Posts Tagged ‘detroit’

Supporters Save Bookshop

Book lovers saved an indy shop in Detroit.

When a community really loves a threatened business, people will pull together to help it survive. Where I live, we had a flash mob event that kept one business going several more years. But it’s up to the owners after that.

Sydney Page reports at the Washington Post, “A small bookstore opened in Detroit just over a year ago, and as a locally owned business, 27th Letter Books had to keep a close eye on its finances. The owners were pleased when they started getting large online orders for textbooks from a new customer.

“ ‘The name they provided matched with a professor,’ said Erin Pineda, 31, who co-owns the bookstore with her husband, Drew, and another couple, Jazmine Cooper and Jake Spease. ‘As a new business, we were trying to build a relationship with someone we thought was a customer.’

“The individual placed several different orders, amounting to $35,000 worth of medical and engineering textbooks, each costing between $100 and $200. Then, in late May, staff received a notification from the store’s merchant service provider, flagging a credit card the person used as fraudulent.

“The bookstore co-owners went through the individual’s purchases — all of which were shipped to the same address outside Michigan — and quickly realized that the person had placed every past order using a stolen credit card, as well.

“ ‘That’s when we started to consider closing,’ said Cooper, 28.

“They contacted law enforcement, their insurance provider and different banks, hoping for a reprieve from the serious financial toll they knew the scam would take on their small company. The cost, they were told, would probably fall entirely on them — which would put them out of business.

“ ‘We heard we were unlikely to get any funds back,’ Erin Pineda said, adding that she and the co-owners spent several weeks trying to remedy the situation, but only hit dead ends. …

“The textbooks were shipped outside the state, which further complicated the matter from a legal standpoint.

When merchants are victims of credit card fraud, liability usually falls on the merchant or the credit card company, depending on the circumstance. Often, the merchant is accountable for covering fraudulent online transactions.

“As a relatively new and fragile business, 27th Letter Books was left with only two options: shut down or seek support.

“ ‘We realized we needed to ask for help,’ Erin Pineda said.

The store co-owners started a GoFundMe campaign, and within 10 days, they surpassed their goal of $35,000. They were stunned by the generosity

“ ‘We’re just blown away by how the community responded and lifted us up in a really difficult situation,’ Erin Pineda said. ‘It was incredible.’

“ ‘The response was not only overwhelming because of the amount, but also because it was so quick,’ Cooper said. ‘I felt that the community really wanted us as part of their community. It was just affirming to me that what we’re doing is worth it.’

“The bookstore emphasizes inclusivity and offers a diverse selection of literature. It also hosts events that aim to bring the community together. … The store runs story-time sessions for children on Saturdays, as well as book club meetings and open mic nights. Additionally, local authors and artists showcase their work.

“Nicole Miazgowicz is one such artist. She had a solo show at the bookstore in April.

“ ‘They just bring so much to the community, and I’ve been really impressed by their kindness and openness,’ said Miazgowicz, 38. ‘It’s kind of like a little family that I’ve found in the community here.’ …

“Miazgowicz held an auction of some of her artwork and donated the proceeds — which totaled $425 — to 27th Letter Books….

“Hank Moon, a Detroit resident, is also a fan of the bookstore. When he found out that it could be closing, he contributed to the campaign and spread the word on social media, encouraging others to do the same. …

“ ‘Yes, they are a bookstore, but they’re a lot more than that,’ he said. ‘It is an incredible community space, and they work really hard to bring in books for a diverse audience of people.’

“More than 400 people contributed to the cause, most of whom live locally, the store owners said. Along with the much-needed funds, messages of support poured in, too.

“Our community needs more businesses like yours. Thank you for all that you do,” commented someone who contributed $200.

The store owners said they are touched by their community’s support and more motivated than ever to keep their doors open.

“ ‘It’s wonderful that people are willing to pay it forward because of what they’ve seen us provide to the community,’ Erin Pineda said. ‘It creates a beautiful reciprocity of gratitude between the people there in our neighborhood and us as a business, and a team of four people who care deeply about southwest Detroit.’

“With the help of their community, 27th Letter Books was able to recoup its losses and remain open. The owners are implementing new procedures to prevent future fraudulent activity.

“Beyond further securing their business and staving off scammers, the owners said they learned another valuable lesson.

“ ‘I would tell other small businesses not to be afraid to reach out to their community,’ Cooper said. ‘They will fight for what they want.’ “

More at the Post, here.

Read Full Post »

Photos: Valaurian Waller.
Ederique Goudia is a chef who came through for her community after Hurricane Ida. She is seen here with a statue commemorating child slaves on the Whitney Plantation — the only museum in Louisiana with an exclusive focus on the lives of enslaved people.

Have you been following the efforts of Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen as they serve the displaced people of Ukraine? Inspirational. Today I have a related story. It’s also about chefs who help desperate people by giving what they know best.

Xander Peters has the story at the Christian Science Monitor. “Ederique Goudia isn’t the type who stops moving. From November through February, her life was like a hurricane’s gust, tossing her about the country between the community that raised her and the place she now calls home.

“In early November, Ms. Goudia and an entourage of chefs made their way from Detroit to her childhood hometown of Wallace, Louisiana, a community of nearly 600 about 50 miles outside New Orleans that had been pummeled by Hurricane Ida’s Category 4 strength last summer. Her foodways colleagues Raphael Wright and Jermond Booze, among a host of others from their home in Detroit, rallied around her and organized a day of service for the community, followed by their group’s inaugural diaspora dinner. …

“The day after they arrived back in Detroit, Ms. Goudia and company made a beeline back to the kitchen, where they began working alongside colleagues to prepare 50 family-sized Thanksgiving meals for their food-insecure community members. The meals were prepared through the food security group Make Food Not Waste, of which Ms. Goudia is the lead chef. 

“Food relief is about more than physical sustenance for Ms. Goudia and the many chefs who volunteer alongside her. It is a rung on the ladder to stability. And it can be the glue that holds communities together. ‘It creates a shared song amongst people, of a reset,’ says Detroit chef Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, founder of ​​BlackMetroEats and one of the volunteers who traveled to Wallace with Ms. Goudia. …

“After Ida hit southeast Louisiana, [friends from the nonprofit Taste the Diaspora] were among the first to ask how her family fared, and they were well aware that it wasn’t feasible to get to Louisiana to help right away, as disaster recovery dragged on for weeks after the storm. They then suggested hosting local pop-up fundraisers. Before long, they had gathered a group of 15 or so members of the Detroit food community interested in traveling to Wallace. …

“[Ms. Goudia] knows small towns like hers don’t often receive disaster relief quickly while efforts concentrate on metro areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge first. Wallace sits in the middle of a petrochemical corridor and has long struggled with environmental justice issues.

“Ida made landfall on Aug. 29. As Ms. Goudia checked on her family, the Detroit food scene leaped into action. … In total they raised $8,500 and they distributed it to Wallace residents through the Descendants Project, an advocacy group for descendants of formerly enslaved people in Louisiana’s river parishes. … 

“By the time Ms. Goudia and her colleagues were ready to head to Wallace themselves, word had spread through the Detroit area. Soon sponsorships began rolling in: The Kresge Foundation, which expands opportunities for low-income individuals nationwide, was the first major group to chip in. Then ProsperUS Detroit, an economic development initiative, pitched in. Turning Tables NOLA caught wind of their efforts soon after and offered to help as well. …

“The Detroit food community’s support for Ms. Goudia and her hometown was, in some ways, as emotionally overwhelming as watching Ida hit her family. At the same time, it wasn’t surprising. It’s what Ms. Goudia has come to know as the heart of Detroit.

“ ‘The hospitality that lives in Detroit, it isn’t a one-off,’ says Ms. Goudia. ‘It isn’t surprising at all, because there is this Southern hospitality that’s here, that’s unmatched.’

“On the day of the Wallace dinner, as always, Ms. Goudia didn’t stop moving. She and her volunteers worked through the afternoon to prepare an evening meal of a beet-based African dish, mirliton dressing, baked spaghetti, cornbread tea cakes, and pralines.

“As he leaned against a picnic table out front, opening cans of corn, Mr. Osei-Bonsu of BlackMetroEats reflected on his and others’ trip down South so far, and what he hoped the meal would mean for the community.

“Healing a community’s emotional wounds through food ‘is definitely something that’s impactful,’ Mr. Osei-Bonsu says. ‘Today will be about so much more than just the consumption of food. It’ll also be a dialogue.’ …

“Ms. Goudia says from her home in Detroit several weeks later [that the point is] to use ‘food in a way that breathes life into people, that gives them what they didn’t think they needed at the time.’ She stops and reflects for a moment. ‘I think we were successful in that. … Everybody that came on the trip is now family. Not only with me, but with the residents of Wallace. I was blessed to be able to provide that for them.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

Kwaku Osei-Bonsu, Detroit-based chef and founder of BlackMetroEats, sets the table for a 100-person Taste the Diaspora community dinner in Wallace, Louisiana, Nov. 21, 2021.

Read Full Post »

Photo: Robin Bukson/ Detroit News
“Bag Ladies with a Cause” crochet plastic bags into sleeping mats for people experiencing homelessness. An actual home would be better, of course, but they do what they can.

I’ve been doing this blog daily for more than nine years, and sometimes in covering an activity that seems hopeful, I’ve overlooked a possible downside — or I learn later that things have changed. I try my best to add an update to a previous post so as not to have misleading information out there in the world.

The topic for today — turning unwanted plastic bags into sleeping mats for homeless people — was written up a year ago at the Detroit News and, according to Facebook, is still going strong. I’m drawn to the idea of doing something useful with the scourge of plastic bags, and I like the idea of giving people experiencing homelessness something they might want. For sure, it would be better to give them homes, so that’s an obvious downside. But I like that the self-named “Bag Ladies with a Cause” are really trying to help. Read about the initiative and let me know what you think.

Jocelynn Brown started her report at he Detroit News admitting, “Whenever I throw away a good, clean plastic bag, I’m always overcome with guilt, knowing there are groups like ‘Bag Ladies With a Cause’ that are putting them to good use as a way of making a difference in the lives of homeless individuals.

“Donna Harki of Lincoln Park and Jeannine Ayers of Wyandotte had worked with two groups … helping them turn plastic bags into what’s referred to as ‘plarn’ (plastic yarn), and then using it to crochet sleeping mats that would later be distributed to persons living on the streets of Detroit. …

“Word about the group got out. … ‘We just ask them for whatever free time they have,’ said Harki. … ‘It only costs your time, and we try to make the process fun, and keep them (the bags) out of the landfills.’ 

“Not everyone in the group is a crocheter, but everyone has a skill that will help with the assembly line-like production. …

“Each finished mat measures approximately 6 feet long by 3 feet wide, and it takes 700 bags to make just one. Additional plarn is used to crochet a strap that’s attached to the mat so it can be rolled up and carried as a backpack. …

“Harki has cranked out close to 100 mats in the past two years. She recently made one with a pocket attached at one end, which becomes a pillow when stuffed by its owner with maybe a shirt and pair of socks. If she already has the plarn, she said she can crochet a mat in a week, if she works on it every night. 

“How is plarn made? First, the plastic bag should be neatly flattened into its original shape with creases, folded twice length-wise, and then the handles and bottom are cut off. The remainder of the bag is cut into 3-inch wide strips/loops and then looped together, as you would rubber bands.

“A size Q crochet hook is used to crochet the mats, and in terms of bags used for making the plarn, Harki said, ‘We use any plastic bags, as long as they’re clean. … We (also) have an academy school in [Brownstown] that collects bags for us. … We had a fifth grader (from Summit) crochet her own mat! …

” ‘We deliver the mats. So far, we have given (to) ChristNet (in Taylor), a band of churches who alternate helping the homeless with (the) cold. We also have donated to FDDR (Feeding Detroit & Downriver) … an organization that feeds the homeless six days a week, year round. They know who sleeps outside, so they know who to give them to.’ ” More at the Detroit News, here.

Want a children’s book about women in Africa who’ve making good things out of plastic bags for years? Check out One Plastic Bag, by Miranda Paul, here.

Read Full Post »


Fresh produce in a market that is one of many in an affluent town. Many urban areas in America do not have easy access to such nutritious food.

In many parts of this great land of ours, people go hungry or subsist on junk food because that’s what’s available. I’ve written about food deserts before, and I continue to be interested in how activists and small businesses are addressing the problem.

Brittany Hutson reports at WEDT and National Public Radio (NPR), “On a cold, sunny day in early February, Raphael Wright and his business partner, Sonya Greene, check out a vacant building in Detroit’s Linwood neighborhood. Inside, wood panels are on the floor, and drywall is being placed over exposed brick. The only clue to the building’s past is a sign out front, with the words ‘Liquor, Beepers, and Check Cashing.’

“Located on the west side of Detroit, the Linwood neighborhood remains underdeveloped, with few retail businesses, countless empty lots and many vacant buildings. But Wright and Greene see potential here. It’s why they’ve chosen this neighborhood to open a bodega that sells healthy food. Like other neglected neighborhoods in urban areas, fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t a basic necessity here — they’re a luxury.

“Wright says it’s been that way since he was a kid.

” ‘I was raised in the ’90s, and I always say that we were junk food babies,’ he explains. … ‘Liquor stores, gas stations, and many times fast food restaurants were pretty much our go-to places to eat. … I’m a victim of food insecurity. … I was diagnosed with diabetes at 19, so before I was old enough to have a drink, I was diabetic.’


Photo: Brittany Hutson/WDET
Sonya Greene and Raphael Wright are the folks behind a bodega offering fresh produce, prepared foods and staple items in an underdeveloped Detroit neighborhood.

“Wright wants the bodega, tentatively named the Glendale Mini Mart, to be a pilot for a full-range grocery store he hopes to open in the future. The bodega will offer fresh produce, prepared foods and staple items. He says he hopes it will be part of a larger mixed-use development that will include a barber shop, a beauty salon and housing. …

“Wright and Greene are not the first to recognize the importance of Detroit’s African American residents having access to fresh, reasonably priced food. That awareness began more than 50 years ago, following the rebellion that rocked the city. …

“The riots were the culmination of high levels of frustration, resentment and anger among African Americans due to unemployment, poverty, racial segregation, police brutality and lack of economic and education opportunities. However, there was something else not often discussed — food.

“According to Alex Hill, adjunct professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, there was a ‘fairly expansive hunger issue in the community’ around that time. Hill’s research on the ’67 Rebellion looks at food, power and race. In many ways, it’s the continuation of work that began when the non-profit group Focus: HOPE began studying conditions in Detroit’s black neighborhoods in the ’60s as a response to the riots.

“Focus: HOPE educated the clergy and the white Christian community on racism, poverty and other forms of injustice. In 1968, the organization released a Consumer Survey on Food and Drugs. …

“To get answers, nearly 400 suburban white women and inner-city black women were trained as undercover shoppers and sent to 300 grocery stores in the Detroit metro area. The main findings were that poor inner-city Detroiters were paying up to 20% more for lower-quality groceries. The survey also found that the quality of service, store condition, produce and meats in the city’s chain and independent stores were not of average quality compared to upper-income and suburban stores. …

” ‘In thinking about those disparities and access, those are still very much real. They may look different, but I’d say they’re very much the same from 1967.’ He says … Detroiters travel outside of the city on weekends to larger chain grocers to stock up and use their local grocer for smaller needs, such as eggs or milk, during the week. …

“Wright says the bodega is also about representation.

” ‘We’ve seen our grocery stores not be representative of our communities,’ he says. ‘So putting faces in the community that looked like us, that are from our neighborhoods and understand what we’re going through, it makes the education part easier.’ ”

More at NPR, here.


Read Full Post »


Photo: Nick Hagen
Shelving for lights and hydroponic growing trays at Planted’s initial locale. The company aims to grow and sell food for profit while benefiting a blighted community.

After suffering one of the worst downturns of any city in the country, Detroit has benefited from young people looking for affordable housing and from a lot of artistic and economic experimentation. (Search this blog on “Detroit” for an array of stories.)

In one example, an urban farm aims to be both profitable and a boon to residents of a food desert.

Brian Allnutt writes at Model D Media, ” ‘I never had a dream of being an urban farmer, or farming really, until I started feeding people.’

“That’s what Kimberly Buffington says about the transformation that led her to start a non-profit and in turn a for-profit urban farm. 12 years ago, while working in the pastorate of a suburban church, she began to wonder why they were doing mission-work in South America, but nothing closer to home. Through a friend who worked at Trader Joe’s, she began picking up donated food from one of its stores each week. …

“She eventually realized, however, that just providing food wasn’t solving the underlying problem of food insecurity. … Buffington imagined that by growing produce herself she could help provide jobs and establish another local food source.

” ‘It creates food security in our community,’ she says. ‘We don’t have to ship our lettuce from the Central Valley of California.’

“But instead of a traditional soil farm, Buffington started Planted, a hydroponic farm on Detroit’s east side that will focus on growing for local restaurants, institutions like universities and hospitals, and meal-kit companies like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. …

“Perhaps her biggest selling point [was] producing a number of things locally like herbs and greens that are normally brought in from California and Mexico, especially in the winter months. This would cut down on transport costs and deliver a fresher product.

“Buffington received funding and support from Michigan Women Forward (MIWF), an organization looking to change the investment ecosystem by making loans to women and other underserved individuals. …

“Says Carolyn Cassin, president and CEO of MIWF, ‘We funded Kimberley’s pilot project, which she did in one of her partner’s basements.’ …

“This was the first time they had funded a hydroponic operation, which is a system for growing crops that uses soil-less media like gravel or rock-wool to grow plants in a solution of nutrients dissolved in water. Growers have the ability to control most of the factors that go into producing food, allowing them to grow plants more quickly and with a minimum of pressure from pests and disease. …

“Energy will remain one of the major costs for a business of this kind. Buffington believes that constructing their own building, with attendant geothermal climate-control and solar panels, will help insure long term sustainability. …

“They currently employ eight people in full- and part-time positions. ‘We’ve got the potential to hire a lot of farm hands over time,’ Buffington says. ‘And we’re really committed to a livable and better-than-livable wage. Our business model allows us to do that as we’re successful.’ …

“One of those Buffington has brought on board is local grocer Meg Burritt who previously worked with Blue Apron and other grocers. …

” ‘I can speak from experience,’ Buritt says, ‘I think the way that Planted could interact with these type of companies that are modeled after Blue Apron is to provide a more regional supply for things like tender greens that do travel far, but perform much better if they travel shorter distances.’ …

” ‘As our business becomes profitable we’ll be able to donate products weekly to Eden Gives that will go out into the community,’ she says. …

“For Buffington, it’s a labor of love. ‘It’s joy-filled work every day,’ she says. ‘It’s hard work, it’s concentrated, it’s fast-paced. But there’s a lot of joy in it because every person who connects is happy to be here.’ ”

More here.

Read Full Post »


Photos: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD)
Visitors to the Sidewalk Festival enjoy a µTopian Dinner with Hinterlands performers outside the Mobile Homestead.

Kristina and I were discussing the other day all the different kinds of yoga that are popping up. Suzanne’s friend Liz tried goat yoga. Kristina had heard of knitting yoga and laughter yoga.

Similarly, it seems like I’m constantly hearing about new ways of extending the boundaries of theater. In this story from Hyperallergic, sharing food with audiences in person and through Skype is the focus.

As Sarah Rose Sharp writes, artists are practiced “in finding ways to forge interpersonal connections through gesture, metaphor, and performance — or sometimes just by inviting people to dinner.

“ ‘Food is so interesting, because it evokes memory, and it’s a multi-sensory experience,’ said Liza Beilby, in an interview with Hyperallergic during preparations for one in a series of µTopian Dinners, staged by Detroit-based experimental theater ensemble The Hinterlands and co-produced with Poetic Societies, a performance lab fostering cross-cultural and poetic connections. …

“Since 2017, the group has been staging permutations of the µTopian Dinners as a subset of a larger work, The Enemy of My Enemy, a hybrid, digital-live performance project that simultaneously links performers and audiences in the US and so-called ‘enemy’ nations of China, Russia, and Iran. …

“The Hinterlands views the µTopian Dinner projects as a kind of a laboratory to investigate the cultural values that are reinforced through eating, meals, and cooking. [In August], µTopian Dinners took literally to the streets, as the ensemble presented a four-part performance and rotating series of events, during the homegrown and wildly popular Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts. …

“[The group] — as well as their foreign counterparts tuning in from Moscow, Bejing, and Tehran — operated out of the modular traveling unit from Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, which is permanently housed at the [Museum of Contemporary Art], making one of the rare forays into the farther-flung Detroit neighborhoods for which it was expressly designed. …

“Artist and designer Yi Zhou, who runs a studio out of Beijing called Body Memory, met The Hinterlands during her 2016 residency at Popps Packing, and the ensemble has visited her twice over the last two years, touring with their previous show, The Radicalization Process, and other performances.

“ ‘In between the first year that we went and the second year that we went, she and a bunch of friends who are designers and architects started this group called TGIS,’ said Beilby. ‘It’s a Sunday brunch in this little courtyard at the studio of one of the members, and they invite people to come and have brunch, and then there’s a lecture, or talk, or conversation, which are themed.’ During the Sidewalk performance, Hinterlands Skyped into the beginning of the brunch taking place in Bejing. …

“ ‘It’s like translation, in a way. You’re trying to contextualize something for the people where you are, that’s meaningful, and then express something about the people here to another group. … It’s an interesting way to try to bridge two spaces or times or peoples, through sensory experiences that aren’t just talking.’ …

“One could call it a new medium, enabled by the tools of our increasingly interconnected world, or one might consider it the mission of any meal undertaken by people who begin as strangers, and perhaps leave with a better understanding of each other.”

More here.

Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead traveling unit at the Sidewalk Festival for the Performing Arts in Detroit.


Read Full Post »

When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

Read Full Post »

With a little creative thinking, a woman in Detroit was able to put a rundown house to good use, improve the neighborhood, promote her flower business, and help florists who focus on locally grown flowers.

Stacy Cowley writes at the NY Times, “Eleven months ago, a derelict house here that is now filled with 36,000 flowers contained far grimmer things. …

“Twelve thousand pounds of trash had to be hauled out before Lisa Waud, a florist who bought the duplex at auction for $250, could see what kind of canvas she had purchased.

“The house remains a structural wreck, but its atmosphere has been transformed. [In October] some 2,000 visitors [toured] Flower House, an art installation Ms. Waud and more than three dozen floral collaborators from around the country created on the site. Their goal is to cast a new light on the Detroit metropolitan area’s infamous blight, and on their own trade. …

“All of the plants and flowers filling [the rooms] are American-grown, a rarity in an industry that imports a majority of its wares from Colombia and elsewhere. …

“The inspiration for Flower House struck in 2012, when she saw images from that season’s Christian Dior couture show, held in a Parisian mansion filled with flowers in a rainbow of colors.

“ ‘It was stunning, and I knew immediately that I wanted to do that — but living in Detroit, I pictured it in an abandoned house,’ she said. ‘I’m trying to rebrand abandoned houses as a resource.’ …

“Ms. Waud estimated that she would need to raise $150,000 to cover the installation’s floral costs, but when she contacted her usual wholesalers, the California Cut Flower Commission, Mayesh and Nordlie, all three offered to donate their flowers.” Read about the inspiring results here.

Photo: Laura McDermott for The New York Times 
Lisa Waud, a Michigan florist, works on her room on the back side of the Flower House on the first day of the installation in Hamtramck. 

Read Full Post »

Not me. It’s a story about a man in Detroit who was so determined to get to work after his car gave up the ghost that he walked 21 miles — and attracted some unexpected blessings for doing it.

I learned about him by way of The Guardian.

“The Detroit Free Press reports that James Robertson rides buses part of the way to and from his factory job in suburban Rochester Hills. But because they don’t cover the whole route, he ends up walking about eight miles (13 kms) before his shift starts at 2 pm and 13 miles (21 kms) more when it’s over at 10 pm. …

“After the newspaper wrote about the 56-year-old’s situation … multiple people started crowdfunding efforts to help him buy a car and pay for insurance. Some have offered to drive him for free and others have offered to buy or give him cars.

“Robertson began making the daily trek to the factory where he molds parts after his car stopped working ten years ago and bus service was cut back. He’s had perfect attendance for more than 12 years.

“ ‘I set our attendance standard by this man,’ said Todd Wilson, plant manager at Schain Mold & Engineering. …

“Evan Leedy, a 19-year-old student at Wayne State University, read the story and started a GoFundMe site with the goal of raising $5,000. [In no time,] he had raised more than $90,000. …

“Asked about a federal program newly available through Detroit’s bus system that might pick him up at home and drop him off at his job, Robertson said, ‘I’d rather they spent that money on a 24-hour bus system, not on some little bus for me. This city needs buses going 24/7. You can tell the city council and mayor I said that.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Ryan Garza/AP
James Robertson, 56, of Detroit, walked 21 miles every day until a well-wisher’s fundraiser helped him get an apartment closer to the job.

Read Full Post »

Because I believe in Pete Seeger’s notion that “one and one and 50 make a million,” I’m drawn to stories of individuals making small contributions that could add up to something big.

So here is a story from Forbes, of all places, about several women in Detroit quietly working toward rescuing the city.

Denise Restauri writes, “As we drive through Detroit, on the surface I see a city that’s been abandoned by its residents, filled with poverty and crime. But when we stop and meet store owners, artists and women who went from being homeless to employed, I see a city that’s energized with entrepreneurship, hipster creativity and potential.

“Suddenly I understand what Veronika Scott, the 24-year-old who is sitting in the driver’s seat, often called ‘the crazy coat lady,’ means when she says, ‘I love Detroit.’

“Veronika is empowering Detroit with a disruptive business model. She’s the CEO and Founder of The Empowerment Plan, a non-profit organization that employs homeless women and trains them to become full-time seamstresses who produce coats that turn into sleeping bags which are given to homeless individuals across the nation.

“She doesn’t just employ these women — she educates and equips them with the professional skills and knowledge needed to compete in Detroit’s new economy and evolving job market.”

Restauri goes on to describe five other female-powered enterprises in her Forbes post.

JJ Curis, 32, is gallery director at the Library Street Collective, which helps struggling artists. The five James Sisters, 25-32, cofounded DROUGHT to make organically grown produce accessible to all.

Amy Kaherl, 32, is the executive director of Detroit SOUP, a novel idea that involves inviting people to pay for a dinner where they can hear pitches from local charities and vote on which one should get the evening’s donations, or micro grants.

Cheryl P. Johnson, 53, is the CEO of COTS: Coalition On Temporary Shelter. And LaKeisha Blackwell, 41, is jail diversion coordinator at Northeast Guidance Center. Read about the women here.

Photo: Forbes
Veronika Scott wears the Empowerment Plan’s sleeping bag coat.

Read Full Post »

In Detroit, with the globalization of the auto industry, the financial crisis, and ultimately the city’s bankruptcy, everyone has suffered — businesses, families, neighborhoods, and schools.

And when everyone suffers, arts organizations suffer, too. The famous collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which the city owns, is in danger of being sold and scattered to the four winds. And dwindling subscriptions have made the Detroit Symphony Orchestra take a hard look at finances and decide to go where the people are.

Rachel Martin of National Public Radio writes, “Detroit’s Orchestra Hall is one of the best symphony concert halls in the country. The acoustics are top-notch. The theater itself is grand. Important music is made there by some of the country’s most talented classical musicians.

“But what happens to the music when it’s taken out of that context, away from the pitch-perfect atmospherics, away from the grandeur, and instead it’s played in the community, say at a local IKEA in the middle of a busy shopping day?

“IKEA’s acoustics aren’t so great, but nothing about the power of the music changes.”

Ann Parsons, chief executive of the DSO, says, ” ‘We looked at zip codes, we did analysis. We could clearly see where everybody lived that used to participate. And we thought, “Well, what if we went to them, as opposed to making them come to us?” ‘

“That’s what they did, performing in community theaters, nursing homes, hospitals, churches and synagogues, in Detroit and the surrounding suburbs, in an effort to lure back patrons who had stopped going into the city to hear the orchestra. They also to tried to attract new music lovers.

“It started to pay off: Subscriptions went up, and now concerts at Orchestra Hall are selling out.” More at NPR, here.

Read Full Post »

On Saturday we watched the documentary Urbanized, about urban planning.

Although there were many discouraging notes (Mumbai slums, Beijing smog, destructive construction in Stuttgart), there were enough positive ones to give hope.

I liked the grassroots gardening efforts in Detroit, pedestrian/bike paths in Bogota (while cars were relegated to mud), miraculous transformations of aging infrastructure (the High Line in Manhattan), lighted paths in Cape Town, and bicycle commuting in Copenhagen.

The point was made that walkability (one of my favorite topics, as readers know) and similar quality-of-life improvements in cities can be hugely beneficial to the planet just because cities are so big and changes there affect so many people.

Doug Foy, who helped get Boston Harbor cleaned up and now consults with New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, has spoken at my workplace a few times. He likes to talk about how New York avoided buying a whole new water supply simply by partnering with plumbers unions to get standard toilets gradually replaced with low-flush toilets.

Read Full Post »

As we have mentioned before, Detroit is finding creative ways to deal with empty buildings and loss of population.

Jay Walljasper at Shareable adds his take.

“Stories of Detroit’s emerging comeback often highlight the city’s attraction to young hipsters. According to plentiful media reports, well-educated twenty-somethings are streaming into the Motor City to test out new ideas, explore art and music projects, or launch D-I-Y revitalization initiatives.

“You can spot a number of once-dormant corners of the city now pulsing with activity thanks to young entrepreneurs. …

“While a new, more positive narrative about Detroit is welcome, there are problems in focusing entirely on idealistic young adventurers swooping in to save the city – it reinforces the stereotype of native Detroiters as hapless, helpless, and hopeless.

“The truth is, locals have been working hard for years to uplift the common good in Detroit, which drew the interest of outsiders. And newcomers aren’t the only ones stirring up excitement around town. Good People Popcorn, for instance, was started by two sisters and a cousin, all of whom grew up here. Sarida Scott Montgomery, one of the founders who is also a lawyer and executive director of the Community Development Advocates of Detroit, says people are often surprised she grew up in the city. ‘Not in the suburbs,’ she says, ‘but in Detroit itself.’ …

“Allyson McLean, who grew up in the Detroit suburbs and has worked on brownfield redevelopment in Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority and on strategic planning for the Department of Homeland Security in Washington D.C, is back in town aiding real estate development in low-income communities with the Community Investment Support Fund.

“ ‘Now that I am back,’ she says, ‘it’s frustrating to hear from friends I grew up with who have no plans to ever return. … They have no idea what they’re missing in their hometown.’ ”

Read more about Detroit’s revitalization here.

Photograph: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor
Dewayne Hurling loves Detroit and is thrilled to have renovated a beautiful old home in the Boston-Edison neighborhood of the city.


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: