Deyana, is your friend from Detroit? Michigan has generalised problems due to the crisis in the car industry, but the decline of Detroit is very specific, almost like an enormous ghost town. Sure, all cities have decrepit sides, but this is not the same as the rundown Downtown East Side in Vancouver, a generally prosperous city.
Did you know that the problems of the Downtown East Side also have origins in racism? Before the Second World War, that area was Japantown; it went into rapid decline after the Japanese-Canadians were taken to internment camps on suspicion of harbouring sympathies for Japan (though many had been Canadians for generations, and had served). I guess drifters moved in post-war - there were a great many screwed-up ex-servicemen, and their post-traumatic stress was not recognised back then, so a lot of them self-medicated with booze and various other substances.
The Japanese-Canadians moved on to other parts of the city and surrounding area.
I had no idea about that history on downtown East Side of Vancouver. It's makes sense though. I've stayed at the Patrica Inn a few times when I've been there (this was some years back), that's right in Hastings on the East Side, some of the sights there were sad to see.
My aunt and her husband live in Vancouver too, just off main street. I have other relatives in Surrey, including my brother. It's a great city in many ways, although it can be expensive to live in.
It is quite atrocious how the Japaneses here were treated during the WW2. War has a lot to answer for. It brings out the worst in all us.
I think everyone will enjoy reading the heartening story below.
It Takes a Village to Open a Bistro By Toby Barlow
I WAS recently sitting at the bar of Le Petit Zinc talking to the owner, Charles Sorel, when he said something I found shocking: “I can’t imagine opening a business anywhere but Detroit.”
From a local, I would have just written it off as city pride, but Charles is, as he himself puts it, a citizen of the world. Born in the French Caribbean and reared in Paris, he ran a French joint in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene and lived in Brazil before winding up here. When I pointed out the risks of starting up in a city as troubled as Detroit, he shrugged it off. “When I moved to New York in the late ’80s there was not a day when someone in the city wasn’t robbed or beaten or killed,” he said. “This is so much better than that.”
A year ago, Charles opened Le Petit Zinc with the simple belief that there was a market here for a crêperie and cafe that served fresh organic food at a decent price. But that was certainly no guarantee of success. Not only was the economy cratering, but the building itself, an abandoned day care center tucked between a working-class Irish neighborhood called Corktown and a few abandoned warehouses, was on a street with no foot traffic. The only thing the place had going for it was a rundown playground out back that was good for outdoor seating. For the first five weeks after opening, when he was the cook, waiter, busboy and janitor, he had no idea what to expect.
Now, we are all raised to think of business as a sort of vicious spy-versus-spy, cutthroat activity where every competing establishment is out to stick a shiv into the other. You’d think that this kind of blood thirst would be even worse in Detroit, which — with Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, Eminem’s lyrics and our old, quaint Devil’s Night tradition of burning down houses — has acquired a certain reputation for toughness. But Charles discovered that the neighboring Detroit restaurants actually had quite a different reaction to a new competitor.
The owner of Slows, a barbecue place nearby, not only helped him get his permits, but also built tabletops for him at no cost. Jordi, the owner of the Cafe con Leche coffee shop, hooked him up with his coffee supplier. Dave, who had recently opened Supino Pizza, even dropped everything one day to get the paper Charles needed for his credit card machine.
Most surprisingly, just as Charles was starting up, Torya Blanchard was opening another downtown crêpe place called Good Girls Go to Paris. Instead of treating Charles like a rival, Torya happily exchanged recipes with him, even coming in one day to help make his batter, an act of crêperie solidarity that would surely have made Detroit’s founder, Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac, extremely proud.
“They want their neighbor to make it,” he says. “It’s different from anywhere I’ve been. Here, your success is their success.” Even his suppliers have shown a generosity he finds surprising: the Avalon bakery charges him wholesale prices even if he orders just one loaf.
In other ways, too, Charles seems to have timed things well, opening just when Detroit residents with an agricultural bent were beginning to take advantage of the 40 square miles of unoccupied open land here, an area almost the size of San Francisco. Greg Willerer, for instance, sells Charles spinach, flowers and zucchini at an affordable price, all grown within the city limits. Charles also planted his own garden out by the patio, putting in tomatoes, basil, peppers, thyme, parsley and beets.
Maybe it’s that adage that nothing brings a community closer than having a common enemy. For the restaurateurs, the residents, the urban farmers and the community activists now working to reshape the city, the enemy is Detroit’s own reputation. They know they will succeed only if they are a part of a larger, collective success, one that makes downtown a thriving destination again, and so they’re working together to make it happen.
Which leads to another entrepreneurial advantage Detroit possesses: instantaneous and automatic publicity. “Open a business anywhere else, and no one will notice,” Charles said. “Open it in Detroit and everyone talks about it.”
Sure enough, people are now driving in regularly from affluent suburbs like Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe to try his smoked-salmon crêpes and ratatouille, a considerable achievement considering many suburbanites come downtown only for Tigers games or a night at the symphony. While I was there, the place was bustling with a diverse crowd that seemed more than satisfied.
“This is the best restaurant ever. I would eat here all the time if I had more money,” beamed a woman dining alone at the bar.
“Somebody send that lady a dessert!” shouted Charles with a smile.
Bixa, this is a great story. Its wonderful to see people come together in this way, without regard to competition, because they know it will only benefit the larger community, and ultimately themselves. A great, positive lesson.
Post by suzanneschuelke on Jan 23, 2010 16:49:34 GMT
I am a Detroiter. I lived in the city until 1993 and now live about ten miles out. I worked downtown until 2002. It isn't that there are no good neighborhoods in Detroit. Downtown is nicer than it was twenty years ago and the Cultural Center (the major university where I worked; world class art museum; science museum, african-american museum) are both in good shape and the four mile path between them is perking up. Nonetheless, the city issues are huge.
The problem is two highly related ones. The decline of industry (especially the auto industry; but actually all manufacturing) and the huge loss of population. Detroit has only about half the population it had when I was born. Until perhaps twenty to thirty years ago Detroit had the highest income per education level in the country because anyone who worked hard could get a job in the auto industry. The line jobs weren't very pleasant but the money was great and the skilled labor jobs were excellent (I grew up in a neighborhood of skilled laborers). In the richer part of town the engineers lived. But - first the steel factories closed and then later car factories. There is plenty of blame to go around; but some of it was inevitable as better machinery and robotics made fewer and fewer employees necessary and something not always said, as better cars were made people started keeping them longer (a 100,000 mile car used to be unusual - not now). Of course; the big companies were slow to change which is where the blame lies.
And then we add the tragedy - the race riots of 1967. The city really never recovered in that many, many people left and were not replaced. There is no visible damage from that long ago - but the scars are still here.
I can't help wondering though that if the water issues of the west will eventually bring people back to an area much better suited to large populations. Already many have returned from Las Vegas. Right now they aren't coming back to Detroit city but I am hoping that will happen.
Thanks for more information about Detroit, Suzanne. The first set of photos were obviously meant to shock, even though it is clear that the whole city doesn't look like that. But from the European perspective it's hard to understand that people would just abandon big chunks of a city and move the city a few miles to the side, because there just isn't that much extra room available here. And yet obviously it happened in Europe in the past, too, as anyone who has visited the Roman Forum can attest -- a giant chunk of Roman ruins right in the middle of the city, because they were abandoned for more than a thousand years while the city moved over a bit.
Good point too about the Midwestern cities actually being in logical places for cities to be. Good chance in 50 or 100 years, cities illogically sited in deserts far from natural fresh water like Vegas, LA or Phoenix will make present day Detroit look like a thriving metropolis.
Ha -- it will look like an abandoned Star Wars set.
And speaking of science fiction, the interesting thing to watch with places like Las Vegas will be whether or not innovative, sustainable solutions will be found for their lack of sufficient water. Will they pointlessly throw money at the problem until those places dry up and are abandoned, or will any funds be used to find and implement solutions?
I don't think there are any sustainable solutions for places like LV or Phoenix. It simply makes no long-term sense, economically or ecologically to build large cities in arid regions with no local source of fresh water. I don't think there's any sleight of hand or magic bullet that can alter that reality. Subsidizing them is ultimately just throwing money away.
Post by suzanneschuelke on Jan 24, 2010 0:00:29 GMT
I also don't think it is likely that we will find a sustainable solution to large cities in the desert. That is one of the reasons people will move back (someday).
The destruction of the old railroad depot is a crime - that is actually the building that Detroiters get the most upset about. Many old building have been restored beautifully - but the depot is not in the direction that renewal has taken place. But what you don't see if something that is actually much odder. Whole neighborhoods that have only a few families - all the other homes are abandoned. In orders they have actually been removed (that's where those urban gardens are). Actually, the Detroit pictures I find the saddest are ones where a house or two is well maintained and kept up - they look freakish because they look so alone.
Note - it is not just whites you have moved from Detroit. They left first - but the current population issues are more complex and pervasive. Detroit will not regain population until the schools improve (though I know those pictures are faked - both because they look at and because that would be something I would have heard about).
The city that birthed the assembly-line age is now cultivating a slew of handmade salvagers, and it has not gone unnoticed.
“There’s an excitement here,” said Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of Make magazine, which spawned Maker Faire. “There’s a sense that it’s a frontier again, that it’s open, that you can do things without a lot of people telling you, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ ” Maker Faire follows that ethos; it drew over 22,000 people for demonstrations of wind-powered cars and fire-spewing bicycles to the parking lot of the Henry Ford Museum.
Detroit hardly needs encouragement to do-it-yourself; it has a lineage of makers.
Scott Hocking, an artist who creates works out of materials salvaged from the many abandoned buildings here, said that the D.I.Y. culture is “in our DNA.”
His latest piece, “Garden of the Gods,” is illegally installed on the roof of the massive, and massively derelict, Packard auto plant, which also recently housed a Banksy image.
Check out the article's slide show. Frankly, I thought some of the pics were a bit grim, reminiscent of a place struggling out of the wreckage of disaster. Maybe that's appropriate?
I have family in Detroit, my uncle was out of work a lot hm guess it would have been late 70s. He worked in a steel mill and made good money until the Japanese steel started hitting the market. Or at least that is what I recall him saying. We moved to Texas in the early 70s from Ohio because as my father put it, the cities up around there were going to be nothing but rust in a few years. The family always thought it was quite prescient of him when news stories started to appear about the "rust belt".
It is a little amusing I should read this story here tonight, right after a link from a post in another forum regarding an abandoned retirement home in our area led me to a website devoted to "urban exploration", a term that apparently refers to sneaking into large, historic, potentially interesting, old abandoned buildings and recording pictures and films, then posting them on the web. To put the situation in Detroit in perspective, the entire state of Texas had about half a page of forum posts. Detroit had three and a half pages. Each forum posting is dedicated to one building.
I rather hope Detroit is going to finally perk a bit. I worry about that part of the country in our current economy. My last visit to Ohio was right before the economy started to crater, and I found it heartening to see how things there were perking up. In my grandparent's small town near Columbus, many of the old houses were being repaired and renovated, lots of new paint and roofs. Quite an improvement over what must have been the depths of the rusting back in my childhood, or even what things generally were like in the late 80s and early 90s when last I had visited. I don't know about the rest of that portion of the country in that time frame, but in that small town their largest industry - an injection molding press manufacturer which had been an apple cider press manufacturer before that - had been declining for some time and finally closed up completely sometime in the mid to late 90s. Put out of business by cheaper products built overseas, mostly in Mexico or Asia.
I really think we need to find a way to learn to manufacture more here at home. I think we've made a big mistake letting all this manufacturing leave the country and probably are going to be paying a high price for it sooner than we'd like to imagine.
A poster who spends a lot of time in Motown on another board I frequent has posted the most amazing ads for houses- just crazy cheap. Properties that would cost 200-300k where I live with prices of 10k or even less. I've lived nearby in Ann Arbor and I have to say buying a house and moving there is an attractive proposition. You get a critical mass of bo-bos and young families into a neighborhood to gentrify it a bit and it could be pretty damn nice there. That part of Michigan is actually pretty beautiful country.
Clustered together, it might be a viable proposition (assuming that a person has a reason to want to live there). But when you see some of the more isolated houses, no matter how great they look, it would be impossible to feel safe in them. Every little noise would sound like a possible intrusion.
Tonight I am watching yet another French documentary about Detroit, which seems to hold endless fascination for the French. They are showing as usual the incredible buildings of old Detroit -- the train station of course -- and what has become of them.
They even showed an archeologist digging in some of the parks of Detroit to unearth "relics" from the 1930's when the area was a residential district.
It is really amazing to see the old footage of busy downtown Detroit, the auto factories... and then the results of the riots of the 1960's. One of the things mentioned is that the population of Detroit has now reached the population it had in 1930.
Anyway, the documentary is far from being totally negative, because it shows the wildlife returning the abandoned areas and also some of the farming being done by the remaining residents in places where houses were torn down.
I really regret that I did not manage to make a trip to Detroit. I was planning to go there when my wife was filming a movie there, but then her sister suddenly died and that obviously screwed everything up. The movie has not yet been released even though about 18 months have passed, but that is pretty much normal for Hollywood these days. It is one of those tornado movies, apparently of the new "found footage" genre (like Cloverfield or Paranormal Activity or Blair Witch Project) where a high school class (or some such, I'm not sure) is filming something when the tornado arrives. I think that the current title is "Category Six" but that might still change. Anway, the ruins of Detroit were probably an ideal location to make such a movie.
I once drove to Detroit. I left Atlanta at 9:15 AM and was driving on the Detroit freeway by about 11 that night. I remember being exhausted, feeling totally lost, and then seeing the sign "Bridge to Canada." Great. No cell phones back in the early '80s, but somehow I managed to miss the bridge exit and find my way to Lake Orion where my husband was staying.
Well, Detroit was originally French, after all. (Obviously, I am speaking of European settlers - people have been living there for thousands of years, with a fertile flood plain and lots of fish and game). Cadillac founded it; some car models made there bear names of French settlers and local Aboriginal people (Pontiac).
Well, most of the great art collections of the last 2000 years have been based on pillaging, theft or taking advantage of people in dire need. This would just be a continuation of what has always happened, after a brief respite of maybe about 60 years in most of our 'richer' countries.
Not exactly the same thing, but some of the towns on the French Riviera have been condemned for selling some of their perfect municipal palm trees for export to the Persian Gulf area to emirs who did want to have to wait to have to grow mature plants themselves. This was good for the municipal coffers, but quite a few of the people felt that their towns had been raped.