Life Without Money In Detroit’s Survival Economy

Jerry Hebron harvests Swiss chard at the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm in Detroit’s North End, where locals can volunteer in exchange for fresh produce.
Photographer: Sean Proctor/Bloomberg
When her car broke down, Halima Cassells didn’t have $400 to fix it. But she had logged hours in her Detroit neighborhood time bank by babysitting, and that time yielded a repair.

When she was pregnant in 2012, she couldn’t afford baby clothes, a stroller, or a car seat. But she could throw a potluck barbecue, and her friends could afford to bring their old baby supplies.

“When people come together to share, it’s not transactional,” says Cassells. “Everyone assumes an amount of responsibility with everybody. It’s a different way of knowing your needs are being met.”

Detroiters like Cassells, after years of privation, have turned to what experts call a gift economy to survive. Theirs is an alternative economy based on time banking, skill-sharing, and giveaways—home-grown vegetables, a roof repair, spare keys to a shared car—in which neighbors give as they can and take as they need.

It’s a currency of community that has helped Detroit’s poor survive without ready cash. And those who rely on it say it has helped strengthen communities throughout America’s poorest big city, where nearly 40 percent of people live in poverty and about 11 percent officially are out of work.

“There is significant progress being made, but we recognize we have a long way to go,” says city spokesman John Roach.

The city’s much-touted renaissance is reviving just seven of its 139 square miles. In the rest, all that many people feel they have are community-based networks of their own making.

“These systems and networks take root because historically Detroit has been abandoned,” says Peter Hammer, who heads the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State University Law School. “The neglect and abandonment are turned into a source of power and opportunity.”

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Photo: Selden Standard 

Move over, Milan. Get a taste for some surprising food destinations with this neighborhood guide to the best eats on (almost) every continent.


Wait, Detroit? Yes. The city better known as a center for automakers and manufacturing is revving its culinary motors.

Best Neighborhood for a Food Frenzy

The city’s oldest surviving neighborhood, Corktown (early immigrants were from County Cork, Ireland), is also one of its most vibrant. There are all types of eateries here, from breakfast joints to fine dining. Try the breakfast poutine on the patio at Brooklyn Street Local or the duck bop hash at Dime Store. For lunch, hit up Onassis Coney Island for Detroit’s classic Coney dog, a hot dog with chili sauce, onions, and mustard, or Slows Bar BQ for beef brisket and pulled pork. Once you’re hungry again, head to Katoi, a newish and trendy Southeast Asian spot. Try the khao soi kai curry noodle soup.

Best Neighborhoods for Ethnic Eats

Detroit has some of the best neighborhoods in the country when it comes to authentic ethnic eats. Greektown’s many tavernas serve up stuffed grape leaves, souvlaki, and moussaka with bracing pours of ouzo. New Parthenon is a staple, and has been in business for more than 40 years. Hamtramck, just north of the city center, is a Polish enclave. Try Polish Village Café or Krakus for classic dishes like golabki (stuffed cabbage) and pierogi. The suburb of Dearborn has one of the largest proportions of Arab-Americans in the country, reflected in its restaurants. Al Ameer is popular for its shawarma, falafel, and hummus. (Sheeba and Hamido are worth checking out as well.)

Best Neighborhood for a Night Out

Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood has many bars and restaurants perfect for a nice night out. Grey Ghost (named after a local Prohibition rumrunner) offers unusual bites, like fried bologna on a waffle, and more traditional items, like dry-aged rib eye. La Feria is a popular tapas bar (don’t miss the fried squid), and Selden Standard is a farm-to-table favorite (salt cod fritters with sweet peppers are the standout).

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Photo: Matthew Naimi 
Photo: Freep

Vice President Joe Biden joined Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan today at ceremonies where 15 Detroit entrepreneurs earned Motor City Match grants to open or expand their business in the city.

Since the program was launched nearly two years ago, Motor City Match has distributed nearly $3 million in grant funds to more than 60 local businesses and assisted more than 570 entrepreneurs.  This sixth round of grant awards, totaling $600,000, is the largest amount ever offered in a single round since the program’s inception.

Every three months, Motor City Match connects new and expanding businesses with Detroit real estate opportunities and provides them with the funding and technical support needed to help them succeed.

 “Vice President Biden and the Obama administration have been tremendous friends and supporters of the city of Detroit, so it’s great to have the Vice President in our city one more time to participate in this great event,” said Mayor Mike Duggan.  “The Motor City Match program is just one example of how federal support is helping Detroit to grow its economy by supporting its entrepreneurs.”

Motor City Match is funded with more than $7 million in federal community block grant funds distributed to Detroit, as well as with city funds approved by Detroit City Council and support from local foundations.  

The program has helped to create a strong pipeline of businesses in various stages of development.  More than 570 entrepreneurs have received assistance through Motor City Match, including more than 60 that have received grant funds.  So far, 15 MCM businesses have opened or expanded and 17 more are under construction with openings expected in 2017.

Among the winning MCM businesses so far:
·        76% are minority owned
·        54% are minority-women owned
·        68% are women owned
·        62% of are owned by native Detroiters

In the program’s sixth round, grants ranged from $10,000 to $75,000 and winning businesses include:
·        Youth empowerment center
·        Artist’s incubator
·        Several restaurants and cafes
·        Custom furniture and housewares manufacturer
·        Metalsmithing and jewelry making studio
·        Bookstore
·        Massage therapy center

Among the Round 6 recipients is Karissma Pringle, a young designer and creator of precious and semi-precious metal jewelry, who will be opening a design and manufacturing studio in a Quonset hut in the True North art-centered development on Grand River Avenue. Pringle is a Detroit native who has grown an international reputation for her skills. She returned to Detroit to expand her business, which will include casting services for other jewelry designers and a retail space.  Her $35,000 grant will help with purchasing equipment and other startup costs.

As Motor City Match progresses into its second year, businesses are opening or expanding into neighborhoods that have seen very few new businesses open for a long time, said Mayor Mike Duggan. “Detroiters always have had an entrepreneurial spirit and Motor City Match is helping more of them to live out their dream to become their own boss and play a larger role in Detroit’s comeback.”

Along with grants, Motor City Match provides assistance to entrepreneurs who need help writing a business plan, finding a space or planning a renovation.  Other Round 6 award levels included the following:

·        50 Business Plan Awardees

·        26 Space Awardees

·        8 Design Awardees

Today’s awards presentation was held inside a Motor City Match winning business, which re-activated a vacant Detroit Police Department precinct headquarters into a training center and business hub. The Detroit School for Digital Technology (DSDT) is located in the old Detroit Police Department Third Precinct building. DSDT is a post-secondary school focused on 21st century media technologies, including video, graphic design, 3D printing and coding. Jamie Kothe, school director and CEO, was a Motor City Match Round 1 Space awardee and a Round 2 Cash awardee. Funds from the Cash award supported the renovation of the DSDT space.

“Motor City Match has exceeded our expectations and is quickly becoming a national model for how to revitalize neighborhoods through small business and support for diverse urban entrepreneurs.” said Detroit Economic Growth Corporation President and CEO, Rodrick Miller.

Applications are available on the first day of each financial quarter.  The next application window for building and business owners to apply to Motor City Match will be open from March 1, 2017 to April 1, 2017. Application details are available at
Shamayim “Mama Shu” Harris. Photo: ECLECTION MEDIA

Shamayim Harris wasn’t sure she’d survive after her 2-year-old son Jakobi was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2007. “I remember waking up the next morning, thinking, ‘I’m living through this pain that I thought would kill me. I’m not afraid of anything anymore,’ ” says Harris, 51, of Highland Park, Michigan.

Six months after her son’s death, the single mother of three channeled her grief into action, embarking on her dream of transforming a half-abandoned nearby block into a sustainable eco-village. “I saw this blighted block every day on my way to work, and I wanted to do something with it.”

The first step was a winning $3,000 bid on a vacant home on Avalon Street. With help from a friend, and money she’d pieced together from her paycheck and a tax refund, the former school administrator bought the house and moved in. She then set up a nonprofit, The Moon Ministry, started receiving donations (via a successful Kickstarter that has since reached over $240,000) and the real work began. Harris and a group of volunteers removed mattresses, toilets, liquor bottles — even an abandoned boat — from the neighborhood. “It took a while to get to green grass,” she says.

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The Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts. Kevin Miyazaki for The New York Times

9. Detroit, Michigan

A comeback city set to make good on its promise.

Detroit’s revitalization, after its 2013 bankruptcy filing, has long been building. In 2015, it was named a Unesco City of Design. But 2017 may be the year promise becomes reality. The new QLine streetcar is expected to open in April, connecting the central Woodward Avenue corridor some 3.3 miles between downtown and the revived New Center area. It passes through Midtown, home to the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the entertainment-focused District Detroit, where a stadium opening this fall will be shared by the Detroit Red Wings and, in a return from the suburbs, the Detroit Pistons.

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Mind Body Green
By Dr. Joel Kahn

I was born in Detroit long ago and have since witnessed its strengths and weaknesses firsthand. I've worked in the city and surrounding suburbs for years, and have cared for its citizens in hospitals, clinics and my office practice.

And I can truly say that today, the spirit and pride in Detroit has never been higher. The greater Detroit area is tailor-made to be a wellness mecca, with its beautiful international waterways, parks and recreational areas to encourage a variety of outdoor activities. Here are some of the best places to pursue health and wellness in the Motor City and surrounding suburbs.

I get outside.

The Dequindre Cut is a former Grand Trunk Railroad line that is now a 20-foot wide paved path for walkers, runners and bikers. It was extended in the spring of 2016 to reach the Detroit Eastern Market and is crowded with families enjoy outdoor exercise. The urban artwork and graffiti provide a local color.

NetworkingOut is group that organizes runs and boot camps in the city with the goal of exercising the body while providing an opportunity to meet other people of similar spirit.

I try out local fitness classes.

Citizen Yoga has a center in Detroit and suburban Royal Oak and has developed a loyal following under the careful teaching of Kacee Must, who spent several years studying on an ashram in Pune, India. The lunchtime classes in Detroit give office workers an opportunity to get on and off their mat and back to work with better energy and mindfulness.

Detroit Body Garage led by Terra Castro is a former bank that has been transformed into a unique community fitness center that offers boot camps, children workshops, yoga, and community events. Castro recently opened her gym to a fun run led by Rich Roll to support healthy plant based nutrition in Detroit.

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The QLINE will depart the Penske Technical Center at approximately 9:35 am and reach the Warren Avenue station around 10:30 am. It will then be attached to a vehicle and towed the full 6.6-mile loop as part of the regular testing protocol. No passengers will be on board.

ZAGAT's 26 Hottest Food Cities of 2016

It was an incredible year for dining across the U.S. in 2016. With chefs from NY, Chicago and SF moving to smaller markets like Denver, Charlotte, Seattle and Charleston (among others), culinary innovation is booming in cities big and small. But which food town had the biggest growth spurt this year? For one final look back, we've asked editors around the country to make a case for the city they believe had the biggest year in food by assessing the number of exciting new openings, award recognition and national media attention. Then we let some of the top food media brass weigh in on which locales were most exciting. 
Image result for selden standard
Photo: Marvin Shaouni
No. 13: Detroit, MI
The Motor City has gone through a lot of, shall we say, changes over the last few decades. Celebrity chef and James Beard award-winner Michael Symon is often credited with kick-starting the city's food revival when he opened Roast in 2008. Now, Roast alums have opened some of the city’s hottest and most critically acclaimed spots, like Selden Standard, which this year garnered chef Andy Hollyday his second James Beard award nomination. Nick Janutol, who cut his teeth at top-rated restaurants like Eleven Madison Park in New York and Ria in Chicago, also picked up a James Beard nom this year for his work at Forest Grill. And Top Chef contestant James Rigato, of Hazel Park's year-old Mabel Gray, also received a James Beard award nomination, and won acclaim from Eater's Bill Addison with a spot on his Best New Restaurants in America list. Adorable new pastry shop Sister Pie got some love from both Eater and Bon Appetit, earning a nomination for their best new restaurant lists. Other big openings in 2016 include ultrahip Thai spot Katoi from chef Brad Greenhill; Grey Ghost Detroit, which was opened by two well-known Chicago chefs (yes, chefs are leaving other cities to come to Detroit now!); and Chinese-American restaurant The Peterboro, opened by the owners of much-loved Motown spots Wright & Co. and Sugar House. And there's more in store: Twice-nominated James Beard Rising Star of the Year Garrett Lipar's new tasting table spot Albena and Townhouse owner Jeremy Sasson's new modern steakhouse Prime + Proper are two of the city's most anticipated restaurants for 2017. Standbys also got their due: Classic Lebanese spot Al Ameer became the first Michigan restaurant to win the JBF America's Classic award this year.
Meanwhile, Detroit's influence elsewhere continues to grow with the rise of Detroit-style pizza in NYC (Emmy Squared, Talde's new Massoni) as well as expats the Sussman brothers opening two Detroit-inspired concepts in Brooklyn, including a short-lived homage to the hometown icon, the Coney Island diner. Will we see more NYC chefs expanding to Detroit? You betcha. It was also announced this year that NYC Italian chef Andrew Carmellini would be in charge of the food at the upcoming Shinola Hotel in Detroit, opening in 2018.
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