Monday, January 31, 2011

Motor City Experience

On Saturday I had my first opportunity to visit Detroit, and I had a blast.  The original purpose of the trip was for a service learning project.  I am on the MLK committee at my graduate college, and because of my previous education and HWS’s commitment to volunteer work, I figured this would be a great group to join.  The Urban Planning MLK committee is a small group of about ten students (including myself) and one faculty member, who put together a roundtable discussion on January 18th and then was to follow that up with a service learning day on the 29th

On Saturday, 12 urban planners headed out to the Gradmont Rosedale section of Detroit to work with the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation.  To preface, my knowledge of Detroit is very limited, but growing.  I would like to learn more, am trying to learn more, but I certainly do not know any details about the neighborhoods or cultures of Detroit.  The Grandmont Rosedale area is a very nice area of Detroit and it was fairly evident while driving through residential areas.  The homes were not very big, but most were built with brick, and seemed like a middle class neighborhood.  We did not work as long as we would have liked, or planned for, but that was not because of lack of efficiency or resources.  In fact, to our surprise, when we arrived at the building to be briefed and get directions to our site, there were about 15 other volunteers eagerly waiting to get to the site as well.  So instead of a 6 hour service learning project, 15 volunteers and 12 urban planning students, filled an entire dumpster full of garbage, cleaned out an entire basement full of furniture and other items, cleaned out an entire garage, filled that garage with more things to store, and tore out the entire first floor carpeting within three hours.  It was a great effort by everyone!

Although our service project only last half the day, we decided to use the other half exploring a city that rarely gets the time of day anymore.  I instantly was mesmerized and excited for all the history, buildings, and experiences I would gain from my short visit. 

Here is a Google Map of our route and the sites we saw:

View MLK Service Day in a larger map

We ended our service learning around 12:30pm and left for the Eastern Market to get some lunch.  We were recommended to go to the Russell St Deli.  So we began our way toward the center of Detroit/ Eastern Market.  We started our downtown Detroit visit on Woodward Street right by Wayne State University.  Nothing too out of the ordinary popped in my head.  As we headed closer to the center, the GM Renaissance building popped its head above the skyline and I knew we were getting closer.  As we drove on Woodward, I noticed two major urban planning issues.  First, the road was extremely wide.  Almost as wide as a highway, and what I would soon notice is most major streets leading to and from the center of Detroit were like this.  The automobile truly shaped Detroit not just financially, but literally (although I knew this before I went, just had no firsthand experience).  Second, I noticed how poorly maintained these major thoroughfares were.  The streets (not just Woodward) were littered with potholes, some as small as a CD, others as large as a manhole cover.  If you were not careful, you could easily destroy a tire after driving on one of these streets. 

As we approached downtown, we turned toward Eastern Market and made our way past the sports stadiums, into what used to be the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects.  Before we came upon these edifices, I noticed a few run down stores, but nothing I had never seen before.  As we approached the old projects, I immediately noticed how empty they were.  Not one building had a full window.  No building was clean of graffiti or other forms of vandalism.  It was a ghost town.  It was the single most shocking picture I have ever seen in a city before, although not the last.  The Brewster projects are the epitome of Detroit’s identity.  Run down and empty, but I must clarify, I do not hate Detroit, I am merely stating what I saw.  Detroit is full of potential and I hope I can discover more, but the Brewster projects were a major imagine I will never erase from my mind.

After the projects we made our way to the Eastern Market.  It was a very nice area, with some people walking around and clearly activity going on.  I know little about the Market itself, but it seemed that it was an open air market area with large coverings where a large amount of people could come and get produce and other goods.  By the time we got there, the markets were not really up anymore because it seemed to be more of a morning operation.  

Although we were unable to discover the markets, we made our way to our lunch destination.  Russell St. Deli was a great place to eat.  Lots of traditional deli style food, with a major focus on Corn Beef and Pastrami.  I had a corn beef sandwich with some homemade slaw, amazing!  Great place to get some lunch.  Also next door was a great peanut place called Rocky’s Historic Eastern Market.  Originally it was a peanut place but has turned into a spices and peanut palace.  It seemed like a great place to find good cooking spices.  My dad would really like it. 

After we finished lunch, we continued with our windshield tour of Detroit.  We made our way down to the center of the city, looped around past Martius Park, and onto Michigan Ave.  Our next destination was the old Michigan Central Station.  As we drove down Monroe St. we saw the monorail that apparently links little of Detroit together.  This leads me to another big issue about Detroit, how little public transportation there is.  If I was not in a car, or did not own a car in Detroit, getting from the Eastern Market to Mexican Town would be almost impossible.  Even walking it would probably take a few hours.  Detroit is very spread out and this issue has hindered the ability of Detroit to land on its feet in the recent times.  Although the car companies might be out of major trouble, for now, people cannot easily get around and so it hinders development, which slows innovation, which ultimately kills cities.  I do not think Detroit will die, but it seems to have hit rock bottom.  If transportation was rejuvenated (although with what money) it might bring people back.  Just a thought. 

As we headed toward Roosevelt Park/ Michigan Central Station, similar themes kept popping up.  Abandoned store fronts, wide roads, poor maintenance and little activity.  This was all quelled by the startling and mesmerizing site of the Michigan Train Station.  This building was so beautiful it is hard to explain.  It was built at the beginning of the 20th century (1913) and this was evident by the large columns and city beautiful like architecture (it is actually Beaux-Arts style).  Again, like the Brewster Projects, this building had been abandoned, run down, and vandalized for the past 20 or so.  It was shut down in 1988.  Although this building has been back and forth between historic preservation and demolition, it is still around and should be appreciated by everyone.  It was maybe the coolest building I have ever seen.  Sounds stupid, but honestly not many buildings today stand out quite like Michigan Central Station.  The station was surrounded by very little, and it is so tall, it makes the building seem so much large than it really is.  In fact, the entire top part of the building was never finished even when the building was in service.  It must have been 20 to 30 stories tall.  Maybe more.  It was one of my major highlights of my Detroit experience.

Next door to the Michigan Central Station are an abandoned and  rundown Hotel and home.  Nothing too exciting about either of these two places except that I love adventures and apparently the house had an art installation in the back that was created by a University of Michigan student.  Anyway it was cool but it was nothing compared to the Station.

Finally we made our way to Mexican town, just to see what it was like, and it seemed nice.  There were a lot of Spanish and Mexican restaurants (hence the name of the neighborhood) but it still seemed like it was struggling. 

Overall it was great adventure.  I want to shout out all the people who participated in the MLK service day, and specifically the people in my van: Marilyn, Joe, Joel, Jake, Sylvia, and Anne! I had a great time with all of you and I hope we can do it again.  Also being stuck in between Canada and the USA is always a fun story (inquire within).  Great first trip to Detroit and I hope I can make many more.   

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Work Together

Saturday was a tragic day in the United States.  An Arizona Congresswoman was shot and is in critical condition with many others injured, and a few others dead, notably a prominent judge and a young girl who was related to a baseball manager.   This is a terrible event and unfortunately it comes at a very stressful time in our nation (no coincidence).  With war still waging in the Middle East, the economy still sluggish and an election that just reversed political alignment in the US Congress, this was a cherry on top of all the negativity that our country has been going through.

I find it ridiculous that a nation has not been able to truly come together to make our nation better.  We came together during 9/11 and that patriotism and comradary has fallen by the way side year after year since that terrible September day.  Now instead of coming together, we have separated ourselves, (some might argue more than ever) between Red and Blue, Liberal and Conservative, Democrat and Republican.  And now people have physically been injured because of this divide.  What is worse, people who only strengthen the divide are using this tragic opportunity to make themselves rise above the ashes and garner support for themselves.

Here is a NY Times article discussing what Blue and Red want to do...

The Republican's still want to repeal the health care bill this week.  Dem's want to halt it because of this accident.  Both are trying to use this opportunity to strengthen their own hands.  This is nonsense! The Congress, as well as "The People", need to take a step back, and use this time to ask, "Are we really making America/ns' better?"

We should use this difficult time to look at what we have done over the last decade and make sure we understand what exactly we are doing.  Are we sure that we are bringing a nation together? I am not sure.  It seems, if anything, we are dividing a nation.  We (The People) and Politicians need to make some sense of the Fox News v. CNN or MSNBC.  We need to let go of the ridiculous back and forth about issues and start to say, how we can make everyone better.  Healthcare would be a start.  I am not for nor am I against but I believe everyone should have access to healthcare.  Whether it is federally mandated or privately controlled, the bottom line is everyone should be able to get it.

This is just one example and I won’t go into all the issues, but we should want the best for everyone else.  That’s how we make our nation better. Let’s stop bitching at the small things, and move on.  Let’s make America the best country in the world by working together!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year New Style

Here is the new goatee.  Its a new year so I was thinking I should change it up a bit, and continue the facial hair change ever so often.  Not sure what I will do next.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Great or Greatest New Year Ever???

I haven’t posted in a while, but I just returned to Michigan from my winter break where I decided to do no writing, little reading, and a lot of do nothing/having fun.  I had a great break.  Maybe one of my favorite winter breaks of all time.  I know break is not much for most people, but in college winter break was a great time to see you high school friends.  Now in grad school, winter break is a great time to see as many people as possible and I did just that.

First I must say thank you and I love you to my parents, for being the greatest parents in the world and always doing everything for me when I am home.  Thank you over and over again.

The first week I was home, I saw some of my favorite girlfriends from high school.  Jill, Annie and Sarah, it was so great to see you all.  We had a great time together when we were around, and it was really great to see them. I had not seen them in over two years.

During the same time, I also spent a lot of time with my best high school guy friends.  We had good times as usual.  It was also great to see Mike, who moved out west, and I had a great Christmas Eve with my friend Jack.  No details, but Free Knowledge will become something one day.  Mark my words.  If anyone wants to know more, talk to me.  I would really love to get something going.  

Christmas day I spent at the Peacocks family dinner party.  It was great to see the Peacock family and hang out with Jess and Brian, two of my closest friends from home. It was a fun afternoon/evening and for a Jewish kid and his wing-woman Perri, Christmas is always a fun time for me ha.

After Christmas I visited one of my best friends from college in PA.  It was great to see Shane.  We had two great days at his house, and it was awesome to catch up like old times.  Old times= me beating him in FIFA, MLB, NHL and all other video games haha.  

After I got home from Shane’s I spent a few days at home, and then I set off to NYC to see my best girlfriends, Zinnia and Marie.  These girls are hands down some of the best girls in the world.  They put me up for three days no questions asked and we had a great time! Best New Years of my life, so far.  Anyway, there were also many visitors that were great to see, another best friend Pino, great to see him, Elena, Esthefanie and Kristen.  Great to see you all and I had a great time with each of you.  

What made new years so special, besides spending it with some of my closest friends, was a little adventure I took after our night out.  Marie and Z live right down by Battery Park, and at 3am I was not tired.  So I walked around Battery Park and Wall Street.  It was a beautiful night and honestly I was in the best city in the world, in the most historic part of the could I not walk around and admire the architecture, streets, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Staten Island ferry.  I spent about two hours by myself, just walking around and staring into the Hudson toward the beautifully lit lady liberty.  It was a magical night, and it made me realize how awesome New York City is.  People will always say it’s great for its many amenities (diversity, neighborhoods, power, etc…), but what people might take for granted, and I’m sure I would if I lived in NYC, is its beauty.  The city is a great place to see beautiful things.  The Statue of Liberty shimmering with a golden glow was one of the most spectacular views I witnessed in a long time.  It is the little things that make NYC so great and I really do want to move to NYC.  If not NYC, at least some city that is similar because although I am preparing to study cities as a career, cities are a beautiful organism filled with joys that are so small to most people, but mean so much to me.  New York City will always be my favorite, but cities in general will always be beautiful.  I cannot wait to move to one and experience their beauties. 

Because of this, I have come up with some new year resolutions:

1) Enjoy the small things in life, like the views of the statue of liberty, or the stars in the sky.  Things that every day/night people look over and take for granted.
2) Work harder to be an urban planner for the greatest cities in the world.
3) Try to see my friends and family as much as possible because they are my life and without them I would be nothing.
4) Read more, and yes read Harry Potter. (I know, I know, I have not read them, but I will try to this summer.)
5) Be the best person you can be so you can make other peoples’ lives better.  It starts with Free Knowledge
6) Buy a noted pad and keep it with you at all times so you can jot down you ideas when not around a computer or notebook.  It will come in handy later. 

I’ll probably think of more but this is for now

Otherwise, it was a great New Year and break! Thank you to all who were apart of it!