G-Sync: Postcards from Detroit's Edge
One of the best ways to destroy the grip of a city's mythological view on an outsider is to dive into its culture. If you are able to spend the time visiting the beautiful pockets of the city's culture, you're able to discover new narratives and create new connections that shorten the miles.
When Rapid Growth began our Grand Rapids to Detroit (#GRR2DET
) bus trips a few years ago, we did so with the intention of removing the barriers of thought between the east and west side of the mitten that have been formed for decades by headlines where the rule of "if it bleeds, it leads" still rings true when talking about Detroit.
My time learning to listen to Detroit's culture dates back long before these GRR2DET trips began rolling out of our city. What I have enjoyed the most is that, with each trip, a group of individuals, nominated by others in the community, collides with the experiences curated for the day, so it's a different experience each time.
For this last excursion, it was much more difficult to create this atmosphere since we really had two separate trips and a much smaller bus. (We will be back to our normal-sized one hopefully on the next trip.)
Right about now I do not blame you if you say, "Why should I care about a field trip for adults that I could not get away to attend," but the purpose of these trips is to let the experience grow in each of us, allowing new stories to emerge in the community.
Today I am not going to dive in too deep recounting every step, but rather ask that what I present here visually -- as well as through a brief description below of my favorite observations – piques your curiosity about our state's largest and most written-about international city. I hope it sparks your own desire to venture east to see some of these unique offerings for yourself and create your own narrative to share with others.
Detroit Eastern Market
- This sprawling acreage, once devoted solely to the food distribution network serving the area businesses, is an exciting farmers' market district where fresh food and 250+ artisanally focused small businesses of the city welcome tens of thousands each week.
My takeaway: Eastern Market's Devita Davison, a former resident of New York City, drove home the importance of their food justice focus, ensuring that all should have access to fresh food. It's a model we should be trying hard to emulate here in Grand Rapids. Providing aggressive, low-cost entry to the marketplace should be our mission if we are to be equitable to those communities of budding entrepreneurs who could unlock the next big thing for our region.
Power House Productions
(Power House, Play House, Sound House) – A truly unique and artfully created space on the edge of Detroit (and just steps from the ethnically diverse Hamtramck neighborhood), this series of once-blighted homes has been reborn to spark the imagination of both the community and the world, who often knock on founders Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope's door.
We even visited a neighborhood theatre troupe, The Hinterlands
, where artists Richard Newman and Liza Bielby, along with the help of their community, have transformed an old flophouse into a place where performances and lessons can be held. Newman held our group spellbound as he shared stories of its creation, which is truly an awe inspiring moment to see what they have created here.
My takeaway: It takes a village. The way the residents interacted with Gina as she led us down the streets had me thinking about how the harnessing of conceptual art married to a unique use of space could usher in a new era of placemaking in other communities. The ever-evolving community built skateboard park is raw and rough – just the way a skateboard park should be in my opinion.
The Alley Project (TAP)
– This off-the-beaten-path destination is really an art space and rotating gallery in an alley that harnesses a visual storytelling of the people who live there. They even have a park with removable walls should a piece of artistic significance be created. TAP encourages neighbors to participate in a process that begins with listening as they build an asset inventory before the creative expression begins.
My takeaway: Erik Howard, the founder of TAP, shared how their youth-adult partnership program creates a new level of communication between neighbors and the visiting artists who are coming to see what a community built on the participatory process can achieve. This is their tenth year of operation and it is truly remarkable to hear the stories of lives changed as a result of their contribution to the neighborhood.
: Our moring tour and lunch provided by Urban Innovation Exchange. Our lunch was created by three local food entrepreneurs, Sister Pie, Eli Tea, Commonwealth St. Catering, and Taste Love, who are rocking the food scene of Detroit as members of FoodLab Detroit, based in the Green Garage. For dinner we dined at El Barzon
-- a very unique venue where the owner, who loves both Mexican and Italian, decided that both cuisines should live side by side on the menu. This creative collision of flavors and such diverse ingredients made for truly amazing end of our day in Detroit.
My takeaway: I loved that Detroit's Green Garage -- an incubator -- is committed to three core principles: focus on making Detroit's future sustainable; nurture and launch new businesses; and commit to the Midtown neighborhood where they are located. This center, which does not offer tours on the day we visited, is truly building community around a core set of values that West Michigan understands.
As for dinner, our end of the table agreed the chorizo gnocchi special was heavenly rich and downright sinful in the sauce. It was a perfect melting pot moment of cuisine at a place that Friends of Grand Rapids Parks' Lee Mueller was spot-on in his recommendation.
The other half of our group attended the Michigan Corps
annual Social Entrepreneurship Challenge – a statewide showcase event where startups pitched their new projects to the audience in the hopes of gaining some of the investment money being awarded at this event. Michigan Corps is a nonprofit organization committed to the power of social innovation. To learn more about their program visit their Challenge site for details.
With each trip, I try and allow some space for people to wander. After we wrapped lunch at the Model D
house next door to the Bronx Bar, we set our two groups free to explore.
I ventured too and ended up picking up a bright, canary yellow coffee mug at my favorite little Cass corridor shop, City Bird
, which simply says, "say nice things about Detroit.
It was funny because as I checked out, I was entertained with stories of how the shop co-owner loved to visit Grand Rapids and had actually curated a couple shows for ArtPrize. As I listened to the positive impressions we had made, I began to understand that our role is not to just observe but to create dialogue between our cities. This has been our silent mission from the start and one we are most proud to have witnessed succeed.
As I sip my coffee this morning against a dark and stormy sky, this mug is a reminder that, while there are always going to be plenty of bloody stories from both of our cities to fill the newspapers, airwaves, and digital spaces, we must not let these stories be the only ones that others know of our cities.
We must find the courage to tackle the afflictions within our cities that destroy community and make others feel left out of the narrative as we carry forward (and celebrate through storytelling) those individuals, businesses, and programs and policies that fully comprehend a future for all of us.
Because now, more than ever before, I know as I reflect back, the future does need all of us.
Thanks for letting me share my insights and photos from this trip. It could not have happened without the support of our sponsors O.S.T.
, Knight Foundation
, Brewery Vivant
, and Dadd's Magic Bus
The Future Needs All of Us.
You might be shocked at your list of event choices at G-Sync Events: Let's Do This!
Editor's Note: A big shout out to Jeff Hill of Rapid Growth, Detroit's Model D and the Urban Innovation Exchange crew, and our parent company Issue Media Group, all of whom helped in making this trip truly unique. Also, I want to share that I was so impressed with the projects presented on this trip and want to thank all of the members of these organizations for inspiring me and so many others with the good that they perform every day in their city. You truly are creating a place for everyone to feel welcome with your work and vision.
Here is a link to a story that Michigan Public Radio's Lindsey Smith produced on our 2011 inaugural GRR2DET trip.
This story originally appeared in Rapid Growth here.