"The Incredible Shrinking City"
Monthly Detroit, July 1979
Some 32 years ago, writer Kirk Cheyfitz laid out the then-vexing problems of a city whose revenues and political clout mirrored a population decline "from a high of 1.85 million to less than 1.3 million today." The article reminded readers that the city, in its time of largesse, had built the burbs, from supplying water and sewer lines, to for a time busing in and educating "at Detroit's expense" students from Harper Woods, East Detroit and parts of Grosse Pointe. Already in 1979, the concept was emerging of two Detroits, "a small private city and the larger public city," the former then epitomized by the Renaissance Center and the then-new New Center. Mayor Coleman Young may be remembered by some as divisiveness embodied, but his final words from the piece still resonate: "I think there is recognition in the area that the area cannot survive and prosper if Detroit does not survive and prosper. But we in Detroit must recognize that the surrounding suburbs have a key role to play and we must between us define those roles so we strengthen each other and don't tear each other apart."
Detroit Orientation Institute
3075 Faculty/Administration Bldg., 656 W. Kirby Detroit; 313-577-0171; doi.wayne.edu
There's no way to "get" Detroit in a day or two. But there is one intensive program to get any newcomer started and prod all but the most knowledgeable long-timer. Directed by Detroitist Ann Cuddohy Slawnik in conjunction with Wayne State University and Inside Detroit, the three-day Detroit Orientation Institute unpacks our epochs, delving into the history of the city, tracking how we got to where we are, while ferrying participants around town to talk to some of the most involved and informed folks around.
There are no supermarkets in Detroit
It's true that there are no major chain grocery stores in Detroit, but in the national media that fact has sometimes been simplified to no grocery stores in Detroit. Oops. And even the accurate "no major chain supermarkets" exaggerates the importance of major chains in a city with Eastern Market and independent grocers like Honey Bee La Colmena, not to mention affiliates of Spartan distributors and of the Aldi stores (a chain operated by the owners of Trader Joe's), etc. Detroit author James Griffioen laid it all out in detail at the Urbanophile website (urbanophile.com or tinyurl.com/4nb5o94 to go directly to Griffioen's piece). That's not to say that access to healthy food isn't a problem for many in this city without real mass transit. But let's keep things in perspective.
He may have gone all Karl Rove on us as a "conservative political commentator," but J.J. has owned the best radio pipes in the city since he captained "The Morning Crew" on the old WWWW in the '70s. When he and Lynne Woodison were dumped by WCSX in 2008, it looked like he might go off to form his own Tea Party, but you can't keep a good voice down. While Johnson seemed like an obvious frontrunner to replace Dick Purtan last year when the morning legend laid down his headphones at oldies-rock WOMC-FM (along with fellow Detroit airwave faves Chris Edmonds and Kevin O'Neill), WOMC did the next best thing, installing him as its 10 a.m.-3 p.m. weekday host. Rock on, J.J.
"The Great Voice of the Great Lakes" has passed through more hands than Lindsay Lohan in recent years, but the latest WJR-AM (760) ownership change may be the most menacing. In February, WJR, as well as Detroit FM stations WDVD (96.3) and WDRQ (93.1), were sold by Citadel Broadcasting as part of a multibillion-dollar merger with Cumulus Media. Atlanta-based Cumulus, which built its fortune with broadcast properties in medium-sized Southern and Midwest markets, has a reputation for not valuing on-air talent, and the feeble economy could be an excuse for downsizing and cost-cutting. WJR morning monarch Paul W. Smith has discussed the sale and transition openly on his show. If he and the station's other high-priced personages are concerned, we may have reason to be.
Lauren Podell, WDIV
Who are we to argue with the opinion of experts? Earlier this year, David Humphries (aka "Hump the Grinder"), impresario of Detroit's "Hair Wars" stylist competitions, conducted an online poll to determine who possessed the most luscious locks among our city's TV heads. After the voting, mostly from hair care professionals, Podell, Local 4's blond traffic reporter, was judged a cut above the rest — by a mere .5 percent over her WDIV airmate, Rhonda Walker. At least for this year, blondes had more fun.
The stated goal, says author Todd Scott, is to promote safe and convenient bicycling in metro Detroit. Whether it's announcements of community forums, analyses of master plans and their inclusion (or exclusion) of cycling, collections of media reports about cycling events and policies or just plain funny cycling tidbits, find it here.
On a freighter
And not necessarily as a stowaway. The freighters are normally only certified to carry customers and family members. But it turns out that various nonprofits raffle off tickets for cruise slots donated by the shipping companies. You can still get in on a raffle closing May 1 for a seven-day, six-night trip for two on one of the Great Lakes Fleet Inc. ships out of Duluth; $10 a ticket, three for $25. Check for details on that and other raffles at boatnerd.com, a source for followers of the big ships on the Great Lakes.
The $1 million and other resources that Kresge Arts in Detroit has been using to prime the pump of the tri-county arts community went public earlier this month with 40 events over five days. They showcased the work of the two eminent artists (Charles McGee and Marcus Belgrave) and 36 fellows KAID has given grants to from 2008 to 2010. It was a stunning display of the vitality of arts in this community for an audience that topped 10,000, filling spaces from MOCAD to the Science Center. The audience response raises a question of whether what was intended as a biennial event might in fact need an annual component. The year 2013 seems a long time to wait for more.
N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art
52 E. Forest Ave., Detroit; 313-831-8700
We started writing about this project in 2001, and last October a former auto repair shop finally celebrated a grand opening as a major addition to the city's artistic, cultural and social landscape. How big? Well, 16,000 square feet in all, including four exhibition spaces, indoor and outdoor performance spaces, an outdoor sculpture garden, and a movement/yoga center. Some of these are still in progress (the sculpture garden, for instance), and more elements, a restaurant-wine bar, notably, are to come. But the major spaces are open, and the current exhibition — New Departures and Transitions curated by Michael Stone-Richards — is the local must-see of the moment.
Costumed dancers, burlesquers, circus-style performers and other unusual folks model for sketchers of all skill and professional levels, sometimes in bars with lots of booze and music keeping everyone happy, as well as informal contests and artsy prizes. It started in New York, and the Detroit branch, founded in 2006, was among the first dozen or so; there are hundreds around the world now. It's currently run by Lushes LaMoan of the Detroit Dizzy Dames troupe (Readers' Award winners for Best Burlesque Troupe), with regular third-Thursday sessions set for the Scarab Club and additional sessions elsewhere (watch the website and Facebook for details).
jessica Care moore
Her dozen years in New York made jessica Care moore a rarity in the poetry world: a star thanks to her prominence in Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam on HBO. Back in Detroit these last four years, the poet-performer-publisher keeps adding new roles to her hyphenated descriptor. She's exhibited as a visual artist (including collaborations with photographer Piper Martine Carter) and, perhaps most provocatively, she's put on two tributes to Betty Davis and other black women rockers, firing an Afro-distaff cannon at the white guys' club-of-rock canon. We're avidly waiting to hear her own debut rock album Black Tea, slated for release, "when it's finished."
You can get there by bus
Surprise! There is mass transit from downtown Detroit to Metro Airport — but not rapid transit. For instance, 90 minutes (if it keeps to schedule) from downtown to the airport (daily), and comparable times to Fairlane, Romulus and Garden City (weekdays). Primarily servicing airport employees, these SMART lines aren't widely advertised, apparently so as to not raise unwarranted expectations among travelers. Still, given the costs and hassles of getting to the airport and parking, it could be an option (especially if you're coming home, not counting on making a flight). Stops are at the lower level, "International Arrivals" curb of the McNamara Terminal and at the far end of the arrivals curb — past the last terminal baggage claim exit door — of the North Terminal. The schedules are complex: Read closely.
Plastic streetlamp bases
Those pitiful plastic "shrouds" former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick spent $1.2 million in tax money on were ostensibly intended to keep metal scrappers at bay, but they were a useless waste of money from the get-go. Now, if they have survived at all, many of those that remain are smashed and jagged, much more of an eyesore than what it was they were supposed to be covering. Thanks, Kwame.
It's part of Detroit the outside world rarely sees. Varied communities — geographic, political, cultural, spiritual, intellectual — strive to make this a better place. From urban gardeners to community patrols to recycling activists, they continue despite it all. It will be these folks, and not our leaders, who will save us.
Grace Lee Boggs
At 95 years old, Grace Lee Boggs has just published The Next American Revolution, written with U-M prof Scott Kurashige. As someone who has taken part of just about every major progressive movement that occurred in the past 80 years, she continues to help show us the way forward.
The Color of Law: Ernie Goodman, Detroit, and the Struggle for Labor and Civil Rights
An essential document of another Detroiter's long life, well lived. Authors Steve Babson, David Riddle and David Elsila retell the city's and nation's progressive struggles through the life of attorney Goodman, who died at age 90 in 1997. Legal dramas unfold in courts from the Motor City, to the Jim Crow South, to the U.S. Supreme Court, to the upstate New York courtroom where the Attica uprising defendants were tried.
Working Words: Punching the Clock and Kicking Out the Jams
Punching Out: One Year in a Closing Auto Plant
We could claim Words as a Detroit work simply because anthologist M.L. Liebler is one of ours. But from Alvin Aubert to Al Young (OK, we couldn't get "Z"), Michael Moore to Dudley Randall, Lolita Hernandez to Eminem, Melba Boyd to Philip Levine, etc., Detroiters are more than amply represented in this massive testament to the poetry and prose of toil. And in this tense post-industrial time of transition, what better subject for us to ponder? Which is what former Paul Clemens also does in exploring the up-close reality and social ramifications of the dismantling of a Budd Company stamping plant on the east side.
Medical marijuana cases
Two years after the state began issuing ID cards to patients and caregivers, issues surrounding the state's medical marijuana law are still being sorted out. The Michigan ACLU is suing three cities that are trying to curtail medical marijuana-related activity. The DEA and other authorities have made a number of high-profile busts. And the whole question of whether so-called "compassion clubs" can legally sell marijuana to patients remains unsettled. The courts are going to be kept busy with all this for some time to come.
Film industry lobbyist
Oh, wait. He already has that gig. Has anyone at the Freep ever heard the term "conflict of interest?"
Last year, the British government's chief scientist warned that water shortages will be the world's most pressing problem in the next decade. "Population growth, an increase in wealth, urbanization, and ... climate change, all of those are going to present really big problems to humanity," John Beddington said during the Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit in London. From agriculture to biofuels to the manufacturing of silicone computer chips, access to clean, fresh water is going to become more precious as shortages worsen in states from Florida to Arizona to California. And here we are in "the Saudi Arabia of water." All we have to do now is ensure that this most vital of resources remains protected — and under the public trust.
Dick Purtan may be off Detroit's morning airwaves for more than a year now, but he's still in the air. He's maintaining a presence in cyberspace, and a connection with his thousands of radio fans, through his website. An early "Breaking News" post: "Radio retiree Dick Purtan shocked not only his wife, Gail, but also himself last night by sleeping an astounding 10 hours and 12 minutes in a row." After President Obama's recent deficit speech, he observed: "I missed Joe Biden's nap ... I'd nodded off about five minutes earlier in the speech than he did." We assume that with enough clicks we could get to the video of the last 10 minutes of his final broadcast on WOMC (104.3) March 26, 2010.
Grosse Pointe's tool checkout
In this era of DIY — sorry contractors — home improvement projects are part of a lot of weekend to-do lists. But who wants to spend big bucks on a tool that will be used once? There are even better rental rates than Home Depot et al. With a Grosse Pointe library card, you can choose from a list of dozens of tools: monkey wrenches, carpet knee kickers, bolt cutters and hammers. Some are standbys, some are more exotic. The collection — a list and photos of the tools are online at gp.lib.mi.us — is provided and maintained by the Grosse Pointe Rotary Club. What you won't find is a drain snake, the health department won't allow that, or chain saws, common sense takes over there.