you want to help Detroit?
No doubt about it, fixing this city is a pretty daunting
task. But don't despair, Detroit is full of great people and organizations
working everyday to make the city a better place. Here are a few causes
to check out. They're all optimistic. They're all about the city. And
most importantly, they all need your help:
Support Mass Transit in Detroit
What other civilized region on earth does not have a workable
mass transit system? What are we missing here? The resources? The know-how?
The will power? As has been proven around the globe, one of a city's
most powerful tools is mass transit. Mass transit allows urban density
to flourish by giving people multiple transportation options. It helps
regions and municipalities understand interconnectedness and encourages
the development of common planning principles.
Sound like communism? More like common sense.
The DARTA (Detroit Area Rapid Transit Authority) bill,
currently being considered by our state legislature, would establish
a regional transit authority that would, in turn, develop the structure
and financing plan for a mass transit system in the Detroit area.
In his infinite wisdom, our dearly departed governor John
Engler got mass transit and charter schools inextricably linked in his
head late last year. The legislature didn't vote for granting more charter
schools, so as a final act of lame duck defiance, Monsieur Engler vetoed
the DARTA legislation. Go Johnny! Way to cripple your state's largest
While Governor Granholm has vowed to pass this legislation,
certain suburban communities are plotting to incorporate "opt out"
language before the next round of voting.
Tthere there are those who would say, "It'll never
happen here. We're the Motor City!" Well, trains have motors too,
and there's a long precedent of alternatives to cars in Detroit. At
this time one hundred years ago, Detroiters were underway with the construction
of a streetcar system that would become one of the most extensive in
the country. We've been planning a subway system since at least the
1910's. What do we have to show for any of this? A Disneyland monorail
that goes in circles and a mile long trolley that serves about 10 people
a year. Wow, we've come a long way, baby.
Riders United and M.O.S.E.S. (Metropolitan Organizing Strategies
Enabling Strength) have been spearheading this effort over the last
several years. Join them today and maybe someday you can take the subway
to a baseball game.
Save a Building (Build Urban)
I'm a real sucker for old buildings and Detroit has lots,
with one of the most neglected architectural legacies in the United
States. The Boston-Edison neighborhood has one of the country's largest
historic districts, and downtown Detroit contains one of America's largest
assemblages of pre-war skyscrapers. While cities throughout the United
States find new and creative uses for otherwise obsolete structures,
Detroit's fantastic commercial and industrial building stock continues
We all know that Detroit does an absolutely appalling
job of preserving its past. Absentee property owners, political infighting
and a general apathy have all conspired against scores of Detroit buildings
all across our once fair 140 square miles. As the physical fabric of
the city is worn away, the few success stories that have emerged are
overshadowed by a greater atmosphere of defeatism and paralysis.
One glimmer of hope is the city's recent announcement
that Higgins Development, out of Chicago, and Marriott International
will renovate the once-grand but long-dormant Book-Cadillac Hotel, on
the corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Boulevard, just in time
for the Super Bowl.
But this wasn't the original plan. As late as last winter,
several articles foretold the building's certain doom. Out of this apocalyptic
mood, the Friends of the Book-Cadillac Hotel www.book-cadillac.org
was formed to serve as a watchdog and lead public education and media
Since then, the group has met with city officials, used
the Freedom of Information Act to obtain, well, information, launched
a website, and hosted several events to raise awareness. As of this
writing, all signs point to re-development, with the construction to
begin as early as April if the State of Michigan extends, as is expected,
its "Renaissance Zone" over the site, which would give the
project millions more in incentive funding.
While the financing for the Book-Cadillac nears what is
hoped to be a fruitful end, the Friends are already looking for some
new friends, possibly in the endangered Statler and Madison-Lenox hotels.
If learning more about Detroit's architectural history
interests you, then jump on board one of Preservation Wayne's www.preservationwayne.org
guided tours, starting this spring. And if advocating good urban design
for Detroit is what you're after, then Cityscape
Detroit might be your cup of tea.
Not Sure? Make it up!
Last fall, a group of tenacious (and possibly crazy) Detroiters
launched Detroit Synergy
, a non-profit volunteer organization to engage native and new Detroit-area
residents who love this city and want to help contribute to a thriving
Based on a highly successful model called Metropolis St
Louis (www.mstl.org), Detroit Synergy(DSG)
is a project-based, member-driven organization that seeks to bring together
the ideas and talents of its diverse membership who then work with in-place
efforts to run projectsof all shapes and sizes.
The idea is that if you have a vision to enhance the city
of Detroit, DSG can help you realize it. From a film screening to a
restoration project, the possibilities are endless. As long as it promotes
city life and the city of Detroit, the sky is the limit.
The process is simple:any individual who joins the group
can submit a project proposal and recruit other members to form a project
team. The project team receives advice, assistance, and support from
the group as a whole. In this way, DSG maintains a grass-roots spirit
that allows anyone to pursue his or her idea for a greater city with
the support of a larger network.
Detroit Synergy projects fall into three categories that
reflect the group's larger mission:
Discovery-Projects to showcase Detroit places and experiences,
familiar and new. Development-Projects to improve the physical environment.
Dialogue-Projects to foster the exchange of ideas.
Upcoming projects include Arts in the City (March 22),
Pub Crawl (April 11), Pedestrian Connection (TBA), Project CLEAN (TBA),
and Discourse Detroit (TBA).
General meetings are held every second Thursday of the
month from 6:30-8:30 PM, and Happy Hours fall every third Thursday,
from 6:30-9:30 PM. Venues change each month, so check the website for
locations and directions.
So, there are a few suggestions. Have fun and embrace
your city! If, as one wise native recently remarked, Detroit's predicament
is the result of too many small-minded people making too many small-minded
decisions, then let us wake up every morning with an open mind and ask
ourselves, "How can I make Detroit a better place?"
- Filmmaker Francis Grunow is very involved in the
city, and still finds time to writer for thedetroiter.com.
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