As we move toward flipping the calendar on 2016 I'm thinking back on the year, and I've got to say a lot of bad stuff showed itself. Things like the Flint lead poisoning crisis, the Detroit Public Schools (with issues at so many levels), and Donald Trump winning the presidency are downright depressing. So I've decided to ignore that for the moment and focus on good stuff that I saw happening this year. So here we go.
Lions win some games
That's really fun. Sit back and enjoy it. I'm no football expert and neither are most of the people who seem to have an opinion on what the Lions should be doing and how their wins are a house of cards, which players should be on the field, and how they're winning despite their sucky coach. Maybe things have quieted down a little this week since the Lions are really, really close to a playoff berth, but last week there were still complaints floating around on sports talk media.
Everybody who once played high school football has an opinion. Our Lions are obviously not perfect, but right now I'm not going to look a gift Lion in the mouth. Regarding coach Jim Caldwell, when you're complaining about his game management, take a look at his win-loss record. Caldwell's won-lost record is 27-18. They're not handing out trophies and things of that sort for that, but a look at Lions' coaching history shows you have to go back to the early 1950s to find a better one. And those were the franchise's glory years. After the car full of clowns that ran the organization for much of the past 15 years, Caldwell's calm demeanor and mostly steady hand are refreshing, but not as refreshing as the winning.
Just enjoy it.
City Hall Artspace
They still call it City Hall, but the building complex that once housed the Dearborn municipal center has become an arts residence, exhibit space, and business incubator. City Hall Artspace, a project of the Minneapolis-based Artspace, got some press when it had its grand opening in September, mostly for the fact that this place is a great opportunity for artists with affordable housing, and the suggestion that this would help revive east Dearborn, where it's located.
Nothing that I saw mentioned the great irony, at least to me, that this is a case of turning swords into plowshares (no slight to the downtown Detroit gallery of that name). This was the home of the Dearborn government that historically was known to be a racist administration. To take the building and turn it into an inclusive center for the arts, with 53 residential units, is a sweet turn. There's already a relationship with the Annex, located across the street on Michigan Avenue, a wide-open meeting/performance space. This is something to keep your eye on.
While we're in the world of art and community let's consider what Tyree Guyton is doing over in Heidelbergland. Guyton has announced Heidelberg 3.0. "After 30 years I know that it's time to go in a new direction," Guyton says in a video at heidelberg30.org. It's not clear what that direction is. I'm not even sure if it's clear in Guyton's mind. That's OK. Most artists aren't real clear about where they're going when they start a project, and certainly most projects surprise the artist once they get going.
However, the kinds of things Guyton and his wife Jenenne Whitfield have been talking about lately point toward something that interacts more with the surrounding community. They're discussing things like economic impact, mortality rates, and community involvement in the development of the project. When you look at community development, it always helps when there is some sort of anchor institution that helps things along. Over in the Heidelberg Project area, that anchor is pretty much the Heidelberg Project. A couple hundred thousand visitors each year show up there, so that's got to be a starting point.
I've got a soft spot for the Heidelberg Project; Guyton has already introduced new ways of doing things in the city. I'm ready to see where it goes next. A study by Williams College in Massachusetts shows that visitors to Heidelberg bring $3.2 million to Wayne County each year. There has to be some way to move some of that into the neighborhood. In their video, Whitfield talks about how young men in the area have a 45 percent chance of escaping death or jail. Just to change that dynamic would be amazing.
Downtown bicycle transport
I was in Chicago a couple of years ago and was having a conversation with a woman outside the area where the conference I attended took place. When we finished talking, she went over to a rack of bicycles that looked exactly the same. She made a transaction with a machine there, pulled out a bicycle, and rode off. It was my first experience of how a bike-sharing program would work.
Everybody's talking about the impact the M-1 train on Woodward will impact downtown and Midtown. But a new bike-sharing program may have just as much impact when you move off Woodward. The 450 bikes, from the Detroit Bike Share, will be at 45 stations mainly near bus or train stations to help move people around.
This whole bicycling thing is turning the Motor City into the Pedal City. Bicycling, bicycle groups, bicycle shops have been blossoming across the city. That's a sign of urban renewal. Bicycle tours are bringing people through pretty much every neighborhood in town. The Detroit Bike Share, which is scheduled to kick off in the spring, will service both subscribers and pay-per-use clients. Most bike share use is for routes under 2 miles to specific destinations, not the long sightseeing rides that the bicycling groups take. Bicycle riding in cities promotes health, local economies, and attracts young people who prefer not to drive much. Quicken Loans already has a bicycle program that allows employees to borrow a bicycle for 24 hours. As big as the M-1 line is, Detroit Bike Share is going to connect the dots for those who aren't within a block or two of Woodward.
There are plenty of other good things going in Detroit. I'm especially enamored of the city's initiative in the Fitzgerald neighborhood (which is making me like the way City Planning Director Maurice Cox operates) where I'm expecting to soon find out how close my old home there is to the greenway that will run from Livernois to Wyoming.
After the disappointment of the recent electoral season, on many levels, I base my personal recovery on looking at the good things right here in my community that affect my quality of life. And while I don't think of professional sports as a lifeline to a saner political world, I'm a Detroiter, and as one who has suffered as long as any other fan around here, I say "Go Lions." It's as good a starting point as any to begin a dialogue with your neighbors.