Wednesday, May 19, 2010

1000 miles north

I have spent the last 4 days in Cleveland and Detroit. Flew to Cleveland, then drove to Detroit (as Detroiters would prefer, holders of the auto heritage). Cleveland is my childhood home, so I return to see family and revisit cultural touchstones. Little Italy, the Metropark, University Circle, Birdtown, Kamm's Corner, Nature's Bin. Biking and walking around Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Detroit is known to me as a place to go as a teen, so to come back to it is fascinating. I am told by many that Detroit is leading the way in rebuilding its local food system; let me just say that is hard to see in downtown, staying in the massive GM Renaissance Center overlooking Canada. Greektown is still nice but framed by a casino now. I do know that innovation is happening there; the old public market Eastern Market has done amazing work, among others.

Still, I am stunned by the massive empty buildings around downtown. I feel like I am back in 1970s Cleveland with auto company names lining the streets along with the hopes and dreams of its residents still. I do wish I had seen more but could not.

The scale is what scares me-massive highways running next to way-too-wide streets and large buildings next to small groups of houses and stores that look forlorn and bullied by all of the blank sides.
In other words, I see Mid City in 10 years if the LSU/VA complex is built.

If we want to "learn" from Detroit, why not go see what out of scale commercial districts do to cities? On your way do stop to see the same at Public Square in Cleveland, or in empty downtown Toledo. Then go to West 65th in Cleveland and see what years of neighborhood organizing has pushed to be built in a difficult area-stores, public theater, new houses with older houses alongside, decent bus stops, access to lakefront and more. In a city with foreclosure for sale signs everywhere. In a city with no industry, but willingness to fight for its neighborhoods.

We can learn from THOSE groups from those areas. Let's go see.

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