day of kayaking along the Detroit River. The kayak adventure is presented by the Conner Creek Greenway, a project put on by the Detroit Eastside Community Collaborative. For only $5 a head, paddlers will explore both the Detroit Rive, the Fisher Mansion and the numerous canals along the waterfront.

Two tours will embark on Aug. 13 from Maheras Gentry Park where Conner meets the river at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. We can't think of a better way to enjoy the city's natural splendor (while keeping cool!). Click here for more information and contact Libby or Caitlin at 313-571-2800 ext. 1159 to register for either expedition.

Go (Mid)west, young man -- Detroit, the new frontier

A century and a half ago, adventurers, dreamers and gamblers alike headed west to seek freedom and fortune. A new article in YES! Magazine hails Detroit as the new American frontier for the modern-day visionary. Urban agriculture, cheap land, yes -- Detroit has these things, and more. But, author Aaron M. Renn notes, the city's relatively lax attitude avoids a pattern of interference, which often hampers development in stronger cities. And that's birthed a community of "self-determinants," working together to create something closer to utopia out of the ruins.


Whether this trend really pumps life back into Detroit remains to be seen. But it has done one essential thing: it has created an aspirational narrative of success in Detroit that other Americans might imagine themselves being a part of. If that starts to attract people in sufficient numbers to reverse core city population decline, Detroit could be at the start of the long road back.

Say yes. Read more here.

Head to Eastern Market for new Tuesday shopping days

More fresh food and fun awaits during a new day of shopping at Eastern Market. From July 12 through Sept. 27, Shed 2 of the open-air marketplace will be open to the public -- a great way stock up on eats while avoiding the Saturday crowds. Stop by every Tuesday this summer from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Shed 2 is located at the corner of Russell and Winder streets.


"Detroit Eastern Market Tuesdays" will feature a sampling our historic Saturday Market experience though the inclusion of farmers, flowers, produce dealers, specialty products, and prepared-food vendors. In addition, "Tuesdays" will be a weekly community celebration including special events highlighting the agricultural, social, culinary, and artistic treasures of our city, region, and state.

Find out more here.

Video: Chronicling Detroit's two-wheeled transformation

Set to smooth hip-hop beats, this 13-minute doc called "Detroit Bike City" celebrates our city's ever-growing trend toward two wheels. From bike clubs like the East Side Riders to tricked-out rides and kids learning about bikes at The Hub, this video is a beauty. Filmed and produced by Alex Gallegos.

Watch the doc here.

Grace Lee Boggs: How a Detroit Summer plants the seeds of revolution

When longtime Detroit activist Grace Lee Boggs started the Detroit Summer program in 1992, her vision was of a multi-generational collective sharing ideas and efforts to rebuild the community. She knew the work would be slow -- one empty lot, one potluck, one garden at a time.

But in a passage from her new book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century, Boggs says she rejected the more typical (and large-scale) frameworks of a left-wing organization or sizable nonprofit, noting, "the system continues to function because neither carries the potential to transform society."


" ... our hope was that Detroit Summer would bring about a new vision and model of community activism -- one that was particularly responsive to the new challenges posed by the conditions of life and struggle in the postindustrial city. We did not feel this could be accomplished if control of our activities was ceded to the dictates of government or the private sector, even though this meant that we would be working on a small scale. However, by working on this scale, we could pay much closer and greater attention to the relationships we were building among ourselves and with communities in Detroit and beyond.

Read more here.

The future of Cass Avenue, a struggle between commercial growth and gardens

Mlive's Jeff Wattrick produced an in-depth commentary on the fate of the two Cass Corridor land parcels sold to Midtown doggie daycare Canine to Five. The land's been informally used by Birdtown Gardens for urban gardening.

As Wattrick writes, this was about more than just one garden -- it's bound to be a guiding case for City Council as Detroit attempts to rectify its interests in urban agriculture with the needs of local entrepreneurs like Canine's Liz Blondy. And while Wattrick supports the desires of urban agriculture, he warns that, without entrepreneurs, gardening alone won't save the city.


Still, Detroit has 60,000 vacant city-owned parcels. Even if gardening doesn't help make Detroit "look like Chicago," to quote Councilman Ken Cockrel, it is an exponentially better use for vacant land than ad hoc tire dumps or shooting galleries for dopeheads. Even the densest of cities, say Manhattan, find small pockets for green space. In other words, there is plenty of room for Detroit to be a real city while accommodating reasonable urban gardening.

Read the whole article here.

Green Garage to expand by summer's end

Between five and eight environmentally-focused companies will move into Tom and Peggy Noonan's Green Garage in Midtown, which will roll open its doors to offer Detroit a sustainable center for going green. The couple, who purchased the warehouse with retirement money, have transformed the vacant building into an almost completely efficient building (think rain water catching systems, solar panel energy and more). A team of entrepreneurs working out of the Garage are also doing business by the same ethos.

One company moving into the Green Garage is building furniture -- but this isn't your ordinary hand-crafted stuff.


Their merchandise will be made from wood and other materials they gather from abandoned homes in Detroit. The entrepreneur plans to purchase the materials from the rightful owners, such as the city or a bank. To make the furniture more meaningful, the owner plans to engrave the house address that the materials came from right onto the furniture. He also plans to include a brief history of the home the material came from so the owner of the furniture can own a small piece of Detroit's history.

Check out the story and slideshow here.

Spin a Movement bike tour with Wheelhouse Detroit

A new bike tour dubbed 'Techno in the 313" offered through Wheelhouse Detroit will give Movement participants the opportunity to glimpse the biggest sites in Detroit's electronic music history next weekend.

The Packard Plant, the Underground Resistance Headquarters and The Music Institute are just a few of the landmarks riders will experience during the two tours, which take place Sunday, May 29 and Monday, May 30.

The two tours are capped at 15 riders each; so get your wheels spinning and book a spot at wheelhousedetroit.com. The Wheelhouse is also offering significant discounts to any rider with a Movement wristband.

Detroit now worthy of nationwide hipster consideration

Sociologists know that hipsters, that particular breed of 20-something cultural "vanguards," cannot survive in merely any city. Any healthy and happy hipster needs dive bars that serve PBR, vintage shops, grimy music venues, post-industrial art spaces and other habitat features in order to thrive.

We found this funny picture on Flickr. Detroit is now worthy of a slot on the "Post-Grad Hipster's Guide to Inhabitable U.S. Cities." Rejoice! We're labeled on the map, along with this caption: Detroit "Street Cred; Something vague about hopeful post-apocalyptic gardening," Michigan.

See which other hipster hangouts made the list.

Detroit's journey from mean to green wins admiration from the Times

"The gardens are everywhere," writes food scribe Mark Bittman in a moving editorial in the New York Times Opinionator blog. His chronicle of a visit to our city describes Detroit's burgeoning food movement powered by the breadth of our residents' imagination -- and the belief that only we will turn this city around. Local food in public schools. The Peaches & Greens produce truck. And acres and acres of cultivated land, harvesting not only food, but a key to this city's future. If the journey is as important as the destination, Bittman concludes, Detroit's back-to-basics green revival is already a success story.


As Jackie Victor, co-owner of the Avalon Bakery, an unofficial meeting place for the Detroit food movement, says to me, "Imagine a city, rebuilt block by block, with a gorgeous riverfront, world class museums and fantastic local food. Everyone who wants one has a quarter-acre garden, and every kid lives within bike distance of a farm."

Imagine. Read more here.

Nonprofit teams with Coca-Cola, Home Depot to plant pick-your-own gardens

A new nonprofit is planting nine vegetable gardens around the city, allowing the city's hungry to stop by and pick their own produce. Urban Farming founder Taja Sevelle teamed up with Coca-Cola and Home Depot to fund the gardens. They'll all feature a rain barrel system that provides irrigation. Any garden with the Urban Farming logo will invite residents to help themselves to some vegetables, 24/7.


At the Urban Farming garden we visited at Linwood and Gladstone, the soon to be planted rows will yield a variety of produce. "Fresh collard greens, fresh tomatoes, fresh peppers, fresh carrots -- anything you can think of at the grocery store you can get here," said Sevelle. "This is in the middle of a food desert, which means that there are no grocery stores in this area."

Watch the whole story here.
97 Green Articles | Page: | Show All
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