Shifting Gears: Going Green in the Motor City

 Recycle Here

Years ago the city of Detroit was the largest city in the United States that had no city-wide recycling program. While most cities had one in place as early as the '70s, Detroit was lagging behind until Matt Naimi started 'Recycle Here', a non-for-profit grassroots organization meant to be the center of recycling in the city of Detroit. With Recycle Here's success, Naimi and partner Steve Harworth created 'Green Safe Products,' a distributor of recyclable and compostable products to restaurants and businesses. Having one of the largest stocks of compostable plates, cups, cutlery, et cetera, Green Safe has paved the way for a greener Detroit as more and more businesses use its products in an effort to be more responsible for their waste.

Photo From Detroit's Very Own Joe Hakim @ The Hungry Dudes

 Dearborn, MI: Miller's Bar

Signature Burger: Miller's Cheeseburger.

The popular no-frills burgers here have been served since the late 1940s.
23700 Michigan Ave
Dearborn, MI 48124

Mon - Sat 10 am - 2 am
Grill Open 11 am - 12:30 am
Closed Sunday

Laura Vanderkam
USA Today

Henry Ford and Margarita Barry don't have much in common, but they do have this: Both have aspired to create jobs in Detroit.

Ford, of course, built Ford Motor Co., one of three car companies that dominated this city for the past century — their boom making Detroit rich, and their long bust leaving a legacy of vacant lots and an unemployment rate above the national average.

Barry, 26, grew up in their shadow but always saw another side to Detroit: an artistic and rather edgy one. So last year, she launched I Am Young Detroit, a website devoted to Detroit news and events. With new funding on the way, she'll be adding a handful of full-time and part-time positions this spring. Detroit, she says, is a great place to start a business. Real estate is cheap, and "there are so many people out there with talent, primed and ready to get back to work."

Plenty of savvy entrepreneurs are discovering the same secret. Viewed in one light, the decline of Detroit's auto industry is a tragedy for the people who depended on it. On the other, the destruction has freed up an awful lot of creative energy and resources for those willing to take a gamble. According to the Kauffman Foundation, which promotes entrepreneurship, the rate of new business formation per 100,000 adults nearly doubled in Michigan from 2006 to 2009, before leveling a bit in 2010.

It's a very American story of reinvention — like Houston diversifying from oil, and Pittsburgh thriving after the steel mills left.

"Detroit is in some ways a blank slate," says Paul Chambers, whose two tech companies, Core3 Solutions and Quotegine, employ 15 people. It will take a flush of new businesses to equal the thousands of jobs lost here over the past decade, but like seedlings after a forest fire, start-ups are slowly giving this city a new look — and life.

'Fat and sassy'
It's hard to overstate just how much of Detroit's mind-share the auto industry once consumed. "We got a little bit fat and sassy with an industry that sustained us ... for 100 years," says Leslie Lynn Smith, general manager of TechTown, Wayne State University's business incubator, which is housed in an old auto building (the Corvette was designed on the third floor). Her father worked in the auto industry for years, and with the car companies paying high school grads well enough to afford homes and often vacation cottages, few bothered looking elsewhere.

Globalization destroyed that fantasy world, but the long decline that culminated in the 2009 GM and Chrysler bankruptcy reorganizations created space for new ventures. Entrepreneurs here argue that, despite lingering bureaucracy and a serious crisis in the school system, Detroit is one of the best start-up environments in the country for three reasons:

•First, space is comically cheap. Real estate listings seem to be missing a zero. Thanh Tran, founder of MentalNote, an electronic medical records software for mental health professionals, reports that he is paying $14 a square foot to rent a nice space for his company, a rate that would be hard to get elsewhere. Phil Cooley, co-owner of Slows Bar B Q — whose two locations employ 105 people — recently made a $100,000 offer for a 30,000-square-foot building, which he plans to turn into artists' studios. In New York, where you can't get 300 square feet for $100,000, his creative friends report that "they're not making art anymore — they're working four jobs," he says. Come to Detroit, and you can bartend at Slows three nights a week and use the rest of the time to make art, sell crafts on Etsy, freelance or invent the greatest new thing since the internal combustion engine. Renting a room in a big Victorian mansion runs $200 a month. Even if bank lending to small businesses isn't brisk, it's not hard to bootstrap that.

•Second, plenty of hard-working potential employees are more willing to consider small firms than in the days when everyone got a job at Ford. This includes former employees of the auto industry, and the surprising number of young professionals now living downtown. Whenever Saundra Little, an architect who specializes in green buildings, scales up for a new project, "there's a nice pool out there for me to pick from," she says. With the low cost of living, talented people also are more open to the short-term contracts that start-ups often use.

•And finally, unlike in some more cut-throat cities, those who haven't fled Detroit are eager to see risk-takers succeed — even another restaurant on the same block. "We're desperate for companionship," Cooley jokes. People buy local when they can and create two-hour lines outside Slows in nice weather. A civic spirit of us-against-the-world has neighbors turning vacant lots into urban farms and sculpture parks, and building a bike track next to a burned-out house.
New horizons

Of course, this new economy is one thing if you're well-educated. It's another if you worked the assembly line for 20 years and might not have the skills that Detroit's start-ups require.

Even in these hard cases, however, the death of one thing often leads to new opportunities. Margarita Barry takes design classes at a local college and reports that "a majority of my class is adults who worked in the auto industry for years and are starting to rebuild their lives." With stable, if boring, jobs beckoning, "people set aside their creative sides to work the assembly line." Now, "I see them exploring this other side of themselves," she says. They learn that "you can't depend on these large companies anymore." If you can't get a job, you can make a job, tapping into that creative spirit that resides in all of us — even in Detroit.

Says Cooley, "There's tremendous potential everywhere."

Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, is a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.
Kick off your weekend with The Salvation Army’s 6th annual Chili Cook-Off and family fun event for a good cause, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 18, at The Salvation Army Corps Community Center, 24140 Mound Road, in Warren.

The sixth annual event will incorporate a chili-tasting contest, bake sale and family fun center with bounce house, games and more. The winner will be announced at 8 p.m.

Event admission is $5 and includes chili and activities. All proceeds benefit The Salvation Army Warren Corps Community Center.

Applications are currently being accepted for chili contestants. To sign up, call Ed at (586) 754-7400. Prizes include a $50 gift card for first place, $25 for second and $10 for third.
 Karen Batchelor (right) with her sister Paula and her niece Madison, age 6, outside the house where Karen    and Paula grew up in the Palmer Woods neighborhood of Detroit.

The Other Detroit: The city’s grandest enclave clings to the dream.
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Atlantic Monthly

Karen Batchelor’s family moved into Palmer Woods in 1967, part of the first cadre of African Americans to integrate the affluent neighborhood on the outskirts of Detroit. They moved in December, after the long-simmering city had burst into racial violence that summer. Batchelor’s father, an internist, had witnessed Detroit’s previous race riots in 1943. Out on a date at Belle Isle—the flash point of the ’43 riots—he was injured in the melee. He had no interest in reliving the experience, so he and his wife decided to move their family out.

Their 16-year-old daughter liked her old home, and was leery of being on the vanguard of integration. But her new house helped. “I remember seeing my bedroom, and it was pink, and it had a chandelier in it,” she told me. “We came from a very lovely home. But this one had seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, a swimming pool, a cabana, and three kitchens.” By her memory, the Batchelors were the ninth black family to move into Palmer Woods, a neighborhood of nearly 300 homes. The following year, several families from her old neighborhood followed—including Karen’s best friend—and the path was set.

"I remember seeing my bedroom [for the first time], and it was pink, and it had a chandelier in it," Batchelor said.

Batchelor’s parents eventually moved from Palmer Woods, but many of her friends and neighbors did not. Indeed, Palmer Woods now sits on a census block group that, according to the most-recent available data, is 81 percent black, and it is arguably the American black elite’s most majestic enclave. When I first visited, in the fall of 2009, I was awestruck. I had seen well-heeled black neighborhoods before—the prosperous suburbs ringing Atlanta and Washington, D.C., Chatham in Chicago, Baldwin Hills in L.A. But the gates of Palmer Woods are a wormhole out of the angry city and into an opulent idyll. Sleepy curvilinear streets with names like “Strathcona Drive” and “Argyle Crescent” snake through the 188-acre hamlet and its sprawling, irregular lots. Across Seven Mile Road sits the venerable, members-only Detroit Golf Club, which remained all-white until 1986.

Even as Detroit groaned under the weight of crime, failing schools, and high taxes, Palmer Woods held steady. But the country’s financial straits, particularly the collapse of the real-estate bubble and the struggles of the Big Three automakers, were a direct assault on the region’s twin pillars: houses and cars. The neighborhood association considers approximately 15 out of its 292 homes to be in jeopardy. Problems that were once rare—crime, for instance—are cropping up, as Palmer Woods at last succumbs to the gravity of the city. As a result, those who were once excluded from the neighborhood’s vision of the American dream are now in the position of defending it.

I took my first tour of Palmer Woods on a chilly fall evening with Barbara and Spencer Barefield and their Saint Bernard, Devo. Barbara is Jewish and a native New Yorker, edits the Palmer Woods Post, and helps organize neighborhood events—block picnics, classical concerts, and home tours. Spencer is African American, a jazz guitarist and composer; like Karen Batchelor, he moved to Palmer Woods as a teenager, in the wake of the riots. Spencer’s mother still lives around the corner in the home he grew up in.

We walked outside, bundled in scarves and gloves, under a final blast of sunlight shooting across the cobalt sky. The streets were quiet, and I could have counted on one hand the cars that drove by. We passed a two-story house designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who designed the World Trade Center. Then we stopped next door, in front of an earthy Arts and Crafts house, set at a right angle to the street, with the front entrance positioned deep into the lot. This was Clarence Darrow’s temporary home when he was summoned to the city in 1925 to defend Ossian Sweet, a black doctor who had taken up arms against white rioters who didn’t want him to move into their neighborhood. The owner was a regional bank that had foreclosed on the house after the elderly woman who lived there fell behind on her mortgage.

We walked up the driveway past a parked car to the front door, where we stopped and admired the intricate tile work on the porch. The car, Spencer explained, had been placed there by a neighbor—a scarecrow against thieves, squatters, and scrappers.

“That’s one thing about this neighborhood,” he said. “We really look out for each other.”

“We do have private security, but they’re not 24 hours,” Barbara said as we walked back to the street. “It was really bad for a while because when the bubble first burst, there were people coming in here because the price of metals has skyrocketed.”

“Copper was like the new gold,” Spencer interjected. “All these people had copper gutters. And [thieves] would come and start ripping copper off people’s houses.”

“They were pulling off copper gutters in broad daylight,” said Barbara.

“While people were in their homes,” Spencer said. “You’d hear a noise and say, ‘What is that?’ and walk outside and somebody’s pulling your gutter off. By the time the cops got there, what could they do? They’d be long gone. We’d have neighbors follow and catch the guys.”

Established in 1915, Palmer Woods was envisioned as a primeval retreat from a teeming, industrial metropolis. The developer, Charles Burton, advertised it as “a safeguard from the encroachments of commercialism,” a paradise nestled in the city’s hinterlands.

Its homes were built after the fashion of European aristocrats—châteaus with large libraries and secret passages; cottages of ashlar masonry, brick, and stucco; servants’ quarters with separate stairwells. The lords of Palmer Woods vacationed in Europe, golfed at the Detroit Golf Club, and, excepting the live-in help, excluded blacks: “Said lots shall not be sold or leased to or occupied by any person or persons other than of the Caucasian race,” read the Palmer Woods housing covenant, “but this shall not be interpreted to exclude occupancy by persons other than of the Caucasian race when such occupancy is incidental to their employment on the premises.”

When restrictive covenants were ruled unconstitutional in 1948, black families began moving in, infusing the customs of black America’s ancien régime into the ethos of old Detroit money. They pledged their children to Jack and Jill of America, joined the neighborhood association, and held potlucks and barbecues to raise money for local charities and black artists. Many had or went on to illustrious careers: Lamont Dozier was part of the popular Motown songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland. Keith Ellison became the first Muslim congressman.

One afternoon, I visited Lorna Thomas in her English Tudor, a short walk from Seven Mile Road. Thomas’s great-great-great-uncle was the first African American in the Michigan state legislature. She proudly showed me the April 2, 1959, issue of Jet, with her on the cover clutching a test tube. “Lorna Lacen,” the caption read, using her maiden name, “Detroiter, 16, has A’s in prep subjects, takes special college courses.”

Now a dermatologist, Thomas went to Wellesley with Cokie Roberts and Nora Ephron. We sat at her kitchen bar for a spread of cranberry juice, coffee, and tea cakes. Then we took a 45-minute tour of her home. Her guest bathroom had a waterfall literally tumbling over the mirror, and an original Richard Yarde watercolor of Paul Robeson as Emperor Jones. “I did an interview for Crain’sDetroit Business about five years ago,” she told me. “The reporter came in and I said, ‘I want you to print something and I want you to print it just the way I say it: I live here because I chose to be in Detroit. I am not stuck. I could be anywhere I want.’”

Upper-middle-class survivalists such as Thomas consider residency in Palmer Woods a political act. As Elliott Hall, another resident I spoke with, put it, “Every advantage I received in my life came out of the city of Detroit.” Hall’s family had originally come up from Alabama and Arkansas to live in Black Bottom, the childhood home of Joe Louis and storied epicenter of black Detroit, lost to urban renewal in the 1950s and ’60s. His family migrated westward with the years, following the retreat of white Detroiters. Now Hall stays with his son on Palmer Woods’ Lucerne Drive. “I got my grade-school and law-school education in Detroit. I sat on every nonprofit board in the city. And there are a number of other folks who feel the same way. And they’re willing to deal with crime and everything that goes along with it. It’s not like we’re saying, ‘We’ve had enough, we’re out of here.’ … We always have to believe things are going to turn around in a city that we love so much.”

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On Location Vacations

George Clooney, who has been filming in Cincinnati for the last several weeks, will continue filming Ides of March in and around Detroit through the beginning of April. Clooney, who is directing the movie, also stars in the film, along with Ryan Gosling, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Max Minghella.

Thanks to an insider working on the movie, we have the complete filming schedule, including locations around Detroit and Ann Arbor. Here’s a look at the schedule ( FYI: there are no shooting times are available at this point):

Monday, March 7:

Colony Club (Clooney, Gosling, Hoffman, Tomei, & others)

Cliffs Bells (Hoffman & Tomei)

Tuesday, March 8:

Cliffs Bells

Wednesday, March 9:
Cliffs Bells

Thursday, March 10:

600 Randolph (Courthouse) (Giamatti)

1253 Woodward

Friday, March 11:

1253 Woodward

Monday, March 14:

Miller Theater (Arthur Miller Theater, University of Michigan) (Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman, Wood)

Tuesday, March 15:

Power Center (University of Michigan) (Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman, Wood)

Wednesday, March 16:

Power Center (University of Michigan)

Thursday, March 17:

League Ballroom (UM) (Clooney, Gosling & others)

League Kalamazoo

Friday, March 18:

635 W 14 Mile (Gosling & Stearn)

Monday, March 21:

Christ Church

Tuesday, March 22:

393 Martell (Hoffman)

271 Lone Pine Rd (looks like both of these locations are in Bloomfield Hills)

Wednesday, March 23:

Roberts Hotel (Gosling & Wood)

Thursday, March 24:

Roberts Hotel

Friday, March 25:

Roberts Hotel (also filming at Roberts on Saturday, but this may be referring to overnight Friday)

Monday, March 28:

Roberts Hotel

Tuesday, March 29:

Roberts Hotel

Wednesday, March 30:

1263 Griswold

Thursday, March 31:

1263 Griswold

Friday, April 1:

1263 Griswold

Monday, April 4:

They are likely continuing at 1263 Griswold, which is filling in as Morris (Clooney’s character) Campaign Headquarters, but this is TBD.

Tuesday, April 5:

They are likely continuing at 1263 Griswold, which is filling in as Morris (Clooney’s character) Campaign Headquarters, but this is TBD.

Wednesday, April 6:

Gem Theater (Gosling & Clooney)

Thursday, April 7:

660 Woodward

Marilyn’s Place

Grace & Wild Studio (may be here on Friday too, still TBD)