December 7, 2009

The First Assignment

Last fall, as the nation's economy took a swan dive toward an empty pool, Time Magazine rushed out to the homeland of the Big 3 to capture some high/res portraits of the Motor City. Published as the "Remains of Detroit"- the images would become part of a cover story for the magazine, and the digital slideshow circulated about like some Youtube fetish. Even my mom forwarded it to me. In case you missed it:,29307,1864272,00.html

Well, I've got a bit of a bone to pick with Time Magazine. Not for their overall effort toward my new hometown (sending writers out to
live here seems like a pretty good way to get a pulse on the situation: see their Detroit Blog). But for their choice of a title. The Remains of Detroit? As though the shrink from 2 million people in the 1950s to under a million today gives you license to completely disregard the remaining 900,000+ people living here now. Picture it: [the voice of Charleton Heston] 'And this... Today... What's left of our nation's Greatest... Industrial... Empire...' (cue the slideshow with 5 second fade-outs...).

The problem with the whole thing is that on the flip side of the coin, you've got people saying stuff like this about Detroit these days:

"It would be ignorant not to recognize the problems the city is facing, and perhaps as a creative soul I have a rose tinted perspective, but the freedom, the energy and the inspiring individuals I met there are unequalled by anything I’ve felt living in Paris for the last 3 years." -- Susan Connie Marsh, Publisher of Under the Influence Magazine

"You feel the potential, and if you don't grab it and run with it, you'll lose it. ... You can't do these things anywhere else. People with ideas are coming here; there is hope in the people that come here. … There is possibility in Detroit." -- Diederick Kraaijeveld, Dutch artist

I've lived in a number of terrific places, including Paris and Reykjavik and Kyoto. But I keep setting my books in Michigan. For whatever reason, Detroit has the most powerful hold on my imagination." --Brad Leithauser, writer


So I got this new job at Team Detroit with a very agreeable boss named Toby Barlow who asked me to start up a blog. He was named 'Best Candidate for Intergalactic Ambassador of Detroit' by Metrotimes (read it here) and you'll pick up on that by seeking out any of his Detroit-focused editorials for the NY times. Google them, they're great. From buying a house for $100 - to the amazing support the community gives new business owners - to the joys of biking in the Motor City. Toby's moved around a bit getting to where he's at in life - from SF to NYC and now to Detroit. And while he set Sharp Teeth out in LA, he's writing another novel that takes place in his new (and favorite) city: you guessed it, Motor Town. (As I write this, he's just sent an email from Paris via India & London, calling himself out on being sappy for how much he misses this place.)

Anyway, this blog's gonna be a forum that tries to shed some light on what else remains here. Down on the ground, between those empty hulking edifices. I have a crazy sense that focusing on what actually remains in the D is gonna be a tough assignment. Not because I'll have to rack my brain to find anything of value going on here. But because I can feel the city changing around me and growing every single day. I can't go out and get a freakin' beer in this city without hearing about something else that's about to start up, something that's just opened, or is starting to blow up. And since more and more the trend seems to be people wanting to work together to achieve larger goals, the Remains of the D will probably grow even quicker. So it won't be very easy to try and capture a fair sense of it. But you definitely won't have to twist my arm to get me to try.

So what the F- are you gonna find on this blog?

Well, for starters- some projects that myself or my agreeable boss Toby or our good friend Phillip Cooley over at Slows Bar-B-Q are involved in. Things ranging from Phil helping to build a bmx pump track on an empty lot in a neighborhood that 99% of reporters write off as a lost cause; a neighborhood hit hard by the '67 riots, that stands mostly abandoned today, and yet houses some of Detroit's best examples of urban agriculture (I love you North Corktown)... To things like the Detroit Ford Reclamation Project where the three of us cooked up a pool of cash to pimp the ride of our friend Ko, a local rockstar (see - it's not just bad things that happen to cars in Detroit, Mr. Insurance Man)... To things like - oh wait, I can't say that one. But it involves the very photogenic Michigan Central Station- yes the very one in Times famous slideshow (I want you, train station).

Also, you're gonna find some transcripts from the early stages of us setting up these projects. And these'll make for some pretty good reads. I promise. See, like many of the people who claim (for whatever crazy reason) they can spot some light at the end of the dark Detroit night- Phil, Toby and I are obsessed dreamers. Always scheming (& even sometimes succeeding!). We think it only fair to relate some of our crazy roller coaster process to you- so that when people ask us how'd you pull that off, we can say- have a look! Also, I'll let you in on a little hint: the process is like a really good drug. Lots of fun, really fast, sometimes outta control, but making you feel real good all over (especially before the doubts start to kick in). And like I said, sometimes things actually work out! I drove a bobcat this summer in front of the train station while helping build a landscape with Los Pistoleros and Daimler Financial. Did I have any credentials to operate that thing? HELL... NO! In fact- I actually dropped the bucket on Phil's foot as we were packing up the last of the native grass plants to head out and leave for the day. Somehow his foot didn't break. (Shhhh. Don't mention that one to Mr Insurance please.)

What else are you gonna find here? Well, interviews. Kid Rock and Jack White and the scandalous Detroit politicians and Meatloaf and such. Well, maybe not Meatloaf. And I guess maybe not those other folks either, but I won't rule it out just yet. Never say never.

Of course, my agreeable boss will drop in as well to say some smart things that we'll all learn from and say 'oh yeah- that makes

Oh! and we're gonna get some pictures for you to look at too. Not sure of what yet, but they'll be in there, I promise. I know that a lot of text can be boring. So thank you for sticking it out with me so far.

Well, that's about it for now. Gotta flip thru my shiny new Team Detroit rolodex and check to see if Meatloaf's in there. More to come soon...


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