Detroit has been the most powerful experience in this research endeavor to date. In a city devastated by social, urban, and financial situations for the last half-century, the transformation of space can have incredible impact on its existence.
The folks at the green garage, Tom and Peggy Brennan, purchased an old model T warehouse in 2008 adjacebt to Motor City Brewery with a vision to transform the incredibly blighted Midtown into a green hub. The building is to serve as an incubator for small businesses focused on green practices and technologies through a communal style office. The alley behind the business just finished construction this month and is already established its presence as a harbinger of change to the neighborhood, and perceptually the whole Midtown area. This project really serves as a witness to the power of community members taking initiative and executing a good idea. This alley will transform, no doubt, the block and community in many ways in the years to come.
I was also able to visit the abandoned Central Train Station and Mies’ Lafayette Park near the downtown. The amount of ruins in the city is phenomenal and almost surreal. Plants have begun to take the buildings back into the earth due to half a century of neglect.
I would like to thank Tom and Peggy Brennan of the Green Garage, my friend and former classmate Jessica Hartwig, and The Motor City Brewery for a fantastic lesson in American urbanism. You can follow the Green Alley and Green Garage’s progress here
This Saturday, September 11th, I will embark on trip two. I will spend four days in Chicago and three days in Detroit. While in Chicago I will be meeting with the Department of Transportation in regards to their Green Alleys program that has successfully remodeled a number of downtown alleys. I will also be meeting with photographer Bob Thall, whose book, City Spaces, explores alleys and their role in the city’s identity.
“Investigating these spaces reminded me of my earlier sense of the city as a mysterious landscape to explore. My history as a Chicagoan, my history as a photographer, the history of the city, and, in a small way, the history of photography—without any plan or anticipation, these photographs brought these histories together for me.” – Bob Thall
While in Detroit, I will visit the Green Garage and their freshly remodeled alley on their grand opening day, Thursday. I will also be taking an architecture tangent to Cranbrook while in the city. Let me know if you have any additions to these maps, or if you know of any interesting alleys in either city. Check back throughout next week for frequent posts.
One of the most interesting aspects of cities is their texture -culturally and physically. I have begun to notice tiny places throughout the alleys and the city in general where the natural world has crept up, on, and into our paths and begun another series of layers over our existence. The edge of urbanity blurs at these points of reclamation.
One of my recent favorite instances if this can be found halfway down a pioneer square alley where flowering weeds have found their way into a wall and onto a window sill. This should serve as a model for our continual development of cities. We should allow, assist, and design for new ways that we can coexist with ecological forces so often pushed behind increased returns on investments, efficiencies, etc. Photo credit goes to Karann MacNealy on the Jane’s walk a couple weekends ago.
You can check out this simple welding project that is assisting in this reclamation process off University between 1st and 2nd. It contains some sedums often used for green roofs and continues to flourish. I encourage everyone to plant something in between bricks, under a downspout, on a window sill, or anywhere that will benefit an alley near you. What is now considered a lifeless byproduct of urban efficiency can now be a place for environmental benefit and growth.
Thank you everyone for coming! It was awesome to see more than one other person, pigeon, or rat walking around in there this weekend! Our walk lasted for two hours and brought some interesting things to light. We moved from the Moore all the way to Maynard and Canton Alleys where we got to go in and speak with the owner of Sun May, who gave us a brief history lesson on the two alleys. Apparently they were live/work and the first two major blocks in the area. This could explain their having commercial space on three sides instead of just two.
There were many great questions asked and a lot of new things discovered. I would like to thank Lisa Quinn of Feet First and Todd Vogel of the International Sustainability Institute for opening their office n on a weekend to talk about their great space and initiatives. I would encourage everyone who attended the tour to tell their friends to walk through the alleys, imagine what they could be, plant things, and keep an eye on them. The city needs to look at them as pedestrian assets more and more until they are capable of turning them into just that. There is a lot of character, potential, and history within these spaces – we only need to bring them to the attention of everyone. Thanks to Heidi Oien for giving me the idea to do this and thanks to everyone who came out. Thanks also to Karann MacNealy, Animish Kudalkar, and Max Foley for taking photos along the way. I will be posting information shortly on a volunteer group that is gathering to paint and clean Maynard and Canton alleys in hopes that they can be returned to a great commercial and pedestrian area – so stay tuned.
Also, now on flickr – check out photos of our walk along with Jane’s walks across the U.S. and Canada! http://www.flickr.com/groups/janeswalk2010/pool/