Sunday, March 29, 2009

We Almost Lost Detroit

by Gil Scott Heron

listen to [mp3]

It stands out on a highway
like a Creature from another time.
It inspires the babies' questions,
"What's that?"
For their mothers as they ride.
But no one stopped to think about the babies
or how they would survive,
and we almost lost Detroit
this time.
How would we ever get over
loosing our minds?
Just thirty miles from Detroit
stands a giant power station.
It ticks each night as the city sleeps
seconds from anniahlation.
But no one stopped to think about the people
or how they would survive,
and we almost lost Detroit
this time.
How would we ever get over
over loosing our minds?
The sherrif of Monroe county had,
sure enough disasters on his mind,
and what would karen Silkwood say
if she was still alive?
That when it comes to people's safety
money wins out every time.
and we almost lost Detroit
this time, this time.
How would we ever get over
over loosing our minds?
You see, we almost lost Detroit
that time.
Almost lost Detroit
that time.
And how would we ever get over...
Cause odds are,
we gonna loose somewhere, one time.
Odds are
we gonna loose somewhere sometime.
And how would we ever get over
loosing our minds?
And how would we ever get over
loosing our minds?
Didn't they, didn't they decide?
Almost lost Detroit
that time.
Damn near totally destroyed,
one time.
Didn't all of the world know?
Say didn't you know?
Didn't all of the world know?
Say didn't you know?
We almost lost detroit...

Scott-Heron's song "We Almost Lost Detroit", written about a previous accident at a nuclear power plant, was included in the No Nukes album of concert highlights. (wikipedia)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More media coverage!

'Taking a Chance on a $100 House'

After the New York Times and CNN, now also ABC NEWS 2020 reports on how artists see opportunities in Detroit. Click here for the full video.

Friday, March 20, 2009

CNN visits Design 99's Power house

CNN's Anderson Cooper visits the Design 99 Powerhouse. Click here for the video.

Full article NYTimes by Toby Barlow

NY Times
March 8, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
For Sale: The $100 House


RECENTLY, at a dinner party, a friend mentioned that he’d never seen so many outsiders moving into town. This struck me as a highly suspect statement. After all, we were talking about Detroit, home of corrupt former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, beleaguered General Motors and the 0-16 Lions. Compared with other cities’ buzzing, glittering skylines, ours sits largely abandoned, like some hulking beehive devastated by colony collapse. Who on earth would move here?

Then again, I myself had moved to Detroit, from Brooklyn. For $100,000, I bought a town house that sits downtown in the largest and arguably the most beautiful Mies van der Rohe development ever built, an island of perfect modernism forgotten by the rest of the world.

Two other guests that night, a couple in from Chicago, had also just invested in some Detroit real estate. That weekend Jon and Sara Brumit bought a house for $100.

Ah, the mythical $100 home. We hear about these low-priced “opportunities” in down-on-their-luck cities like Detroit, Baltimore and Cleveland, but we never meet anyone who has taken the plunge. Understandable really, for if they were actually worth anything then they would cost real money, right? Who would do such a preposterous thing?

A local couple, Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, started the ball rolling. An artist and an architect, they recently became the proud owners of a one-bedroom house in East Detroit for just $1,900. Buying it wasn’t the craziest idea. The neighborhood is almost, sort of, half-decent. Yes, the occasional crack addict still commutes in from the suburbs but a large, stable Bangladeshi community has also been moving in.

So what did $1,900 buy? The run-down bungalow had already been stripped of its appliances and wiring by the city’s voracious scrappers. But for Mitch that only added to its appeal, because he now had the opportunity to renovate it with solar heating, solar electricity and low-cost, high-efficiency appliances.

Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.

Admittedly, the $100 home needed some work, a hole patched, some windows replaced. But Mitch plans to connect their home to his mini-green grid and a neighborhood is slowly coming together.

Now, three homes and a garden may not sound like much, but others have been quick to see the potential. A group of architects and city planners in Amsterdam started a project called the “Detroit Unreal Estate Agency” and, with Mitch’s help, found a property around the corner. The director of a Dutch museum, Van Abbemuseum, has called it “a new way of shaping the urban environment.” He’s particularly intrigued by the luxury of artists having little to no housing costs. Like the unemployed Chinese factory workers flowing en masse back to their villages, artists in today’s economy need somewhere to flee.

But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished. From Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (think of a neighborhood covered in shoes and stuffed animals and you’re close) to Matthew Barney’s “Ancient Evenings” project (think Egyptian gods reincarnated as Ford Mustangs and you’re kind of close), local and international artists are already leveraging Detroit’s complex textures and landscapes to their own surreal ends.

In a way, a strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century’s industrial decline. The good news is that, almost magically, dreamers are already showing up. Mitch and Gina have already been approached by some Germans who want to build a giant two-story-tall beehive. Mitch thinks he knows just the spot for it.

Toby Barlow is the author of “Sharp Teeth.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Media Hits RSVP Warren

These are the media hits from the RSVP event. In
addition to the story that ran in the Warren Weekly, Arjen Oosterman was
featured in metromode and Alexander D'Hooghe and Ole Bouman were featured in a Michigan Now radio spot Dutch Ideas to Remake Detroit and Lucia Tozzi from Arbitare also wrote a travelogue of her experience here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Old space for new ideas: An embarassment of a certain type of richness

In 'How Buildings Learn..' Stewart Brand writes lovingly of adaptive re-use versus big box solutions. New ideas, he reasons, benefit from the flexible and adaptable spaces of malleable old buildings, while old ideas demand the support of their own structures. Witness a failed KMart, Roy Rogers or other retail solutions housed in constructions limited by their aspirations as they sit vacant.

Detroit has a wealth of these--pictured above is the Russell Industrial Center just at the Clay Ave exit of I-75. One million square feet on 10 acres, a once 30-year headquarters of Leona Helmsley's underknown direct mail empire (less glamorous than her hotel business) the Russell is home, creative incubator, studio space for an eclectic creative community including poster designers, architects, glass blowers, incense makers, host to open houses and parties that always make me think Detroit must be the most happening city on the planet.

Pictured from bottom up to the top: Tower visible from the road, 'the bridge' the fabulous elevator and the courtyard. I'll put up some images of the Packard Plant soon--Detroit's industrial infra structure is waiting and ready, a great host for new ideas.

Friday, March 13, 2009

What the *#&! is Social Design?

In San Francisco? Check out the exhibit and report answers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Forgotten Detroit

Yet another site with beautiful photographs of beautiful but decrepit buildings... ruins actually...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Daily Kos reported on 'Bushvilles' recent development of shanty towns in the US which remind of the 'Hoovervilles' in the time of the Great Depression. Click here to see the YouTube film.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"A Strange, New American Dream"

The Detroit Unreal Estate Agency received a mention in the New York Times, in an op-ed piece about Design 99 and "the $100 houses" for sale in Detroit. The piece, authored by Toby Barlow, points out that Detroit is not simply a city in decline, but is, simultaneously, a "vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished": the site for realizing "a strange, new American dream." We might want to discuss whether the opportunities in Detroit are, in fact, "limitless," but we can only celebrate Barlow's acknowledgement of the city's potentials.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Evil Twins

or how we're fooling ourselves to think we've reached the post-dialectical.
Gorgeous images by Camilo Jose Vergara. Check it out!