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Two

Making that first big post grad move can be tough. No matter where you head, your friends and family are going to have questions. Unless you tell them you are moving to Detroit. Then they will have statements. Statements about your safety. Statements about your quality of life. Statements about your sanity. During what seemed to be an endless critique of my future city, I nodded. The expectations of Detroit are far from the realities, but ingrained perceptions cannot be battled with facts and a smile. These are truths that need to be experienced.

I tucked those concerned statements away as I made the move to the city that everyone told me to not to. I remained certain that my experiences in Detroit would shift their perceptions. Then my car was stolen. Yes. That. My story is one that has been lived 1000x before me. Small Town Girl Moves to Detroit, Becomes Victim of Car Theft. That thing that I told everyone wouldn’t happen, happened. Go ahead. Breathe it in. It is okay to smile. In fact before dipping into a puddle of anxiety, I laughed. I laughed so hard I cried.

For your benefit I will skip the insurance agent phone calls. For my benefit I will skip the sad moments. So here we are. Some might call this the good part. The aftermath. The resolution. I once again have a reliable method of transportation. However I am not at a point where I can say this experience has ended. In little moments I am regaining my sense of security, but this process will not be quick by any means.

In my last blog I ended with saying my experience in this city would not be bright and shiny everyday. This statement has never felt more true. This city, and any city for that matter, is an ecosystem. This place and all the spaces and faces within are entropic by nature. That is what makes revitalization such a complexly layered topic to discuss. Detroit is not all good. Detroit is not all bad. And anyone who adheres to either of those beliefs is simply wrong. If you are looking for a reason to leave you will find it. Crime. Oppression. Inequity. If you are looking for a reason to stay you will find it. Community. Passion. Progress. The choice is really up to you. I am staying.

Makes a Move to the Inside

Hello! Hallo! Hola! I hope everybody reading this is having a fantastic month – it is hard to believe that November is knocking on the door. With that being said, I hope everyone has a groovy Halloween costume to show off this year. As for myself, I will be sporting a costume that I put together for $9.88 at a thrift store here in Detroit on the famous Woodward Avenue. Hard to beat that, huh?

Since my last post, I have been working hard at my host company, PM Environmental, and getting involved with city and state activities. Apparently, cider mills and doughnuts are like…a thing up here. And when I say a thing, I mean like everything that has ever mattered in the world. It is the talk of the state! There are debates over which cider mill produces the best cider, which apples are best, who has the biggest pumpkins, the freshest doughnuts, the nicest tractor rides, and so on and so forth. Do as the locals do, right? I’ve been to THREE cider mills in the last month. Mind you, they aren’t down the road from Detroit, you have to drive to these places and put in real effort. My experience was great! The doughnuts are perfect and the cider is always exquisite. So in case you also did not know this happens in the north, now you do.

Besides eating doughnuts by the dozen, I have visited the German town of Frankenmuth, Michigan where I had excellent German food and visited the “World’s Largest Christmas Store” – it was intense. Furthermore, Detroit put on “DLECTRICITY” which is a “nighttime festival of art plus light that features over 35 world-renowned and emerging artists”. It was spectacular. In addition, Challenge Detroit volunteered to plant 6,500 tulip bulbs on the beautiful Belle Isle State Park and I went to John King Books where they literally hand out a map as you peruse four floors for rare and used books. All of these things are truly phenomenal and I hope you can mosey on up to “The D” and experience them.

As for my fellowship program, we just wrapped up our first challenge! It was a major success and everybody amalgamated to present an impressive display of information. We were tasked with helping Recovery Park, a start-up urban agriculture business, figure out the best way to clean up the footprint of land they plan to operate on one day. Everyone worked hard as ideas proliferated and nine separate teams created items such as info-graphics, price comparisons, videos, volunteer lists, etc. Our board members and companies raved about our presentation and all of us will volunteer in the spring to clean up the area Recovery Park is going to acquire. It will be one of the largest initiatives of its kind and will have great intentions for Detroit as it looks to supply fresh food and jobs to the community.

There you have it y’all. It’s been a great month. I learn more and more each day as I give, play, lead, live, and work in Detroit. I’m very blessed to be here and I’m blessed to have you reading my blog post. I’ve got a huge “to do” list on my desk and I’m chomping at the bit to cross some items off. I recently crossed off “go hiking” when some fellow Challenge Detroiter’s and I got out into nature and man, was it BEAUTIFUL! Remember, I didn’t have any season change last year when I was living in Orlando, so fall has been quite special to experience this year (I’m like a five year-old when I see a pile of leaves).

Life is good and don’t forget that basketball season starts this month! I’m a big NBA fan and of course I love Big Blue Nation as well – Go Cats!

 

 

 

 

The Time

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Not because of the impending doom that is winter weather nor the mass exodus of available spending money due to the holidays. This is the time of year when my two favorite sports play at the same time. That’s right, it’s that time again. The NBA is upon us and NFL is about half way through the season, same with college football. College basketball starts in a few weeks and I’m already excited about March Madness.

Now I’m what is called a “homer”. My favorite teams are all Detroit teams. My favorite NBA team is the Pistons, favorite NFL team is the Lions (very painful at times although we are 6-2 right now!), favorite MLB team is the Tigers. I don’t watch hockey but I root for the Red Wings too. Pistons still need some work but I think Van Gundy can pull them together. Lions are finally playing up to their talent level and Calvin Johnson isn’t even playing to his potential yet, or at all. I think both the Lions and Pistons will make the playoffs this year (barely) but I don’t think either would make it past the first round. The Lions will probably be a wild card because I think Green Bay will finish with a better record by one win. The Pistons will hopefully be the 7th or 8th seed, but that also means we would probably play LeBron or D Rose in the first round being that their teams will probably be 1 or 2. Either way, I just hope for playoffs.

When it comes to college sports, I’m also a homer. I went to Morehouse College which does not have a major D1 sports program (Although we do have some stellar athletes that are Morehouse Men like Edwin Moses) so I root for my home teams. Being a Detroiter who does not have parents that went to either Michigan or State, I root for both. Now my friends who went to either school and/or have parents that did say I can’t do that which is understandable on their part. But I didn’t go there so I can root for both. Lol. When they play each other, I root for the one that has the better chance of winning the championship (sorry Michigan). I will say that I lean more towards Michigan for football and State for basketball, although I was a Fab Five fan (like most of Detroit) in the past and State’s football team is stellar right now. I often wonder if I stayed in state for college, which one I would have chosen. Also, like many Detroiters, I hate that team in ohio. Lol. But seriously.

So are you ready for victory? Then grab your Michigan made libation, order some locally made pizza, get ur favorite team’s snuggie and enjoy. Hopefully your teams are good, if not, that’s what the drink is for.

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First Things First

 

Josh and I looking awkward in front of a cool bus

Come Visit!

This month, I am going to walk you through some of my Detroit firsts. There have been some expected and insignificant, like my first Detroit parking ticket. But below is the good stuff; the stuff that makes me proud to live here.

 

Visit to Belle Isle:

Three weeks ago, our cohort of fellows united with DTE and planted over 6,000 daffodil bulbs on the Isle. Our contribution was just one small part of a greater initiative to plant a daffodil for every resident of Detroit (~700,000 daffodils and counting!). I can’t wait to see the Isle when the flowers are all in bloom.

In action!

In action!

 

Bulbs! Photo cred: Ann Philips

Bulbs! Photo cred: Ann Philips

Hiking (Kensington State Park):

I grew up in southern Indiana, in a small lake community called Painted Hills. The name was coined for the beauty of the hills during fall, where the multi-colored leaves painted the hills and valleys with surreal beauty. I’ve found such beauty in Detroit’s fall, particularly in Kensington State Park, where the trees blazed with color. As a lover of the outdoors, I am incredibly thankful to be able to experience nature in the greater Detroit area!

Fall

What a great area to ponder life.

Fall 2

I loved this contrast. No filter, just nature.

Biking:

I finally brought my bikes to Detroit—just in time to enjoy the beautiful fall weather. Biking along the Dequindre Cut, Eastern Market, the RiverWalk, and downtown made for an active, scenic, and tasty afternoon. I have decided to make a concerted effort to #BikeDetroit before the snow begins [I have at least a week, I hope].

 

Taken while biking to the Dequindre Cut

Taken while biking to the Dequindre Cut

 

John King Bookstore:

I have long loved used bookstores. Something about the smell of an old book, along with the awareness that the story has likely been taken in by past generations of people just like me, make a used book much more appealing than a crisp, newly printed edition. John King Bookstore did not disappoint! Four stories of used books fill the shelves and many more boxes wait to be sorted. I have to admit that I was too overwhelmed to buy on the first visit. Likely, I will need solitude and about 4 hours to kill before I can really dive into the experience J

 

John K. King register line + Josh

John K. King register line + Josh

So.Many.Books.

So.Many.Books.

Hosting guests

I also had the distinct pleasure of hosting my dear friends from Milwaukee this past weekend. Becky and Adam are two of the most wonderful people I am privileged to know and having them here made Detroit feel even more like home. It was a wonderful experience to be able to show off my ‘new’ city to guests. This is always my favorite part of moving!

While they were here, we biked the city, had lunch at Eastern Market, and enjoyed a swanky cocktail hour at Coach Insignia (the restaurant on the top floor of the middle Ren Cen tower—beautiful view!). We also explored the Arboretum in Ann Arbor. I feel like I am truly becoming a Michigan resident and I love it!

 

Becky and Adam Enjoying the View from Cafe Ensignia

Becky and Adam Enjoying the View from Coach Ensignia

Shark Attack in Eastern Market!

Shark Attack in Eastern Market!

 

Challenge presentation

This month, we also had our first Challenge Presentation for our nonprofit partner, Recovery Park. Recovery Park is a nonprofit, with a mission to launch sustainable, for-profit businesses in Detroit. Their goal is to employ local residents to grow produce year round (through hydroponic farming), thus tackling both issues of vacant land use and high Detroit unemployment rates.

We were broken up into teams and tasked with different objectives—i.e. developing graphics, reaching out to the community, designing a volunteer event, etc. My group was Community Engagement: Food-Related Businesses. We reached out to local restaurants and grocery stores to learn about their processes for purchasing produce and their feelings about supporting local growers and hydroponic farming in general. Our findings were varied but it was clear that Recovery Park’s mission fit quite well with the mission of establishments committed to food transparency, local produce, and supporting the local economy first.

 

Our Interviews took us to the Top!

Our interviews took us to the top!

Brittany absolutely nailed the presentation! Love her!

Brittany absolutely nailed the presentation! Love her!

 

All in all, this past month has been my best yet in Michigan (though I have only have five). I even got cotton candy at work today.

 

I LOVE cotton candy!!!

I LOVE cotton candy!!!

 

I cannot wait to see what the future brings! Thank you for reading. Please leave me a note if you made it through this! :P

 

Liz

Some thoughts on good and bad

Previous to Challenge Detroit, I spent a lot of time thinking about Detroit, and now that my actual job employs me to think about Detroit —-well, it’s a lot of thinking about this fine city. This blog post is an informal invitation to my thoughts….

One of my more recent thoughts was spawned by this phrase I feel like I continuously overhear around Metro Detroit: “good area.” Almost always, this phrase is used to reference a not so “good area” within the city limits. Sentences overheard sound something like this:

“We went to X place but it’s not really in a good area” and/or “Oh! Is X in a good area?” and/or “We had to drive through a really bad area to get there.” ETC ETC.

Now to be fair, I am by no means excused from this type of language. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this phrase is because I do indeed catch myself using it often. So, in order to unpack the use of this phrase, here are some things I am considering:

1. What makes a place good versus bad?

2. What makes a neighborhood good versus bad?

3. How does the use of these dichotomies effect our engagement with Detroit places/ neighborhoods/people?

4. How does our language affect our understanding of Detroit?

Wow! That’s a lot to consider! I certainly won’t be able to provide adequate analysis of each of these questions in this short space, but I think it’s really important for each of us (Detroiter or not) to really sit with these questions. Here are some of my quick thoughts on these considerations:

1. What makes a place good versus bad?

Comfort, comfort, comfort is good. Maybe this means knowing a person at this place, or knowing anyone that has been to this place before. It could also mean feeling welcomed and invited into this place, plus feeling safe.

So how do we create comfort in places?

2. What makes a neighborhood good versus bad?

Similar to place, a personal connection to a neighborhood probably validates a feeling of comfort and safety, which is definitely good. Occupied houses and buildings, lit street lamps, working stoplights usually mean more safety and that’s good too.

Will making Detroit neighborhoods safer make them good?

3. How does the use of these dichotomies effect our engagement with Detroit places/neighborhoods/people?

We go to good places, we avoid bad places. We drive our cars rather than walk, bike or use public transportation so that we can feel safer when moving through bad places to good places.

How can we balance the realities of these descriptions with our perceived realities of Detroit?

4. How does our language affect our understanding of Detroit?

I believe language tells our story. If we are going to tell the story of Detroit (or any city!), we should tell the true story and use real, authentic words to do this.

So are places and neighborhoods as simple as good versus bad?

Double wow! That’s even more to consider. Each of these questions has inevitably led me to more questions on my regular quest to understand the complexities of this very unique city. The thing is, I’m really passionate about trying to more fully understand our perceptions of this city and I think if we can unpack those more thoroughly, we (all of us—fellows, friends, family alike!) can more effectively make positive impacts for the city’s future.

So instead of leaving you with a conclusive solution to these wonderings, I challenge you to delve deeper into how you tell the real story of Detroit.

The Dos and Don’ts of Detroit

Here are a few of my Detroit-related suggestions and a few of my pet peeves.

Don’t: binge on ruin porn

Not cool.

If I catch you in front of the train station taking pictures from your car, I will give you the stink eye. Taking pictures of decay is lazy, overdone and disrespectful. Your souvenir of Detroit should not be a photo of a decaying house that looks great with a filter and makes you seem cool for posting it on your Facebook. Detroit is not a blank slate. Many times, people live in the houses that you’re photographing, and your cavalier attitude adds insult to injury.  

Don’t: ignore it, either.

This is New York, but you get the picture.

This is New York, but you get the picture.

Yes, there are lots of amazing things happening Downtown, but Detroit is way more than that. If you really want to be a part of Detroit’s future, you need to be cognizant of its present, and unfortunately blight and poverty is a part of that. Just remember to be respectful.

 

Do: ask questions

Detroit resident, activist and advocate Sean Mann talks about the successes and challenges in the Hubbard Farms neighborhood where he lives  in Detroit in June.

Detroit resident, activist and advocate Sean Mann talks about the successes and challenges in the Hubbard Farms neighborhood where he lives in Detroit in June.

You’ll be surprised how open a lot of Detroiters become when you ask thoughtful questions. The city is full of amateur historians with great stories and even better suggestions on food, bars and hidden attractions. Often the question “How long have you lived here?” will lead to much more.

 

Do: say “Hi” to people

It’s rude if you don’t. Unless you’re a busy business person doing business things downtown, take a second and acknowledge the people around you. Be a part of the community.

 

Do: wait until the light actually turns green to go

Don't even think about it.

Don’t even think about it.

This one is specifically for Detroiters. Just because you saw the light turn yellow on Woodward doesn’t mean you can inch into the intersection. Why do you do this?? Knock it off.

The Man in the Arena.

In a letter I received from my parents earlier this month, I found an article published by my hometown newspaper. The article, titled Many of Detroit’s New Wheelchair Ramps Go ‘Nowhere’, reached print and online audiences throughout the greater Chicagoland area on October 10th. Accredited to the Associated Press, the short piece did raise some valid points: a misallocation of public resources, questionable urban planning implementation, compounded development problems and dissatisfied residents.

However, fueled by a few choice quotes and a well-framed problem, the article offered no solution, no outlook. Rather than a constructive thought. it left the reader hanging on a quote by an elderly woman complaining about the damage that degraded roads did to the suspension on her electric wheelchair. The  article threw itself in with the lot of Detroit-damning media that has been swirling around the public lens in recent years. The urban decay; the neighborhood blight; the corrupt, bankrupt city government; the same broken tune that lazy, disconnected journalists have been singing into the ears of an all too obliging public.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

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 Where those without vision or optimism, see vacant, abandoned land, organizations like  Recovery Park see opportunity. Six years in the making, Recovery Park aims to take the Chene Ferry Market neighborhood (pictured above), reclaim it from the natural growth and re-purpose it into a 110-acre urban agriculture operation employing marginalized (handicapped, ex-convicts, under-educated) Detroit residents.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;

IMG_20141007_084338 (via @Andajetski)

So I choose not to buy into the abject murmurings of absentee observers. I choose to work in these neighborhoods, to live in these neighborhoods, and to improve these neighborhoods regardless of factors out of my control. I have seen these ramps first-hand and to me they are a fresh start; they are an indent; they are a glimpse into the future development of this city.

but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

- President Theodore Roosevelt

4 Things I Love About Levy

My host company is Edward C. Levy. I am two months into the official Challenge Detroit Year and I have been having a lot of fun at work. I mentioned before Levy is a great place to work and here are a few reasons why.

1)   My work of course! My official title is “eLearning Designer.” I work with a team of 2 others to create online learning material for the company. Our job is to boil down heavy content into step-by-step guides called a job aids. The goal is to make it simple, and easy to understand for anyone- including someone intimidated by technology.

IMG_07362)    The Café! Levy’s main office has this really unique cafeteria in the office. It’s decorated in a 1950s retro diner-style and it is adorable! Which matches the whole company culture. Small things are always popping up to brighten people’s day- like an ice cream party for our COO’s Birthday with a marching band and clown or company-wide photo contests. It’s their way of making work fun and it’s great to embrace it.

3)   Location! Levy is set right on the edge of Dearborn. Sandwiched between Mexicantown and Dearborn 2 fabulous foodie destinations! Doesn’t hurt that it’s only a 12 minute drive from Midtown.

In my zone!

In my zone!

4)  Legacy. People of Levy are loyal employees–that says a lot about a company. Both former fellows have stayed with Levy after their fellowship ended. Which seems as a novel concept since my norm has become moving every year, never having all my possessions in one place, I’ve even forgotten what the inside of a garage looks like—it gives me hope to think it worked out so well for them—maybe these things aren’t too far off.

 

Bonus #5! The people! Did I mention I have a pretty fun team?? We have color parties, critics, collaborate on projects and have sticker charts to keep us motivated.

Whats a color party with out skittles??

Whats a color party with out skittles??

Explore Your Territory

Detroit and I have a few things in common— we’re rough around the edges, we have difficulty in conveying our personal story, and we’re deeply proud of what we’ve done, how far we’ve come, and hopeful and deeply committed to the future.

While riding the People Mover to the Red Wings v. Maple Leafs game (both firsts for me)I found myself in deep thought while surrounded by too many people to count. I reflected on the many opportunities I’ve had to travel and explore the city during that oddly opportune moment. I’ve seen Detroit during all hours of the day from sunrise to sunset by running and cycling the streets, driving on freeways and highways, walking on busy streets and vacant alley ways. I’ve been fortunate to see Detroit’s skyline by airplane at dusk, also a sight I implore everyone to do and if not in midair look up and ingest it from the ground level. It’s still pretty amazing on your feet. I see Detroit, and the world around me, differently by way of mode of transportation. I find myself grinning from cheek to cheek because I learn something new from the day before. This usually involves me turning a corner and spotting a new (or old) Detroit hallmark. Lately it’s been a new piece of concrete for the M-1 rail, new windows or decals being placed on storefronts that show ownership, growth and signs of rebirth.

Roomie bonding at the Red Wings game

I re-learn how magical this time in Detroit’s history really is with each new day. I love the feeling I get when I walk outside to embrace what Detroit has to offer. Life in general, and Detroit in particular, are nothing short of spectacular!

Take a ride on the People Mover, go on a walk, gallivant around the city, cycle the streets, or take a journey on the bus system. Detroit will evoke imagination, spark a conversation, and hopefully inspire the bellowing critics. It’s cool here, like, really cool! Join the rest of us who aim to be part of Detroit’s story, we’re always looking for more riders!

For Real

Everyone has a reason for being in Detroit—staying, coming, returning, passing through, stopping by, whatever. Though my Detroit experience is pretty charmed, I haven’t had too many “Detroit” conversations where the conversation doesn’t end up at “why Detroit?” Jobs, art, taking stances, exploring, graduating from the suburbs, and having something to talk about are all common topics, and the rare born-and-raised is always welcome. I can’t recall living in any other place where the origin story is as fundamental.

And each person’s story gets thrown in the wash with the rest, so there’s constant chatter in the areas of legitimacy and “realness.” Detroit is this grand fiction, after all, a story or a metaphor more often than a living city. To fit—and please the critics—you need to be the right kind of character.

It took me a while to sort through my own feelings about what (or rather who) is “right” or “wrong” here. I’ve arrived, for the most part, at agnosticism: if you’re not doing harm, then I don’t care how you choose to live and be comfortable. What continues to tumble around in my head, however, is the complicated rubric for “realness” itself.

What city has only good people? What economy exclusively hums to the sound of responsible capitalism? Where can you go, besides a lake town in Minnesota, where everyone is righteous and well-read and above average?

Ask some folks why they like their hometowns and they’ll say “the people.” Detroit is certainly not an exception; sometimes the people have to work extra-hard to cover the deficits. But surely “the people” includes all people, right? The good and the bad, the right and the wrong? Not everyone is an entrepreneur, not everyone works for free, not everyone has roots here. Not everyone has a claim to the brand, and, more importantly, not everyone wants one. Sometimes paying property tax is enough. Sometimes it’s fine to still think Corktown is cool and crazy. Sometimes Detroit is just another place in this world.

The passion for “right” is inspiring, and not always unhealthy. Obviously the folks who embody it have nothing but the best intentions. Obviously we’re better off with it than without it. It’s an exhausting passion to meet every day, and sometimes it’s nice to crack into a Stroh’s, fully aware that they don’t make it here anymore.


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