Tag Archives: parks

Park watch: Cass and Columbia

July 24, 2014

This weekend, plans were announced for the new sports arena to be interpolated in the grey area between Midtown and downtown. While the glowing red arena with its googly purple octopus seemed unnecessarily demonic, the news was overall positive. Fears over the fate of Cass Park were allayed as the Ilitches pledged to rehabilitate the greenspace. What’s more, new parks will be moving in downtown.

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The blocks surrounding Cass Park will henceforth be known as Cass Park Village. The park itself is envisioned as an anchor for the neighborhood — probably without implications of restraint or deadweight. Chris Ilitch described the new village as “funky” and “frontiering,” in an interview with Crain’s, so maybe expect an eventual Royal Oak-like vibe as students flee increasing rents and photography studios specializing in weddings and babies move in.

Breaking ground this fall, much of the initial development is expected to be infrastructure improvements near the park to attract third-party developers. This means new streets, lighting, sidewalks, and hopefully some love for the park itself. This probably spells doom for the pink signs.

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As the official media kit puts it, the creatively-named Columbia Park area will be a “fresh, modern neighborhood anchored by a new public green space.” The rendering depicts a busy streetscape, which is apparently to be near the new park and is where lots of creepy faceless people will go to eat and buy stuff.

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“Great parks are vitally important,” Ilitch stated in conversation with Crain’s, evidently in concord with Duggan’s fair weather priorities. The new park will replace Olympia’s unsightly gravel lot M on Cass across from Bookie’s and another empty lot.

Planning parks on unused land has its upsides. There will be no illegal destruction of historic buildings; no need to send in the wrecking crews to deal with all those meddlesome swingsets and mature shade trees. It’s like somebody got their hands on the textbook for Urban Planning 101 instead of urban planning lol.

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Another noteworthy feature on the new map is the presence of lightly forested areas immediately abutting the freeway. North of I-75 between Grand River and Cass shows trees almost half a block deep, and south of the freeway trees dot the entire block between Second and Cass north of the new park. Another island of greenery pads the northern edge of Ford Field. Other plans include a vague mention of new pedestrian bridges. Although the acreage of new greenspace does not look especially high, it’s a lot of increasingly valuable land to give over to forces of nature, and will be interesting to see if the Ilitches live up to the as of yet sketchily-outlined plan.

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Until then, this is the before. Expect to be locked out of here for a while — fencing off parks is a favorite Detroit developer pastime. Can’t wait until 2017, when hopefully we can roam around and smell the flowers in the after!

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Park watch: Lipke Recreation Center

July 21, 2014

If you think, as I do, that park drama is bad downtown and in Midtown and other areas where development is leaving a heavy footprint, think again. If you think that protecting greenspace in areas of the city that are not near your home is fighting sometime else’s fight, think again. The water is everybody’s water, the parks are everybody’s parks, and everybody needs to do what they can this week to save Lipke Park.

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Lipke Recreation Center and Playfield is fifteen acres of greenspace in the northeast corner of Detroit at Van Dyke and Seven Mile. The park and recreation facility opened in 1952 and was dedicated to three brothers from the neighborhood who died serving in World War II. The park has well-kept sports fields and play equipment. In the middle of this sits a very intact but defunct ten-year-old recreation center that closed in 2013 after climate control units were stolen from its roof — and, not at all coincidentally, a year after a buyer interested in the park appeared.

On July 1, 2014, the city council ignored the community’s protests and voted to designate the park land “surplus,” transferring its ownership from Detroit’s Recreation Department to the Planning and Development Department. The Salvation Army is pushing to purchase the park to turn it into a church and outreach center, although odd promises of a waterpark have also been batted around, much to the community’s dismay. Scott Benson, District 3’s city council member, has done nothing to see that the residents have a fair say in the proposed deal, skipping meetings and blatantly lying about his interactions with residents, when he is not busy getting arrested for drunk driving.

University of Michigan student Kali Aloisi, who is spending the summer working in the Nortown CDC office examining District 3’s 55 parks writes that,

“This was hardly a surprise as this deal has been in the works for about a year now. The problem, however, is how underhandedly this whole process has happened. Community members surrounding Lipke have fought relentlessly to be apart of this decision and plan, and have been kept in the dark through every effort. Promises of a new water park, have turned into discoveries that the Salvation Army has no intention of keeping Lipke a green space. The politics behind this deal are ugly.”

What’s shocking is that the Salvation Army has had no obligation to provide written plans to the city, the council, or the residents on what they plan to do with the space until the sale is complete. Can this really happen? In a more vast struggle over privatization of public services and public land, the takeover of parks for alleged community benefit has a particularly hostile edge.

As the city struggles to maintain its 302 parks (official count from WDET’s Park Watch master list), some people contend that Detroit no longer needs so many greenspaces. With a population of 681,090, only about 37% of its peak number, some argue that the park system is as overbuilt for the current population as the rest of Detroit’s infrastructure. The city has one park for every 2,255 residents. Is that really too many?

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Greenspace naysayers must not have been to Lipke, or to most other parks in the area, which seem to be in constant use, from kids and families playing and picnicking to residents just looking for a relaxing place to hang out. According to Russ Bellant, a block club member and president of the Detroit Library Commission who is working to prevent the sale, the neighborhoods around the park have the highest density of kids in the state.

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The closest park with similar outdoor facilities is Kern Playground at Mt. Elliott and Seven Mile, a mere 1.2 miles away, but a 24 minute walk down Seven Mile that you probably wouldn’t want your kids taking. To get to another indoor recreation facility, it’s a 47 minute walk on Outer Drive before you arrive at Farwell Field (where there is a great tennis center, by the way). Neither of these is exactly your neighborhood park.

The nearest park, Robinwood, is a nine minute stroll southeast. It’s maintained, except for some piles of brush lying on the grass, but lacks resources — no sports fields or large play structures. When I visited, a family looked at me curiously from where they sat on the one small aging piece of play equipment, watching their daughter run around. It’s at the dead-end of a residential street, very much a neighborhood park where outsiders are regarded with suspicion and there is nowhere for them to leave their car if not arriving on foot or bicycle. It obviously lacks the amenities or capacity to pick up for the slack that will be left if Lipke is sold. This does not seem to be an issue that the Salvation Army, Benson, and even Mayor Duggan, champion of greenspaces, is willing to consider, even with money earmarked for Lipke waiting in a DNR trust fund.

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As one community member said, citing the many other social service programs available nearby, “We don’t need another church.” Her defense of this well-used and highly beneficial recreation space reminded me of a piece I heard performed years ago by Detroit poet Jack Brown.

Liquor store. Church. Liquor store. Liquor store. Liquor store. Church. Dollar store. Dollar store. Dollar store. Church. Soul food. Chinese food. Church. Strip club. Church. Gun shop. Church. Beauty shop. Church. Liquor store. Liquor store. Liquor store. Church. abandonment. Abandoned house. Church. Gas station. Gas station. Gas station. Church. CVS. Church. Liquor store. Liquor store. Liquor store. Church.

We have a choice in how the land gets developed. We can keep our parks open and not acquiesce them to the monotonous landscape Brown describes in his poem. Someday Detroit’s poem will read more like this: Park. Library. Park. Park. School. Community garden. Park. Grocery store. Library. Fruit market. Park. School. Or, more importantly, whatever the immediate community wants.

Even former residents reminisce fondly over the early days of Lipke:

“I remember when Lipke park was built, but can’t remember what was there before. I guess it had to be vacant property. I went to my first dance at Lipke in the gym. 1954 I believe, They had a lot of programs for young teens there.”

“I worked at Lipke as a life guard during the summer of 75. Although I lived in the Heilmann area and worked there for a couple of summers I always thought of Lipke (7 and Van Dyke area) as a special place. Gymnasium, shallow water pool, baseball fields…what a great summer that was.”

Let’s let Lipke Park remain a special place for years to come.
Join the community at Lipke Park from noon to 1PM this Saturday, July 26, to protest the sale before it’s too late.

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Miscellaneous goods:
The Michigan Citizen: “Benson, city plan rec center giveaway”
Moratorium NOW! Coalition’s information on the rally postponed until this Saturday, July 26
More of Kali Aloisi’s pictures and thoughts from her work on parks in District 3

Going on tour

July 12, 2014

D:hive, a downtown welcome center assisting visitors and residents in finding what they’re looking for in Detroit, offers walking tours a couple times a week now through their new Detroit Experience Factory venture. I’d been meaning to go on one for years, so with a sunny day off and the sudden remembrance that these tours exist, off I went. Our guide this Saturday was Shawn, a funny, hyperbolic guy who noted that he was “in the zone” today as we set off, underscoring that with the claim that if he doesn’t know the answer to a question, he is happy to lie so well that you’ll never know it was a lie. It was oddly reassuring. Among other skills, it became clear that Shawn was very adept at walking backwards, seemingly necessary for pedestrian tour guides.

We hardly spoke during the tour, save to ask an occasional question, mostly letting Shawn soak our brains in trivia. There was a group of three German tourists, a pair of guys who didn’t say much but smiled often, a man and a woman who seemed to have come by themselves, and me. The loners turned out to be really great, a PhD candidate from London doing field work on the prevalence of guided tours for her dissertation on the revitalization and rebranding of downtown and Midtown, and a cool Midtown resident who drives for Uber and is studying up to become a tour guide himself. Shawn said that size of group was normal for a Saturday tour, though sometimes as many as 25 or so will attend.

Diversity of summery footwear.

Diversity of summery footwear.

We made it 353 feet down Woodward before Dan Gilbert’s name came up. Wondering how that narrative was going to play out, I was relieved when our guide mentioned that “though the long-term consequence of Dan Gilbert is debatable, in the meantime we welcome him,” offering out-of-towners a balanced view without the excessive cheerleading I’d suspect a place like d:hive of fostering. We spent a lot of time standing at pedestrian crossings, stillness being the only way to get enough earshot to convey information.

With a sandbox so grand, Quicken security detail probably has a dedicated cat division.

With a sandbox so grand, Quicken security detail probably has a dedicated cat division.

In Campus Martius, we sat for a while on benches, learning about its blacktop-infused demise and reinstatement as a public park in 2001, when it received a 20 million dollar overhaul for Detroit’s 300th birthday. As workers excavated the park, they stumbled upon Detroit’s official point of origin buried under the asphalt, which today was again half-covered by a sandwich board advertising the Fountain Bistro’s menu. I couldn’t help but admire how snazzy downtown’s parks were looking. Campus Martius, with its simulated beach and lavish fountains, almost (but never really) made up for the lack of adequate parks elsewhere in the city.

Shawn was darting effortlessly between past and present histories, gesticulating at things with a small segment of plastic straw he was carrying. I’d forgotten how much of history is shaped by military forces and felt a twinge of disappointment, though all battle lore was tempered with good humor, like poking fun Augustus Woodward’s thing for Roman culture.

Outside the Yamasaki building at one Woodward, where we stopped to do some distance-looking in the direction of the Spirit of Detroit sculpture across the street, Shawn informed us that we were next to another Dan Gilbert property — “You can tell by the piped-in music and the eyes in the sky!” The Renaissance Center sat blinking dumbly from the comfort of its own zip code, apparently the tallest building between New York and Chicago. Nearby, “the fist,” Shawn sighed, “is misunderstood.” I’m still nonplussed by it, but doubt that ongoing misunderstanding is attributable to Shawn.

At some point I noticed that one woman was periodically jotting things in a nice green notebook. “Good idea,” I said to her in the quiet of the Guardian building, which Shawn told us is due to noise-cancelling horsehair behind the sneaky painted canvas. Instead I took notes on my phone, which resulted in minimally coherent jibberish like “snuggles across point of origin” and “puppies in music” and “40 years of disinfectant.” Everybody else kind of looked at me like, ‘why is she constantly texting and not even looking at the pretty buildings what a waste,’ or however German idiom would shape that notion.

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Who knew that the Guardian building, with its individually-dyed bricks and marble from a defunct mine in Africa that was specially re-opened for the project, was completed in just seven months? “There’s a McDonald’s in my neighborhood that’s taken almost a year to build,” Shawn added glibly for perspective. As we crossed Michigan, Shawn indicated with his plastic straw some brightly colored chairs on the sidewalk. “More of that placemaking stuff.”

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By the time we got around to Capitol Park, the Germans had reverted to German and were talking about Chicago. There was a lovely diversity of pigeons that, like all signs of nature, went unmentioned. As we walked up Griswold, Shawn said, “That one’s a Dan Gilbert acquisition” about a million times, evidently the current heaviest layer of history on many of these old buildings. Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be more and that he should probably take a break and have some water, he said, “Also coming up here on the left is another one.”

Outside the Albert, which is really "exciting" because it was built without subsidies -- commanding a high enough rental rate to justify kicking out all those seniors.

Outside the Albert, which is really “exciting” because it was built without subsidies — commanding a high enough rental rate to justify kicking out all those seniors.

Stevens T. Mason may have been the youngest governor ever, but that youthful invincibility doesn't make his effigy's head impervious to a spattering of bird poop.

Stevens T. Mason may have been the youngest governor ever, but that youthful invincibility doesn’t make his effigy’s head impervious to a spattering of bird poop.

Crossing Woodward to veer into Grand Circus Park, almost unrecognizable with its new furniture, I was the only participant who stopped to take a picture of the smushed pigeon in the crosswalk. “Euuuu,” said the Germans, sidestepping. About an hour and a half into the tour, loitering at the corner of Witherell and Woodward, we were discovered by another sandaled participant. “I’m a travel writer,” he said, delightedly squinting at us. “Who does these tours?” He was in town for the day writing about the M-1 rail project for a New Jersey publication targeted toward transit professionals. I hope that learning that the building housing Cheli’s Chili was once a women-only goods exchange, hosting a sort of black market, can aid in his report.

Hey, remember that time when the Broderick Tower apartments sold out in 48 hours? Shawn does.

Hey, remember that time when the Broderick Tower apartments sold out in 48 hours? Shawn does.

Grand Circus Park, the spitting image of Birmingham.

Grand Circus Park, the spitting image of Birmingham.

“The upside of forty years of disinvestment is having one of the largest collections of pre-Depression buildings in the country,” Shawn told us as we passed the Kahn-designed Detroit Athletic Club. “Where other cities bulldozed them and got their glass towers, ours got left alone and the modern stuff got built in the suburbs.” We jaywalked — not recommended by Shawn — across John R to get a better view of one of his favorite abandoned buildings, the interior of which had been deemed worthless after a lifetime of jeweller’s harsh chemicals, until just this week when its sale was announced.

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“I hope you’ve learned something new,” Shawn concluded sweetly as we lingered over a curb cut on Woodward at the end of our little 1.6 mile loop, “and if nothing else hopefully you’ve seen that the rumors of our demise are exaggerated.” All in all, with Shawn’s help I picked up a lot of downtown trivia that, as a Detroiter who cares about anything, I probably ought to know.

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It was a slow but entertaining tour. Its limited scope was kind of advantageous, giving visitors ideas for further explorations, like the riverfront that we talked about but, not crossing Jefferson, missed. Detroit Experience Factory holds that tour on Mondays, so why not build a little suspense?

The low price of foot soreness from extended loafing was negligible next to the benefit of this free tour. Thanks, Shawn! In keeping with my belief in holding onto a touristic curiosity and not taking things for granted, I’d like to do the tour again in winter and see how the focus changes.

Do you facilitate a walking tour in Detroit? Have any tour recommendations I should check out? Is there one for pre-1700 geography and geology? Please comment and let me know!

Park watch: Canfield & the Lodge

July 10, 2014

It’s a whole new week, and there are still no crosswalks on Second in Midtown.

This was actually only a minor bummer relative to the spectacle going on just west of the Canfield pedestrian bridge Tuesday afternoon. Crews of tree-trimmers were at work on the field next to the former Detroit Day School for the Deaf. The field was littered with trunks and limbs and leaves hither and thither. As I stood by, awestruck, a bicycling neighbor paused to offer some conjectures on the park’s plight. “I think they’re developing it,” he said, gesturing to the vinyl village of townhomes across the street.

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The field is used all summer for baseball games, and the adjacent recreation area, complete with quaint chess tables, concrete turtle, and pavilion, is a frequent site of big happy neighborhood barbeques. Personally, I’ve been enjoying my morning coffee with this turtle for the past nine years. The 3.2 acre space is owned by Detroit Public Schools. “If they’re developing it, they haven’t told us about it,” said the kind DPS representative I spoke with, which doesn’t seem unlikely in the slightest. Permission? Forgiveness? Bah. Just some tree-cutting, she said, as though turning to mulch every tree on the property were a regular operation. “Maybe they have some kind of disease,” she suggested.

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The dozens of tall black locusts populating the field seemed to have been in perfect health. The tree crews from Highland had no information on their assignment. “They just told us to clear out the trees,” one worker said. “Maybe they’re expanding the parking lot.” At least with these reductive operations, crews can’t leave their mark on Detroit turf as did the pavement-pouring outsiders who thought to imprint “SHELBY TWP” in Vinyl Village’s new sidewalks across the street. Guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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I feared the worst for this essential greenspace at Canfield and the Lodge, which could so easily go in the way of other recent problem parks.

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In a bright turn, rumors go unfounded. DPS leases the land to charter school Edmonson Elementary, which in turn leases an adjacent building to Woodbridge Community Youth. None of the three secretarial-types at desks in the Edmonson office had any idea that tree-trimming was noisily happening a few yards outside their door, but asking further, one employee knew of future work there. As we strolled outside Wednesday morning to see the ongoing devastation, he seemed excited to inform me that Woodbridge Community Youth has secured a grant for a new playground. It’s unfortunate that these healthy, mature trees need to go so that new, kid-friendly nature can be installed, but the Edmonson Academy representative said the parking lot was actually projected to get smaller.

The new playground is in partnership with KaBOOM!, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the nation’s “play deficit” and “play deserts” by providing a place to play within walking distance of every child in America. Finally, some good news! No hints yet on when the project is expected to be complete. For now, tree removal crews will be out there “as long as it takes” to clear the site. Maybe they can use some of the resulting mulch on the new playscape, if real woodchips are an approved play substrate for the twenty-first century.

Oh, just calmly watching the destruction of my habitat!

Oh, just calmly watching the destruction of my habitat!

UPDATE: 1:11 PM

This is not a fun game of who’s-got-the-turtle.

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UPDATE: 07.13.14

A neighbor posting on the Woodbridge facebook group has unearthed this rendering of a new baseball field for the Woodbridge Eagles, set to be playable in August. Two weeks! But where is the playground?

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Problem parks

July 9, 2014

Although Detroit still has more parks than it can handle, after having leased Belle Isle to Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources and temporarily closing fifty of them last year, there is a persistent trend of Midtown parks lately coming under siege. Here are some troubled areas in the greater 7.2:

  • Redmond Plaza, fenced off and soon to be remodelled by Midtown Detroit, Inc., for benefit of new restaurant goers
  • Unofficial dogpark at Canfield and Trumbull, unfortunately developed this winter into bland rental units.
  • Current construction that has levelled the gangly tangles of art in the awkward slice of Wick Park at Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cass, handed over last October by CCNDC to Cass Plaza Apartments.
  • Imminent threat of development of the neglected city-owned Wigle Recreation Center at Selden and the Lodge, as vinyl village is rumored to soon seep across the highway. The city issued a Request for Proposals in 2011, stipulating that an experienced developer “renovate the existing recreation structure and/or construct a suitable development at the site.” Guess which one they’ll pick. Another RFP was issued last month. Competing rumors say that the park has been adopted by DTE Energy.
  • And, a close call this winter as Cass Park was nearly gifted to Mike Ilitch. Maybe, like a lot of retirees his age, he’s working toward a secret second career as a master gardener.

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The former Wick Park.

The former Wick Park.

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In return, we get a stinky greenway and a speck of Shinola-branded dog park that no pedestrians can look reasonable entering unless accompanied by a well-socialized dog. Not sure exactly what we’re supposed to do with those picnic tables within the park — obviously not for either human or canine use! Although one day I did see a woman eating an apple at one table while her dog obliviously romped.

At least they've got the important stuff.

At least they’ve got the important stuff.

The cool Adopt-a-Park program launched by Mayor Mike Duggan’s office this spring is evidently not applicable when development money is at stake, with none of Midtown’s green spaces on the list for adoption, despite the persuasive factors of density, need, desire, and money for parks. Midtown may not have as many kids as other neighborhoods in the city, but adults need green spaces, too. Parks are for everyone, not just children, drunks, and crackheads. Or dogs.

Fortunately, the park forecast overall is looking up, with Brennan Pools at Rouge Park reopening today after stagnating for two underfunded years. Imagine if Midtown’s crusty Louis Stone Pool complex were similarly revitalized!

Looking pretty sad as of March.

Looking pretty sad as of March.

Not a lot better today.

Not a lot better today.

UPDATE 07.10.14:
Turns out everybody else is keeping an eye on Detroit’s parks, too! WDET has launched Detroit Park Watch, a wonderful program to monitor the condition of city parks this summer after Mayor Duggan pledged to keep 250 of them open, almost ten times as many as were maintained last year.

By visiting a park and reporting its status either online or by text, contributors can enjoy their greenspaces and help keep government accountable. It’s all the best part, but the other best part is how WDET is keeping track of anecdotes reported by park visitors. “Beyond the data, we will actively look to tell stories about these parks (like why is Twork Park called Twork Park?) and those who are taking care of them,” says WDET’s Terry Parris Jr., coordinator of the project. The site also features a great map where you can search for your nearest parks and read reports on their status by WDET or citizen park-goers.

Rambling report

February 17, 2014

A little cold, a little ramble. We left behind the foggy glass and perennial leafiness of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory and moved toward northeast end of Belle Isle as the sun did its damnedest to shine.

Reading, maybe, "A History of Belle Isle" at the front desk.

Reading, maybe, “A History of Belle Isle” at the front desk.

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It didn’t take long before ramblers were speculating about business plans for a cafe on Belle Isle. Trudging between the frozen canals and the old zoo with its marvelous domed structures and paths swooping overhead, we entered the forest. One rambler commented on the paucity of massive trees. “They’re mostly ash,” explained another. Then we met Bert, a viny old soul outfitted with a spigot.

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After trekking single-file through the woods, following the snowy trail divoted with ski tracks, we decided against venturing to the windy point where the William Livingstone memorial lighthouse sits, because what’s so exciting about the only marble lighthouse in the United States, anyway? We ran into some friends out driving with a camera lens enormous enough to be easily mistaken for a tripod. They advised us of nearby bald eagles, having just watched one consume a duck out on the ice.

We curved past the nature zoo, admiring its lavish bird villas, and cut behind Lake Muskoday in search of the lonely covered bridge. We sunk into snow up to our knees, not to speak of the snow still packed underfoot, wondering about the original purpose of a series of small buildings that most recently housed a disc golf center.

Snow in boots.

Snow in boots in snow by the willows.

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The crumbly bridge was filled with curious little graffiti and what we reckoned might be the nests of paper wasps, though they were less numerous than in the past. We sat on the benches that line either side of the bridge, trying to hug some warmth back into a cold dog, before deciding the better strategy might be to keep moving. In a clearing, huge stacks of things better called tree trunks than logs were piled high, probably evidence of Michigan’s DNR at work tidying the trails. We joked about making a nice bonfire.

This is not a slick of ice -- interesting lesson in melting things.

This is not a slick of ice — interesting lesson in melting things.

Questionable strategy to warm a cold dog -- wear her as a scarf.

Questionable strategy to warm a cold dog — wear her as a scarf.

We never quite made it to the beach, but it was a lovely ramble nonetheless. A fleet of huge snowflakes settled all around us as we parted ways at the conservatory.

We won’t be rambling again until April, but there are lots of events on the calendar for early spring, like the annual Marche du Nain Rouge on Sunday, March 23. This year’s march will have a special contingent we encourage you to join — the Anti-Funeral Procession for Cass Corridor.

Fake flowers

February 15, 2014

The park was erratically carpeted in rose petals. How quaint. They were clinging to the wet ground and flung up bright against the snowbanks. I hadn’t forgotten it was Valentine’s Day, but I wasn’t expecting to find evidence of the holiday in such abundance.

Someone had chalked a gigantic marriage proposal across the pavement, a mildly charming, low-budget way of posing the question. It was fitting that the ephemeral words marking something of supposed permanence, usually associated with the gift of a diamond, were left to smudge and fade away with an afternoon’s weather. Inspecting the petals more closely, they were all too uniform, each created in the identical likeness of the other, tawdry red polyester or some such silk stand-in. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like a bouquet of fake flowers. The sentiment was probably real; the flowers fake. Perhaps both are weatherproof.

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It’d be great if somebody would buy Detroit more than fake flowers, show some real love. Visitors keep gaily trying to gab my ear off about “Detroit coming back,” but it seems less like an organic blooming than a displacement, someone else’s Detroit looming, overshadowing the existing leaves and buds. The News reports that Showcase Collectibles, the wild little vintage shop at the corner of Cass and Peterboro, topsy-turvy full of every odd thing you can imagine, received their 30-day eviction notice yesterday on their $550-a-month space. Given the new owner’s great (and entirely understandable) haste to begin renovations, we probably won’t be left long walking past a sign like this, a sad reminder of the former Marwil Books just up the street at Cass and Warren.

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In Dan Gilbertland, Capitol Park residents have two weeks remaining in their eviction period. Metro Times pens a poignant farewell, quoting one resident: “We’ve had, like, a pretty vibrant artist community for a while, before we were here,” calling Gilbert’s art district plan “super ironic.” “You really can’t make that up,” he said. “It’s essentially becoming a company town. Like, where we own the company, we own the housing, we secure the streets.” While we’ll be out rambling tomorrow, the building will be hosting an open house/estate sale.

Meanwhile, Wayne State law professor Peter Hammer is calling the Detroit Future City plan a “deathblow” that will “re-organize Detroit out of existence.” He’ll explain further at a talk at Marygrove on February 25.

Sad times! It’s a lot, all at once.

Empire strikes

January 19, 2014

There was nothing unusual afoot when the Quicken security car pulled up in front of Urban Bean Company, the eye-poppingly cheerful orange coffeeshop at the corner of Griswold and Grand River that is a favorite downtown rambling destination since its reopening last year. In addition to Dan Gilbert’s cameras, security patrols are a common sight during the workweek downtown these days. Rarely a dull moment around here, where Josh Greenwood, proprietor of Urban Bean Co. and longtime resident of Capitol Park, has seen it all, as far as I can tell. On the sunny afternoon I stopped in for coffee, a shiny black unmarked Magnum pulled up across the street, facing the wrong way on Grand River. Two plainclothes cops emerged outside a building recently acquired, Josh says, by Chinese investors. “They’re up to something big today,” Josh said, sounding kind of excited, and pulled out his phone to text with the cop. The car was soon joined by a sheriff’s SUV, followed by a Detroit Police cruiser.

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While, quaintly enough, these amicable interactions with authority seem to be the norm here, the atmosphere of friendliness sometimes clouds. On the occasion of this particular Quicken security visit, Josh said the security guard, a portly woman in uniform, came in and “bamboozled” him with questions over by the pastry display case. While she distracted him, a man smartly attired for business went over to the opposite door. Josh turned around in time to see the door closing as the guy finished peeling something off of it. Unsure at first what was missing but aware that something strange and sinister was happening, Josh ran after him, yelling to not mess with his property.

The man scrambled into the alley and Josh returned to his post in the coffeeshop, where the security guard flubbed through some story about having forgotten her wallet. She would have to come back later, she said. “She was lying! It was so weird. I knew something was up.” When she pulled a U-turn on Griswold, heading north away from the Quicken headquarters, he ran up the block and watched as the man exited the alley and dove into the marked security vehicle. She sped off, running a red light.

The sticker in question is a humble black and white thing, a gritty illustration of Dan Gilbert between text reading “FOR YOUR PROTECTION! DAN GILBERT IS WATCHING YOU”. Josh still has a couple, but they’re definitely not out on display with the menagerie of postcards and stickers and flyers arranged in front of the window. He digs through the drawer and sets one on the copper countertop.

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“I don’t know where they came from,” Josh claims. “Somebody just dropped them off. I didn’t even put that one on the door; somebody must have stuck it on in the night. I guess they didn’t like it,” he said, referring to the Quicken people. Looking at all the “approved” stickers still neatly lined up next to the door, it’s curious what flies — an Apple logo superimposed with the “SAVE DETROIT” sticker featuring actor Ryan Gosling’s face, a larger version of which is on view next door at d’Mongo’s. What do these messy hijinks convey about Empire Detroit’s agenda? At very least, it’s unclear now who is authorized to watch over or “save” Detroit.

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Josh still seems pretty indignant over the whole affair. “I saw her across the street a week later. I went up to her car and said, ‘So what was that all about?’ ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,'” she told him icily, denying what had taken place. She shrank away from her window as Josh, becoming more irate, tried to jog her memory of the incident.

Tampering with private property — or stealing, if you like — is not a good way to make friends with your neighbors, legalities aside. There’s no way of knowing from where the directive came to shape up the neighborhood image. Perhaps the sticker-peeler, who Josh doesn’t recall having seen before, was a customer somehow offended by the graphic and wanted to take some lunch break action. That a corporate getaway car was so readily available to him makes the situation undeniably sketchier.

As we celebrate the broader walkability improvements Dan Gilbert has made to downtown and bite our nails over some of its accompanying pitfalls, it’s worth noting the most liminal ways our landscape is changing as more of it falls into fewer hands. The thing with having money is, if you don’t like something, you can just buy it and morph it into what you do like. Let’s hope this is the first and last affront on the free speech and free existence of small businesses like Urban Bean Company that make Detroit the great city it is and will be.

It seems that a city with such financial troubles resulting from a single-industry livelihood would have learned some kind of lesson about having a Big Three in charge, whether of our local economy or our land. Monocultures are bad news for any ecosystem. Rambling back uptown past Cass Park, which the city appears poised to hand over to the Ilitches, the point is even clearer.

What will the “longest-enduring member of Detroit’s real estate plutocracy,” as Curbed called pizza emperor Mike Ilitch, do with our once-magnificent public greenspace? The park is reportedly to be preserved as a “park space,” which we hope won’t be later construed as a “parking lot space.” If, incredibly enough, the area is developed into something like what it once was, or like New Center Park, and the sculptures offend us, do we get to tear them down? In the case of such defacement, something hints that the only getaway ride for the public is in the back of a cop car.

Solstice

December 21, 2013

It’s the shortest day of the year; the longest, darkest night. The winter solstice is traditionally a time of turning inward to reflect on the cycles of nature. It’s an auspicious opportunity to take old familiar paths, pondering changes in the self and its environment. There have been many such changes.

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Last year, the warmth of good intent cut through the cold. Someone was tending a fire in a barrel in Redmond Plaza, a welcoming flame inviting anyone who walked through to linger and warm themselves. Today the park is empty, but not on account of the cold or precipitation. It was fenced off months ago, the shiny metal barrier enforcing its vacancy for no discernible reason. The park’s visibility and the absence of any construction make its inaccessibility infuriating. On a few rare occasions the gates have been unlocked and people will amble beyond them, but it’s unclear why they open these times and not others.

The concrete seal, an empty chair.

Snowy day with the concrete seal and an empty chair.

The weekend community barbeques that have been happening here for years are still scheduled to occur. A few folks gather around the perimeter, maybe in anticipation of this, sitting on the two chairs at the corner and perching on the concrete ledge. One of the only people I see often at the park these days is the guy who dances wildly in the crosswalk on Second, wearing headphones. He’s often preoccupied, but sometimes he notices me and militantly barks a greeting.

This is his corner.

This is his corner.

The lot belongs to the city recreation department, but it’s slated for redevelopment by Midtown, Inc. in the coming year. Next door we’ll get a new restaurant, but what good will come for the people who previously spent time in the park? I doubt I’ll be getting catcalled much anymore while travelling through that intersection, but who will be there to wish me a good morning with such exuberance? Neither is the domain of the hipster or young professional, the kind of “Detroit by Detroiters” for whom this development is taking place.

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It’s also one of my favorite corners for pigeons in the city, probably as many as at Rosa Parks Transit Center, but with fewer comings and goings, disruptions. They’re used to the presence of humans, seem to have a symbiosis with the people who hang out here. They’re not afraid of anything. If I stand there for a moment, sometimes they’ll all flutter down at once, landing close and inspecting my boots, maybe mistaking them for one of their own kind.

When, like Third last year, Second gets its makeover into a two-way street with fancy bike lanes, where will the pigeons go? Nobody really cares about pigeons (though you can usually find a good spread of birdseed nearby at Third and Alexandrine), but a place too busy for birds impacts foot traffic, too. Will we have to contend with cars coming fast from both directions? For all its increased bikeability, the revisions to Third fail when considering the lack of safe crosswalks for pedestrians.

Change afoot.

Change is afoot.

What will this intersection look like in a year? In ten? What will it look like then in our memories?

UPDATE:

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A week later, volunteers are setting up for the community barbeque, positioned in a line along the sidewalk. As others dither over whether to put the fruit next to the desserts, one man tending some coals tells me that they tried to get permission to continue using the park, but were turned down. “I don’t know why they don’t want us in there,” he says sadly. “We’re just out here having some fun, feeding people, doing God’s work.”

Rambling report

November 11, 2013

We’re back from another successful ramble this weekend, just in time for the first snow. Thanks very much to the intrepid souls and soles who made yesterday’s walk possible. Nobody even got a flat tire. It was a satisfying jaunt covering about 6.5 miles and three places where vehicles are unlikely to be found — pedestrian bridges, a car-free street, and train tracks.

We started in the Woodbridge Pub Community Garden, moving northeast against wind and traffic din across three pedestrian bridges spanning M-10 and I-94, the endangered status of which warrants frequent checks on their perseverance. In between, we admired a stand of Detroit’s ubiquitous milkweed and speculated on its warmth as a jacket filler.

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After stopping for beverages to warm our hands at Stella Good Coffee in the Fisher building, we tried to explore underground tunnels advertised on the green Michigan historical site plaque in the lobby. The tunnels were appealing but mostly inaccessible, protected by glass sliding doors that slide aside for authorized personnel only. Reemerging to find the wind had died down, we resumed our northeasterly path.

Our destination was the charming carless block of Pallister, where houses face a brick-paved street ending in a nice park (surveillance cameras in use, a sign warned). While in the neighborhood, we visited Virginia Park, another oddly curved street that truncates at a small green space and low brick wall at Woodward.

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Leaves crunched underfoot. None of the usual fauna were present on this walk — no dogs on leashes, no strays on the tracks, barely any pigeons. Instead there were the graffiti iguana guarding the pedestrian overpasses, a skeleton at the side of the train tracks, and on Virginia Park, one rambler yelled about seeing whole turkeys. Another gullible rambler scrutinized the shrubbery before realizing that the birds were advertised at an eatery across the street.

We went south on Third, cut back to Second, and boarded the train tracks at the easy-access ramp so generous it looks like it was designed with ADA compliance in mind.

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The subject of urban exploration came up, and we discussed the meaning of the phrase in the days before Instagram and vanilla ruin porn, back when the infamous zine Infiltration was a most admired source of information on sneaking and entering with finesse. “It used to mean something a lot more like this, I think,” rambler Timothy Boscarino commented. “A certain way of interacting with the built environment. Wandering around seeing what there is to see.”

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Trains came and went, passing us like large, sedately lumbering beasts, and we watched the sun descend before exiting the tracks and winding back through the north end of Woodbridge as evening set in.

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