Archive for August, 2007

Earlier this week, an article in the Detroit News broke a story about Ilitch Holdings purchasing the Detroit Masonic Temple in the Cass Corridor neighborhood. For those unfamiliar with Detroit power names, the Ilitches own pretty much all the major entertainment and sports real estate in the city, as well as the Little Caeser’s pizza business. It’s no doubt that when the Ilitches put in money in an area, the neighborhood will transform.

The Cass Corridor (not to be mistaken, or replaced by, “Midtown”) definitely needs some major uplift.  Perhaps the Ilitches will bring enough resources to bring the beautiful Masonic Temple to its fullest grandeur. Question for me is, how is the neighborhood going to change with the Ilitches as its newest resident?  I used to live in the Cass Corridor, and the news gives me mixed feelings. I don’t mind big developers who want to put resources in a cash poor area, but this kind of transformation usually comes with the heavy, unrelentless hand of gentrification. Since leaving Detroit, I have been given the opportunity to observe how various paces of gentrification is playing out in urban communities like Brooklyn, DC and Philadelphia. At times it is very quiet, taking its time over a span of 15 years, like the neighborhood I stayed in Brooklyn. Or, it takes place in the jolting changes  in areas of northeast DC, where people (non-residents) wouldn’t even give it a second’s thought to go to those neighborhoods three years ago.

The Cass Corridor can’t remain what it is currently, where vacant lots and abandoned buildings remain and where the police dump homeless folks, drug addicts and other people falling through the system’s cracks. Nor do I advocate for the presence of the Ilitches, whose impact may repeat the kind of gentrification that occurred under the shadows of Detroit Tiger’s Comerica Park stadium, erasing historic Brush Park, a once-predominately black neighborhood now largely replaced with cookie cutter new urbanism architecture.

It would be shameful if we can’t recognize the neighborhood in five years. The kind of “gentrification” the Cass Corridor needs is the kind that we have few models of, and the closest thing I can point to is the type of development that Avalon Bakery has brought into the Cass Corridor.  The owners set up shop on a blighted city block, fostering five more local businesses to open their doors on the same street. Today, there are people walking, bustling, biking, taking care of each other on the block.

The Cass Corridor is also hotbed of amazing community initiatives that are doing more than just transforming the way the neigborhood looks. The Cass Corridor is home to Detroit Summer, Back Alley Bikes, the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation, a slew of community gardens, and the historic Detroit Chinatown. I hope that these community entities will get together to put some stakes in the ground, and secure a strong community structure.

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I haven’t had much time in the past several months to post as much as I’d like. Two weeks ago, I started my landscape architecture program, and it’s really been a whirlwind of drawing, design, model-making, computers, graphics, more drawing, more design, more model-making, etc.  And still trying to find time in between to unpack and settle into my new apartment in West Philly.   Still feeling overwhelmed with re-entering student life, living off loans, meeting new people, all the while maintaining a sense of self.  Trying not to sound like a broken record, but I do have several unfinished posts and will hopefully be able to crank them out in due time.