Archive for the ‘Michigan’ Category

Detroit’s abandoned Chin Tiki restaurant has been razed.  This New York Times article alludes to rumors about a new hockey arena planned by the Ilitches. Yikes. The last thing that area needs is another big development. The Cass Corridor, once home to Detroit Chinatown, is a portal to downtown Detroit and imposing a large sports stadium will further hurt the already-damage the urban fabric of the neighborhood.  There’s no doubt that Chin Tiki participated in the exoticism of Asian cultures yet there seems to be a loss of historical significance  and cultural memory resulting from its absence.

…the loss of Chin Tiki is an example of bad city planning…with the right people behind it, Chin Tiki could have been a downtown success story, like the once-mothballed Cliff Bell’s, the deco-style jazz club nearby that reopened recently.

More urgently, Detroit should steer away from relying on big box entertainment venues placed in the heart of the city, where a tangle of freeways already intersect once-intact neighborhoods. What Detroit needs is to find a new direction for the economy, one that could foster small local businesses, less auto-dependent infrastructure, and even promote urban agriculture/community gardens.

Last December, Michigan took a step towards justice when Governor Granholm finally signed an executive directive calling for the recognition and incorporation of environmental justice in state policy.  This victory came after launching a three-year long campaign involving a coalition of community groups, businesses, public health organizations and environmental non-profits in Detroit.  Other states, like California, New York and New Mexico have already established such policy precedents.

As the former coordinator of this campaign, I had left Michigan to attend graduate school, but I’m thrilled that the coalition’s hard work has finally paid off.  Significantly, the campaign has brought a wider coalition of environmental justice advocates around the state, highlighting major groundwork in Saginaw, Michigan, particularly Saginaw’s urban neighborhoods that have been poisoned by dioxin and other contaminants from Dow Chemical.

Perhaps Michigan is coming back on track on the environmental justice front.  Having been a major player in the beginnings of the EJ movement, this executive directive could signify the opportunity for a new wave of energy to create more livable, sustainable and just communities.

Another significant victory in the environmental justice movement took place today at the announcement of WR Grace’s announcement to pay $250 million to clean up their asbestos scandal in Libby, Montana.

This week, Grace Lee Boggs featured some of my recent entries about presidential candidate Barack Obama in her Living for Change column of the Michigan Citizen.  Having been a movement activist for over 50 years, GLB has a keen sense of the pulse of our nation, and I have always appreciated her dialectical analyses.  Together the Boggs Center and members of Beloved Communities Network have been discussing the significance of Obama, the movement that surrounds his candidacy, and the potential for Obama’s campaign to spark actual change.

Below is the full text from Living for Change: Continue Reading »

I was disappointed to hear that Detroit’s Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced the sale of 92 city parks last month. Many of these parks are probably small, abandoned and surrounded by other empty lots. Reportedly, the city wants to generate some revenue and spark development by selling these pocket parks.

There are enough vacant properties to stimulate development in Detroit, and I don’t see why the city can’t examine other approaches to revitalizing areas that are not designated parkland. Turning to parkland reveals a sense of desperation. It’s probably true that many of these parks are eye-sores and hardly ever used (what child would want to play on rusted, broken swings?), but selling off a city’s parks, no matter how small, is a short-sighted approach to city planning.

Whether it’s due to poor leadership, too much bureaucracy, or lack of resources, it’s unfortunate that the city is unable to improve these neighborhood parks. With the elimination of these neighborhood parks, the city cannot bank on the larger city parks (Belle Isle, Palmer Park, Rouge Park) to attract more residents, especially without an adequate public transportation system. During my experience working with youth who lived in northeast Detroit, few, if any, had even been to Belle Isle, which is considered one of the most well-known parks of Detroit.

Coincidentally, I’ve been researching the history of Detroit parks and greenspaces for my landscape theory class. As cities grew with Industrialization in the late 19th century, pioneering planners, such as Frederick L. Olmsted, advocated for the integration of public park space, in order to promote the public and environmental health of urban centers. In 1921, Detroit had become a national leader in park and recreational activities and hosted the annual convention for the National Association of Park Administrators. Hundeds of park administrators from around the country flocked to Detroit to learn how its park system accommodated a growing populace, and to view Belle Isle’s spectacular architecture and park design. (Though Belle Isle has been stripped to its bare essentials, with the closing of the zoo, aquarium and other attractions within the last 10 years).

I’m not necessarily arguing for the city to seek a return to the early 1900s because we clearly live in a different social and urban context today. But I do support innovative and visionary leadership to city planning and repairing the fabric of our urban communities. What would it look like if the city partnered with the local community to identify the needs of their neighborhoods? How can communities self-strategize to bring and maintain resources in the city? What does the city value, and how do those values manifest the kind of development we are encouraging in the city? Can we invite city designers and planners to rethink Detroit?

Click below for the list of neighborhood parks for sale: Continue Reading »

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.

More for full text of article: Continue Reading »

This weekend, my spirit goes out to those who have been busting their asses to make the Allied Media Conference happen and all who are attending this weekend. This former Detroiter didn’t make it back to see our city shine its brightest, but I’m thrilled to see the live coverage that’s already taking place over the web. Gotta love the blogging community and a big shout out to the WoC blogging caucus! I’ve really been enjoying My Ecdysis’s coverage of it. I’m excited to see how the conference will impact the way we organize in our various communities over the next year.

A moment of silence to reflect on the legacy of Vincent Chin (6.19.82).

I recently learned that my friend Toni Moceri is running for Warren City Council in the upcoming primaries on August 7, 2007. She is one of 44 candidates, and I think she may be the youngest person running for election.

This caught my attention because some readers may be familiar with my previous posts reporting the brutal killing of Hmong teen Chonburi Xiong by Warren police. Warren is historically a white working class city, and the dramatic demographic change it’s been experiencing in the past 20 years requires new, fresh leadership like Moceri’s.

Moceri’s politics are good; she is a friend of Detroit Summer and supporter of efforts to seek justice for Chonburi Xiong. I suspect that Warren politics are run by an “old-boy’s network”, so I can only imagine how challenging it will be for a candidate like Moceri to penetrate into its power structure. Regardless, what I like most about Moceri as a candidate is that she is a young person who is returning to where she grew up to help foster positive change in her own community. Perhaps Moceri can pioneer to build a campaign, similar to the League of Young Voters model, to plant some seeds of young political leadership in the Detroit metro area.

How to get involved in Toni Moceri campaign: Continue Reading »

I was in Michigan last weekend for a short visit and a knee docter appointment (which I’m happy to report that I passed with flying colors!). Driving through the barren, calming roads of Detroit was a stark contrast to the fast-paced congestion of Manhattan. Most of all, it reminded me that there are many blog posts and reflections that are long overdue, particularly the one below, which I promised back in April.

During the process of applying to graduate school, I wrote a lot about how Detroit and how this city has been a generous teacher to me, helping me get on the track to pursue a degree in landscape architecture. I was too paranoid to post any text from my personal statements, for fear of jeopardizing my application, whether or not I had any real evidence to support this fear. Now that I’ve been admitted to school, I feel better about posting a blog-appropriate version of my personal statement.

In the spirit of BFP’s Radical Michigan Blogging Carnival, I submit my entry (4 months late!) about why Detroit/Michigan holds a special place in my heart. And for ways to get further acquainted with the cool things that make up the Detroit/Michigan area, check out the Allied Media Conference 2007 (June 22-24) and Critical Bloggers community. Continue Reading »

A recent statement released by the Committee to Support the Xiong Family to increase support for their organizing efforts surrounding the Chonburi Xiong incident:

Hmong Teen Killed by Police: Community Responses to Police Violence and Harassment in Warren and the Greater Detroit Area.

Since the fatal shooting of Hmong teenager, Chonburi Xiong, by Warren, Michigan police officers in September 2006, the “Committee to Support the Xiong Family,” an ad-hoc coalition of students, teachers, community members, and organizations, have joined efforts in not only seeking justice for the Xiong family and address issues of police violence against communities of color.

On the morning of September 17th, Chonburi Xiong, 18, was shot twenty seven times by Warren police officers in his own home. The Warren police officers responded to a domestic call by the Xiong family the day before, sparked by an argument between Chonburi and his parents leading to Chonburi firing his gun several times in his home and taking off with the family car. Chonburi came home that night and went to sleep. Without having called the police, the Xiong family awoke the next morning to the Warren policy who stormed their home without a warrant, detained the family upstairs and went down to the basement where Chonburi was sleeping. He was shot 27 times and the family was taken into custody where they were not notified of their Chonburi’s death until later that afternoon.

The Warren police state that the killing is “justified”; the city’s lawyer claims, “The twenty seven means nothing. The only thing the officers needed was justification to shoot one time. The twenty seven bullets don’t matter.”

This incident, however, is no anomaly; it is related to other forms of racially targeted police harassment and violence experienced by Asian American youth and other youth of color in the greater Detroit area. On November 26th, an off-duty office outside a retail store in Detroit fatally shot an unarmed sixteen-year-old African American youth, Brandon Martell Moore. Both families have not received an explanation or procedures from which to address their son’s death. Continue Reading »