Friday, March 27, 2009

Delirious Detroit: Land of UnReal Estate

After a brief, work induced break from blogging, I've amassed a collection of posts from Detroit, which seems to be getting a lot of attention of late as perhaps the poster child of urban voids. The report that we worked on in last falls SDAT is slowly nearing publication, so definitely check back here for the full document soon. One of the major themes, obviously, is the rampant deterioration of both community and infrastructure in Detroit. Treehugger offers some more visual clues to the issue - a particularly poignant one being the box elder sapling growing from the detritus inside an abandoned Public School Facility.

:: Detroit Public Schools Book Depository - image via Treehugger

This image gives some clue to the solution - deterioration not equalling death but offering the potential for rebirth and regrowth. The flip side of all this chaos is the move towards positive change. For an ongoing update of some of the current goings on, an interesting blog analyzing the unique Detroit phenonomenon is Detroit UnReal Estate Agency, a collaborative with an aim to: "...produce, collect and inventory information on the 'unreal estate' of Detroit: that is, on the remarkable, distinct, characteristic or subjectively significant sites of urban culture. The project is aimed at new types of urban practices (architectural, artistically, institutional, everyday life, etc) that came into existence, creating a new local ‘normality’ and a new value system in the city of Detroit."

:: image via Detroit UnReal Estate Agency

A recent story on NPR discussed the work of a pair of artists who: "...have been recruiting artists from around the world to buy the foreclosed houses in the neighborhood and rebuild." The low cost of entry and abundance of stock allows for some artistic flair and innovation. A proposed redevelopment aiming to be completely off the grid, is the "Power House Project" From the article: "...they set their sights on the foreclosed house down the street — a working class, wood frame, single family house that was listed for sale for $1,900. The house had been trashed by scrappers who stole everything, including the copper plumbing, radiators and electrical lines... instead of putting it all back and connecting to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house and power the next-door house."

Read some more about this and the reinhabitation of Detroit at the
NY Times.

:: Power House Project - image via NPR

There are no shortage of recent calls from virtually everywhere to 'save' Detroit in a range of potential ways... these range from the practical, as urbanism points out the potential for public-private partnerships. A middle ground perhaps is a proposed high-speed train, seen via The Infrastructurist: "An outfit called Interstate Traveler, LLC is proposing to build an elevated high speed maglev train running between the depopulating metropolis of Detroit and the state capital of Lansing as the first leg of a multi-use national transportation network. The trains would travel at 200 mph along current Interstate rights of way with stations near current highway exits."

Check out this video of the proposal:

And perhaps falling into the outlandish, a proposal to build mobile nuclear reactors, as seen in a fascinating post from Treehugger: "After all, alternative energy is huge now, and in World War II Detroit retooled from cars to tanks in a matter of months. How much of a stretch would it be for them to start churning out these portable nuclear power stations that the Russians used until the unfortunate events at Chernobyl nudged them off the road. This is a TES-3 built on a T10 tank platform, with an 8.8 megawatt output." Yikes!

:: image via Treehugger

A range of other options include a proposal to use Brownfield sites for renewable energy production (via The Dirt); to perhaps the more innovative (yet illegal) ultimate in guerilla gardening, from a post on Where: "We all know Urban Agriculture is the big thing these days, hailed to save our urban youth by offering values, safe havens, and job training. My question is, what will happen to these urban farms when we legalize marijuana. I don't know the answer, and I am not implying there is one answer, I just think it's an incredibly interesting question, and so I thought I would poss (sic) it to the community here at Where. I mean, the inner city has historically been plagued with drug crime and addiction but perhaps the legalization of marijuana could offer a way out? I mean, the urban farms, the knowledge of agriculture is already there, and certainly the abandoned lots are there, and the drug colonies are there. On the other hand, maybe it would be a terrible thing leading people to dependency and bigger addictions. Either way it's a compelling situation to ruminate on. Rustbelt - Weedbelt."

:: Weed City? - image via Where

So what to do with all of these ideas? All of these options and more are on the table and can be your guide to a current competition entitled 'Rouse [D]etroit'.

:: image via Treehugger

"This is an international open ideas competition challenging people to come up with designs that will rouse the city of Detroit and encourage an evolution of our understanding of its unique urban environment. We have studied, examined, photographed, and proposed our ideas many times over, but how can we begin to take action to improve the overall condition of what so many believe to be a modern day ruins? Every city has its history and Detroit is no different, but now it’s our turn to “bounce back” and maybe not in the traditional or conventional way, but in a new, unprecedented way that is specific to the one-of-a-kind condition Detroit presents to us. So the solution too, will be one-of-a-kind specific to our Detroit… let’s see what you’ve got… Ranging from macro to micro, explore all options; this project is not just about the large scheme, but also the small details. We are looking for the most CREATIVE and thoughtful designs that could help Detroit and make it better in some way. The competition does have one condition; the site or sites must be in Detroit. "

The ball is now in your court... submissions are due July 31.

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