The Guardian: Detroit Gets Growing


Strolling around his inner-city Detroit neighborhood, Mark Covington pauses to take in the view. The houses and shops that existed when he was a child are gone, replaced by empty lots, the buildings either burned down or demolished. In their place is wilderness. Tall grass, wild flowers and trees. "Just look at that," he says. "It could be a country road."

Such views are increasingly common all over Detroit, the forlorn former capital of America's car industry and now a by-word for calamitous urban decline. Once the fourth largest city in America, its population has shrunk from about 1.8 million at its peak in the 1950s to fewer than 900,000 now. Its streets are lined with an incredible 33,000 empty lots and vacant houses. City government is broke. The shells of dilapidated factories look out over an urban landscape that has been likened to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina – except Detroit's disaster was man-made and took decades to unfold.

Now the seeds of a remarkable rebirth are being planted – literally. Across Detroit, land is being turned over to agriculture. Furrows are being tilled, soil fertilized and crops planted and harvested. Like in no other city in the world, urban farming has taken root in Detroit, not just as a hobby or a sideline but as part of a model for a wholesale revitalization of a major city. Some farms are the product of hardy individualists or non-profit community groups. Others, like Hantz Farms, are backed by millions of dollars and aim to build the world's biggest urban farm right in the middle of the city.

Mark Covington, 38, is one of those 21st-century pioneers, though he stumbled on his role almost by accident. Finding himself unemployed after losing his job as an environmental engineer and living back with his mother two years ago, he started tidying up an empty lot near his Georgia Street home, planting vegetables and allowing local people to harvest them for free. An orchard of fruit trees followed, as did a community centre – made by converting a pair of empty buildings – which keeps local youths off the streets. The result is a transformation of the area around his childhood home. Local kids come to movie nights held amid the crops. Residents love the free, fresh food in an area where no major supermarkets exist. The Georgia Street Community Garden is never vandalized.

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Because of its economic problems, Detroit got a pretty bad rap and became a symbol of urban decay, but economic revitalization is underway in some of its historic neighborhoods. Once one of America’s wealthiest cities, Detroit built up numerous attractions, entertainment venues, and sports stadiums. Now it’s becoming know as a place for cheap — really cheap — property and the place most likely to experience a renaissance. Before you cross Detroit off of your list of travel destinations, consider these 10 reasons to go to Detroit now.
1. Motown 

Detroit has a musical legacy that literally changed America. It started in 1959 when Berry Gordy opened Motown, a recording studio that combined pop and soul to create a grooving music great for dancing. Both whites and blacks couldn’t get enough of Motown and, by uniting youth of all colors, the music is credited with helping to bring about racial integration. Over the years, Motown produced some of the top artists of all time, including Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson 5, and Stevie Wonder. Today, the recording studio has been transformed into a museum. Helme-Day

2. The Resurgence 

If you want to see community spirit and passion, Detroit embodies them. Even though the city is blighted with vacant houses and debt, citizens are rallying to renovate neighborhoods. Rather than waiting for the government to take action, they are getting things done themselves through non-profit community groups. Using whatever tools they can get their hands on, community members are transforming vacant lots into community gardens and abandoned storefronts into murals.

3. The Inn on Ferry Street 

In case you forgot that Detroit used to be prosperous, a stay at the Inn on Ferry Street will remind you. The inn consists of four Victorian mansions and two carriage houses. In the early 1900s, the neighborhood was mostly Jewish and in the 1930s, became home to prominent black residents who had established some of the major facilities for the then-segregated black population of Detroit. The inn has been elaborately renovated true to its original style, with stunning carved-wood banisters, Victorian turrets, and grand fireplaces.

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The NYT: The Post-Post-Apocalyptic Detroit

Saturday in Campus Martius Park, in front of Compuware headquarters.CreditAndrew Moore for The New York Times

In downtown Detroit, at the headquarters of the online-mortgage company Quicken Loans, there stands another downtown Detroit in miniature. The diorama, made of laser-cut acrylic and stretching out over 19 feet in length, is a riot of color and light: Every structure belonging to Quicken’s billionaire owner, Dan Gilbert, is topped in orange and illuminated from within, and Gilbert currently owns 60 of them, a lordly nine million square feet of real estate in all. He began picking up skyscrapers just three and a half years ago, one after another, paying as little as $8 a square foot. He bought five buildings surrounding Capitol Park, the seat of government when Michigan became a state in 1837. He snapped up the site of the old Hudson’s department store, where 12,000 employees catered to 100,000 customers daily in the 1950s. Many of Gilbert’s purchases are 20th-century architectural treasures, built when Detroit served as a hub of world industry. He bought a Daniel Burnham, a few Albert Kahns, a Minoru Yamasaki masterwork with a soaring glass atrium. “They’re like old-school sports cars,” said Dan Mullen, one of the executives who took over Quicken’s newly formed real estate arm. “These were buildings with so much character, so much history. They don’t exist anywhere else. And it was like, ‘Buy this parking garage, and we’ll throw in a skyscraper with it.’”

One of Gilbert’s new downtown properties is an iconic Kahn creation from 1959 called Chase Tower, previously the National Bank of Detroit Building, which spans a full city block. Now nicknamed the Qube, the building houses hundreds of Quicken loan officers who sit or stand at small desks, working their phones. Employees are encouraged to write on the walls, which also display the latest tallied results in competitions between internal sales teams. Stenciled on the walls as well are the Quicken credos, 19 bits of pithy wisdom the company calls its “Isms.” (“The inches we need are everywhere around us.” “Numbers and money follow; they do not lead.”) Above the workers hover decorative, spacecraft-like orbs, in peach and pink and aquamarine, matching the colors of the cabinetry and carpeting. The overall atmosphere resembles “The Wolf of Wall Street” as art-directed by Dr. Seuss. When a loan officer closes a deal, the resulting mortgage contract is printed out in the nearby basement of the old Federal Reserve, another Gilbert holding. In rooms where armored cars once deposited bags of money, rows of printers run hot, spitting out tens of thousands of contracts a month, a total of $80 billion in residential mortgages last year.

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Detroit Makes Another List Thanks to Forbes

The Most Competitive Metros In America

No. 9 Detroit, Michigan

No. 9 Detroit, Michigan 

Industries driving the local economy: Motor vehicle manufacturing, engineering services and temporary help services.

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The NYT: A Gleam of Renewal in Struggling Detroit

Corktown, once a desolate strip just west of downtown Detroit, is a serious hotbed of new restaurants, bars, hotels and more, all sitting in the shadow of one of the most glaring icons of Detroit’s demise, the skeleton of the old train depot, Michigan Central Station. In this ailing city, people look at Corktown as a bright example of what rebuilding can do. The resurgence of Corktown, originally an Irish enclave, began with the 2005 opening of Slows Bar B Q. These days, thanks to low rents and a consumer base hungry for things to do, the area is now a vibrant community of passionate restaurateurs, stylish shopkeepers, meticulous coffee connoisseurs and craft cocktailers.



Ottava Via.CreditImage by Anthony Lanzilote for The New York Times

The chefs at this rustic Italian trattoria visit the local farmers’ market daily to bolster a menu that includes house mozzarella, crispy stone-fired pizzas and a signature Berkshire pork porchetta topped with onion jam and pork cracklings. The high ceilings hint at the building’s origins as a bank, and a patio features a fireplace and a bocce court.
1400 Michigan Avenue; 313-962-5500;

Making a drink at Two James Distillery.CreditImage by Anthony Lanzilote for The New York Times

The first licensed distillery in Detroit since Prohibition, Two James offers outstanding house-made vodka, gin and several types of whiskey. The tasting room is open six days a week doling out unique cocktails that feature ingredients like beet and carrot shrub (a drinking vinegar), plum bitters and orange peel liqueur.
2445 Michigan Avenue; 313-964-4800;

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"Any time one of my friends tells me they want to open a small business, the first thing I do is try to talk them out of it," says Stephen Roginson, who's in the process of setting up his own business in Detroit.

The life of a small business owner — especially in the very early days — is not an easy one. You're human resources, the accountant, the marketer and the general contractor. You're subject to the harsh regulations of zoning and permits, and you have to have your game face on as you meet customers — and prospective customers — in the neighborhood at all hours of the day. It's not a pretty ride, but it's an exciting and invigorating one, especially for entrepreneurs looking not just to make a profit, but to feed a passion and create a way to connect with people. In our new video series, Setting Up Shop, Mashable is documenting the small business journey to profits; Stephen is one of the entrepreneurs we're following.

Check Out Setting Up Shop on YouTube Roginson, featured in the video above, is a former corporate marketer turned homebrewer, hustling to open Batch Brewing Company in Downtown Detroit.

He's on a mission to help revitalize the city he loves, and there's a lot at stake: His life savings, a $50,000 grant, an Indiegogo campaign, his reputation and the hopes of a neighborhood.

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Madonna Test Driving An Empowerment Plan Coat, June 4 2014

Detroit (AP) - Madonna is donating toward the construction of a new youth boxing gym in Detroit and buying iPads and other supplies for students at a city charter school.

In a news release Monday, the 55-year-old music icon says her contributions to three organizations represent “the first phase of a long-term commitment” to her hometown. Madonna says a recent visit to Detroit left her “inspired by the progress she’s witnessed.” The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer grew up in Bay City, Michigan, and the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills.

She plans to provide funding for a new facility for the Downtown Youth Boxing Gym; purchase new supplies for the Detroit Achievement Academy; and help out The Empowerment Plan, which employs homeless women to sew garments that are distributed to the homeless.

That's right - Detroit is having its own World Cup viewing party this Thursday at noon at Campus Martius Park, brought to by Detroit City FC and Opportunity Detroit. Come cheer on Team USA as they battle Germany to move on to the round of 16 - and view it all on an LED wall!

Admission is free, and there will be plenty of food options in the Detroit Street Eats area in Cadillac Square, to include Mediterranean fare from Qais Food Truck, ice cream and smoothies from Eskimo Jacks, soul food from Heart to Soul, kosher options from Chef Cari Kosher and more!

Make plans now to be down at Campus Martius on Thursday and watch Team USA vs. Germany with your fellow Detroiters.

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Yoga at the Detroit Zoo!

Join The Yoga Movement at the Detroit Zoo on Sunday, June 29, 2014 for a morning of yoga, music and fun. From beginner to expert, Yoga At The Zoo! is for everyone who enjoys yoga or wants to try it. Afterwards you can enjoy the Detroit Zoo at your leisure. This is your chance to participate in one of the largest yoga events in Michigan. Bring your family, friends and join The Yoga Movement!

"Walk up" registration is available the morning of the event from 6:30am to 7:45am. Yoga begins promptly at 8am.

Event Details 

Date: Sunday, June 29, 2014
Check in time:  6:30am - 7:45am
Yoga Start Time: 8 am
Location:  The Detroit Zoo 8450 West 10 Mile Road Royal Oak, MI 48067

Click HERE to register! 
Getty Images

The mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, has set himself a monumental task: Sell the city to the rest of America. Not sell it, exactly, but rather convince other people to move there. He and fellow boosters say this once-bustling industrial metropolis does have a lot to offer.

Detroit has had some votes of confidence lately. On Tuesday, Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and the chairman and chief executive of Revolution LLC, a Washington-based venture-capital firm, will kick-start his “Rise of the Rest” road trip in Detroit. He will announce a $100,000 prize for the winner of his pitch competition, before awarding a $100,000 prize to a company in each of these cities: Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Nashville. Last month, J.P. Morgan Chase, the country’s biggest bank, announced a $100 million investment in Detroit over the next five years. Last year, Google named Detroit a key tech hub.

Ted Serbinski, a partner at Detroit Venture Partners, moved to Detroit in 2011 from San Francisco. “My wife and I were living in downtown San Francisco, and the costs were starting to get unruly,” he says. “I was looking for somewhere that isn’t as crowded. Coming here, I found a passion for helping to rebuild the society.” He read a lot of newspaper articles about crime in Detroit but wasn't put off by them. “The surprising thing to me is how misleading all those headlines were,” he says.

 “I call it the entrepreneurial gold rush and see more opportunities here than I ever did in San Francisco.”

Indeed, Detroit is the fifth most affordable city in the U.S. for real estate, according to, a mortgage-information firm. Residents only need to earn $32,250 a year for a median-priced home — making Detroit more expensive than only Cleveland ($29,788), Pittsburgh ($30,177), St. Louis ($31,275) and Cincinnati ($31,850). (San Francisco was the least affordable; median-price-home buyers need to earn $137,129 a year there.) More than 80% of homes for sale in Detroit are within reach of the middle class, compared with only 20% in New York and Los Angeles and 14% in San Francisco, according to real-estate website Trulia.

It’s also possible to live large in Detroit. “The duplex house I lived in 35 years ago on Detroit’s east side is still a beauty,” says Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Economic Policy Institute and a resident of Washington, D.C. He recently revisited it: The home has two units, each with leaded-glass windows, fireplace, Florida room, walk-in pantry, two bedrooms and kitchen. It sold for less than $50,000 two years ago. The lot next door can be bought for $1,000. “Once Detroit gets through the bankruptcy, restores city services, and makes progress on job creation, it will be an amazing value,” he adds.

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