Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Detroit Writers Wanted!

AS CO-EDITOR at the hottest new literary site around, New Pop Lit ( my mission is to help discover exciting new writers. Writers with artistic ambition, energy, and edge. Writers who want to join us in reviving literature.

Can the much-beaten down but recovering and soulful city of DETROIT and the talent it contains help us do that?

THAT, Horatio, is the question we seek to answer. Send us your writing to and your art to

Join us in creating the New New!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bad Week for Detroit Metro Times?

Is the Detroit Metro Times simply having a bad week?

FIRST, there's the cover story about Dan Gilbert and his Quicken Loans empire. I like a good takedown on occasion. I've written a few myself in my life, and been a subject of more than one. What has to be said about Ryan Felton's long article about/against Dan Gilbert is that he doesn't make his case.

The impression given to this reader after plowing through the piece is that A.) after 40,000+ transactions, a handful of bad loans were made. (None of them mind-boggling. On the order of an applicant claiming income of $14,000 a month when it was actually $8,000-- which for most people is still impressive.) In this complicated universe it's impossible to achieve perfection. B.) Dan Gilbert's biggest fault according to Felton is being in the loan business, period. Which is like condemning all ships because the Titanic went down.

Again, this is the impression Felton's trying-very-hard article gives out. In it he asks why Gilbert and his p.r. staff are spending so much time with him. When one reads Ryan Felton's article, the question answers itself.

SECOND is the essay by Ari LeVaux titled "Hipstocracy," a defense of hipsters via discussing their brunch habits.

Who is Ari LeVaux? Apparently Ari LeVaux is an upscale food columnist based in Albuquerque!

Uh, Metro Times-- Michael Jackman and Company: Is this really the person you want discussing the hipster phenomenon in a Detroit-area periodical?

On the issue of hipsters in cities like Detroit, Arizona food columnist Ari LeVaux misses the target. (Lots of missed targets scattered around the MT offices right now.) The question of hipsters and why some people don't like them isn't about brunch. (Brunch!) It's about gentrification. From Brooklyn to South Philly to, now, Detroit, hipster invasions bring with them an inevitable steep increase in rents and prices.

Previous influxes of young whites into Detroit's inner city, from Plum Street hippies in the 1960's to the punks and anarchists, starving artists and writers of the 80's and 90's, sought to blend in with the colorful diversity of the Motor City. Not displace it. In the Cass Corridor of the 90's, watering spots like Third Street, the Bronx, even Cass Café were diverse in every possible way. Which was the point. One sat at a bar alongside prostitutes and professors, the homeless, crackpot philosophers, or bikers, of every color, class, and age demographic.

Speaking of brunch-- a couple weeks ago I happened to visit on a Sunday morning a noted hipster hangout. My brother, who lives in northern Macomb County-- in no way an upscale individual-- dropped in on me downtown. In his car we took a tour of the area, looking for an open spot for coffee and a donut. "There's a place!" A waitress sat us at a table. We took one look at the menu. "Uh, let's sit at the bar!" we said. Maybe we were there at the wrong time-- but for brunch, the small establishment was thoroughly segregated by class, age, and race. Not very urban.

I'm talking about impressions in this post. I was given the impression of young gentry bringing their tastes along with them. An image entered my head of British Imperialists of the 1890's, imposing home upon their quite different new neighborhoods.

I have nothing against hipsters. I know a few of them-- here and on the east coast. Good people, all in all.. I also know a few quirky young low-rent artists types. What makes a city is having a mix of types. Segregation, including self-segregation, is something many of us ran away from.

Detroit's strength is its authenticity; its edginess. Its diverse mix.

Or: If Detroit is to become just another Brooklyn, how depressing is that?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ongoing Gentrification of Detroit

I made two minor discoveries this past weekend which cause me to question what's happening in Detroit's Midtown.

One was finding that the Biggby Coffee outlet on Woodward Avenue has shut down. Unlike some other spots, the Biggby shop was not chic, overpriced, or in any way upscale-- and had a diverse, multiethnic clientele.

The second discovery was stopping into the Cass Café on Saturday night with a friend, and finding a small crowd. When I lived in the Cass Corridor in the 1990's, the Cass Café was not only the most upscale saloon in the Corridor (back then spots like the Bronx and Third Street Saloon were total dives), it was invariably packed on weekends. Or even week nights. There was always quite a diverse mix of people, ethnically, in age, and in profession-- Wayne State professors mingling with low rent characters, including a host of starving artists, musicians, and writers.

Where has everyone gone?

Presumably I walked into an anomaly-- that usually the Cass Café is packed, and I happened to hit it on an off night.

It remains a very cool place.

I'll have more observations about the local scene in upcoming days.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Back in Action?

(Pictured: Recent 9-11 ceremonies in Campus Martius park.)

With its author in Detroit, and now involved in an important new project-- will this blog revive itself? Stay tuned for more posts. We hope.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Another Comment

Here's another comment I was unable to post at Next City, in response to this piece:

In this nice detatched discussion you're missing a couple big elephants in the room.

First is the area's racial polarization. It was one of the causes of the city's problems to begin with. It's a big reason why we have a 90% black core city and a ring of affluent burbs which are close to 90% white. It's why we have alternate downtowns like Royal Oak, when there's only one real downtown. "Rightsizing" means compressing not just the core city, but the widely scattered, inefficient region. I'd argue that the racial problem remains THE key issue for the city, as it affects all political moves and maneuvers, the tug-of-war between city and state, and so on.

The second elephant in the room is the city's history. Not just the legacy of the auto industry, which is impossible to ignore, but also the city's labor history. Are those throwing out the city's past also throwing out that part of it? Are they siding with Governor Snyder in saying that the old ways of operating are obsolete? Isn't that the inevitable conclusion when you scorn and dismiss the past?
These are questions I haven't seen discussed here-- yet for those living in this town they affect everything.

(Let me add to this, that I find the "rightsizing" idea absurd. Moving relevant pieces around within the city's boundaries, which can't be done. Can you move Palmer Park and Indian Village and University of Detroit next to downtown? Of course not. Why would you want to? The only real solution is to make Detroit an attractive place to move to-- and then get the population back. From hyper-expensive places like New York City, and from Detroit's own many suburbs and exurbs. The infrastructure is here. It doesn't need to be built. It only needs to be utilized, by the farsighted.
Brady, I invite you to visit Detroit some weekend. Drive here and we'll take a tour of the city, downtown and exurbs, so you can see the realities.)

I also suggest reading this rant I posted shortly after moving back here, "Shrinking Detroit?":

Monday, January 21, 2013

Intellectual Arrogance

Here's a response I tried to post as a comment to this article re Detroit:

But my comment wouldn't take. Here it is:

Reason why compressing the city can't work: because the viable parts of the city are spread out. They're not in one place. There are large gaps between, say, downtown and Midtown. You can't compress/downsize/"rightsize" unless you find a way to physically move these sections together. Then move Corktown next to them. This is physically impossible. What you can do is fill in the gaps. The best way is probably to forget tops-down imposed solutions and allow market forces to work. Right now land is cheap. Empty downtown office buildings are cheap. Everything can be had cheap. I live downtown because the rent is cheap. Sharp developers are buying up the land and beginning to develop it. The most valuable spots are the gaps. I live in a building filled with long-time residents, but also many of the city's art hustlers. Artists are beginning to trickle into town, because the town has atmosphere, it has authenticity, it has street cred, and it's very cheap to live here. It's also a very tough place to stay. I'd rather be in Philly. But this place has unbelievable potential for growth, like no city in America. Those moving in are pioneers. Business will take care of itself. Artists are always first, in creating any scene. Even a city.

(You'd learn more about Detroit in a week staying here than ten years spent reading about it online. There's no substitute for real-life experience.)