The Innate Healing Arts and Ecological Center in Detroit is a visual anomaly; the sunny yellow building swathed in lush landscaping sticks out beautifully on a dispossessed stretch of Woodward Avenue, just south of Seven Mile Road. The juxtaposition provides a welcome relief from the area's security fences, dilapidated billboards and crumbling or empty storefronts.
Founded by Robert Pizzimenti, better known to clients and friends as "Dr. Bob," the center is as much about healing the community as it is healing the bodies and minds of its eclectic clientele.
Inside, natural wood furnishings, warm pastel-colored walls, scented candles and a bubbling fish tank provide respite from the harsh urban environment outside. The "solarium" on the far end of the building is walled with tarps, and home to a chirping pet bird that flutters in circles. "We want the healing to start from the time you step into the place," Pizzimenti says.
Several practitioners share the building's offices, offering counseling, chiropractic treatments, massage therapy, alternative personal care, colonics and spiritual development. The center also features a cozy little vegetarian café rendered in the style of a '50s diner, complete with a Formica counter dotted with a retro boomerang pattern, and padded stools. There's also a resource center, herbal remedies, therapeutic jewelry, yoga classes, community-development meetings and a weekly open mic night where people come to share whatever project or issue they're currently involved with. The place is a veritable one-stop-shop for what's known as the LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) consumer, or "cultural creatives."
According to Pizzimenti, the center's client base represents a diversity of interests, ages and social strata. That's in line with LOHAS demographics, as reported by sociologist Paul H. Ray and psychologist Sherry Ruth Anderson in their book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World, first published in 2000. The book claims LOHAS consumption isn't restricted to starry-eyed new-agers; rather, it represents a broad swath of society, young and old, liberal and conservative, the politically and spiritually minded; and that nearly one in five Americans are concerned with healthy lifestyles, ecological sustainability and personal development.
Pizzimenti, a certified chiropractor for 20 years, acquired the property four years ago from a hypnotherapist who'd been at the same location for nearly a quarter-century. The building has been fully renovated, and the process is continuing. Pizzimenti says the $80,000 initial price tag was a fraction of the cost of Woodward frontage he'd been looking at a few miles north in Ferndale and Pleasant Ridge. His longtime ambition was to have a holistic center out in the country, but the city version he's built suits him just fine.
"I'm really living my dream," he says.
Pizzimenti has an immediately calming aura about him, with a slightly receding tousle of black hair and salt and pepper in his neatly trimmed goatee.
"The only reason we suffer is that we don't love ourselves," he says, by way of explaining the philosophy of his healing work.
A skeptic might say that these are the words of a sham, not a shaman, and it's certainly easy to roll your eyes and dismiss such a Hallmark notion. But when it comes to making a difference in the neighborhood and working toward bettering this small stretch of urban landscape, Pizzimenti walks the walk. He says he never turns away a client because of financial reasons. He frequently offers work opportunities and sliding-scale services to people in the neighborhood. Paying clients, a woman in a beat-up Dodge stopping for directions and a homeless guy panhandling for a buck all get treated with the same level of respect.
"Most people I meet just want to do something good in the world," he says.
Pizzimenti also owns the two houses next to the center, and is trying to buy the empty lot across the street so he can set up a green market for local farmers.
"We need to support our organic farmers," he says. "Detroit has amazing soil and we could easily sustain ourselves on our own."
The regular Wednesday night all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet and open mic has a relaxed, social vibe. A recent gathering saw an informal discussion on globalization, the thoughtful commentary served up alongside strawberry agar-agar gelatin with house-made banana ice cream (real LOHAS comfort food.) The night ended, as always, with a bonfire and drum circle on the lawn.
In the fading moments, Pizzimenti momentarily ducked away to discretely slip a package of food to someone who couldn't afford the $10 price for the buffet.
The Innate Healing Arts and Ecological Center is located at 18700 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-366-2247.Vince Carducci is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org