For an hour and a half after work on Tuesday, November 30, we’ll be walking around downtown Windsor and getting access to a variety of closed / vacant / underused spaces. Justin Langlois will be guiding it with Tom Lucier, and we’re hoping to have a lot of ambitious and excited people out with us. City-owned buildings, privately held storefronts, and cavernous bingo halls are all a part of our route, and you’re invited to join us in imagining a different downtown for our city — one with ample, affordable, and exciting spaces for artists, performers, musicians, and other creative-minded folks. We want to start a real conversation about what it would take to get these spaces filled with people who need them. We want to help give people a reason to be excited about being a practicing artist in this city again. We know that finding space needs to be at the top of that list, and we want to help.
This walk has been organized as part of the Artscape Creative Placemaking workshop being held on December 1st. Artscape, if you’re not already familiar with their work, has brought together and led numerous partners and stakeholders to realize massive studio and live/work retrofits of a variety of underused spaces in Toronto and figured out ways to make spaces for artists not only affordable, but integral to the surrounding neighbourhoods and economies. This walk has been something on our to-do list for a while and Artscape’s workshop just gave us the perfect excuse to do it.
Meet us at Phog Lounge at 5pm sharp. We’ll wind our way through the downtown core and head back to Phog for some food, drinks, and lots of conversation. We really want you to be there, let us know if you have any questions.
There are TONS of videos, and a couple of interviews at the end of this blog post.
Skip the writing to see what we saw on our trip to Detroit on Saturday October 16th, 2009.
Thanks to David Ziriada and Joan who gave their time for FREE to give this tour, to what they hoped would be a large and eager group of Windsorites. Instead they got the small, tenaciously interested and focused group of the following people, to whom I am extremely grateful for making this experience and incredible one: Luke, Rino, Anastasia (sp?), Wilson, Sophia, and Matt.
David Ziriada and the other side of the Renaissance Center
To begin with, there were nine of us.
One of us was less than six weeks old.
But we were all wide-eyed, and in constant awe of the offerings of the City of Detroit.
Heading over to Detroit at 10am seems early to the people who ran late for our departure, and never made the trek.
Anyone with a day job realizes that this is enough time to wake, shower, feed kids, milk a cow, and be early for departure.
The follow-up walks we’ll be doing will begin at the same time, for those who, if ever in your entire lives, become motivated to DO SOMETHING.
Stopping first at the Wayne County Building, we wriggled down nearby streets, near St. Andrew’s Hall, Jacoby’s (possibly Detroit’s oldest surviving business), Chapoton House, Greektown, St. Mary’s Church, The Detroit Cornice and Slate Building, and much more.
We visited the tourist centre, which is fairly new, on Woodward Avenue. There, we found locally produced gift-shop-type stuff like pins, t-shirts, jewelery, books, and more. I bought a Mayor Coleman Young pin, ironically, as he was one of the worst things for the City of Detroit, in my humble opinion. I also picked up some Detroit Trivia cards from the Detroit Historical Society. Awesome.
We looked at the plethora of art installations in most of the abandoned buildings (and some of the inhabited ones) on our walk back to where we parked. Seeing the streetscapes from angles I normally don’t see was incredible. Let me be clear here. There’s almost NOBODY walking around downtown Detroit on Saturday morning/afternoon. Maybe it’s the college football. But I was able to stand in an urban jungle, with relative silence (aside from a passing bus or The People Mover) and look onto the city as if it were a postcard. Nothing moving. Non one cutting into my photos. If you look at the photo set on Flickr, you’ll be amazed at how FEW people appear in my images.
Having this “I Am Legend” feeling at times allowed me to look around and feel like less of a nosy tourist. I was awestruck at the diversity of building sizes, shapes, colours, and heights like I’ve never been before. Detroit, simply put, is beautiful. And I shared this feeling with many of the other explorers. The most people we saw was inside of The Sweetwater Tavern, where we had lunch. It’s 100 feet from the Wayne County Building. The other place we saw people was at the Campus Martius area. The new, trumped-up, art-adorned section of downtown.
When we went to our second location, we simply drove up Woodward Avenue, with the Fox Theater passing by us on our left hand side, until we passed the big condominiums on the right hand side. Alfred Street. Turned right into that neighbourhood, and parked.
Jaw-dropping levels of architecture in the form of homes built by Civil War benefactors. The most wonderful, restored homes were standing next door to burned out husks. This is Brush Park. This dichotomy is a recurring theme in Detroit. Wherever you find something pleasing to the eye, you’re bound to find something crushing to the soul nearby. When reading the plaque for the Chapoton House in downtown, it took me a full two minutes to realize that a homeless person was sleeping in the doorway, clear as day.
I think there’s something attractive to us, humans, in opportunity…in seeing something on its way to betterment. When we see desolation, we cringe. When we see affluence, we also, in many cases, cringe. But beauty under fire, beauty defying the odds is one of the most sating things we can experience. And I think that Detroit holds a grand attraction for that reason, right now. Brush Park used to be full of destroyed buildings. They’re all gone. knocked down, but for a few that are either newly ruined or being held over for improvement. Looking south through this neighbourhood, I see nothing for several hundred yards standing between myself and Ford Field. It looks more like a hockey arena in the Lasalle than a major American sports franchise’s home field. Even the namesake artwork on the roof of this multi-million-dollar space has the dichotomy I speak of. The logo looks like it was made of cake, and left out over the summer to get rained on, lose its colour, and eventually fade into something unrecognizable.
To wrap up, I’ll add that we drove through Pole Town. A seemingly derogatory name for the old Polish neighbourhood of Detroit. It is easily one of the most desolate, bombed out places I’ve ever seen. You know the Evolution of Man image of the ape growing into Hobo Habilis and so on and so on until it’s a human? Imagine that same progression except as a de-evolution of a building. Some have no paint. Then no windows. Then they’re a little charred. Then they’re half falling over. Then there’s no roof. And eventually you’re seeing homes burnt to a crisp, laying down hopeless while a high school (so covered in graffiti we thought it was abandoned) holds a football practice across the street from it. I began wondering how this would effect my psyche if I was exposed to this level of decay less than 100 feet from my high school in the abundance that these neighbourhood kids have to experience.
We ended our tour in the Heidelberg Project.
I’ll leave it at that. Those who know about it can simply nod their heads. Those who have not been there…well, it’s tough to describe. Use the link above to see what I mean. It was like entering another world. From the dying Pole Town to the bizarre, fun, playful but oft disturbing Heidelberg Project.
If you didn’t come, I think you may have missed out, once again, on one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had in Windsor/Detroit in my entire life.
You need to SHOW UP.
Speaking of Show Up, here’s my two newest interviews for my podcast by the same name.
The domed roof of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
So our walk happened.
It was based in the cultural center of Detroit, around the Detroit Institute of Arts, The Detroit Public Library, The Scarab Club, WDET 101.9 FM, Wayne State University, and the like.
I’ll link HERE TO THE PHOTOS of the walk. There’s a bunch, and they’re on Flickr.
I’ll put a link at the bottom of the page also.
Detroit Public Library, Second Floor, Panorama
We went forth on September 12th, 2009, and emerged into the U.S. with less than half of the official respondents to the Facebook group. 18 of us eventually got to our meeting place (Phog Lounge) and managed to get to Detroit. E-mails were sent to me while the group was waiting to travel explaining that hang-overs, lethargy, and scheduling conflicts were preventing some from attending.
Thank goodness we had enough drivers show up for the ones who were still too intoxicated from the night before to drive.
When we met Bob Goldsmith at the back entrance to the Detroit Public Library, we really didn’t know what we were going to be seeing. “Midtown” is a new place for us. Cass Corridor is a place we hear horror stories about from the saltier folks we know. Bob changed all that.
We started by visiting the Detroit Public Library’s innards, which were stunning and ornate beyond our expectations. I’ll post photos. From there we headed through a series of places previously undiscovered by the group including The African American Museum of History, The College of Creative Studies, The Detroit Science Center, Detroit Medical Center, neighbourhoods frozen in time (like Ferry Street, Canfield Ave.), Avalon Bakery, Cass Cafe, The Bronx Bar, and more.
Canfield Street. Frozen in time with old homes and cobblestone streets
We finished our illusion-shattering trip, which started at 11:15am, with a visit to Dally In The Alley, around 2pm. This festival takes place on and around a little block of Cass Corridor right near Bronx Bar. It travels, like water, into the most convenient caveats, into the alleys around the area in question.
We know how big the Detroit suburbs are, and how the general public of those spaces USE Detroit-proper as a playground to be left desolate each evening. But even with that truth, there are people LIVING and making LIFE happen in Detroit. Many of them make sure they attend Dally In The Alley.
I bumped into a few of them..friends of Phog. It was great to see some familiar Detroit faces. They were proud of their city, and they knew about our walk, and they were eager to know what the group thought. Most of us could only shake our heads, shrug, and make faces to show we were impressed.
I wound up buying two woodblock prints from Kevin O’Rourke (Crown Vic Productions)
and I’m absolutely thrilled with them in my possession rather than displayed in that alley.
This was another one of those events that was made exclusively by the people who went on the walk. The participators. That title should be said as if you’re announcing a comic book hero…PARTICIPATORS! Not enough is said about the people who choose to be a part of something. To show up. To make memories. To make connections. To be a part of the thing that makes the NEXT thing.
Thank you to David Ziriada who made the walk happen. And thank you to Bob Goldsmith who ran the tour. Mostly, I am thankful for the people who walked. You know who you are.
By the way, we have booked another walk, which will be free. This walk was a WHOPPING $10 U.S….hahaha…which was easily worth every red cent. The next walk will be dependent only on how many drivers we can secure, as it will be a drive/walk Walk. It is scheduled for Saturday, October 17th. Want in? E-mail me at email@example.com
I have put out a Facebook invite for an incredible walk taking place in Detroit.
Bob Goldsmith of Detroit Tour Connections is hosting the two-hour tour.
The tour will be in the area of Cass Corridor…a richly interesting space, which will lead us to the Dally in the Alley festival.
Here’s the details of the walk, according to Bob:
“I think we should meet at the main branch of theDetroit Public Library. The address is 5201 Woodward. Let’s meet at the rear (west) entrance, which is on Cass. People can park on Cass, or on Kirby. “Midtown” is a pretty large area of Detroit that includes the Cass Corridor, Brush Park, the Detroit Medical Center, the large campus of WSU, and the Cultural Center area.
We’re mostly going to tour the Cultural Center area. Our two hour tour will include: Hecker mansion and other homes from the late 1800s; the DPL, DIA, Park-Shelton and Maccabees Bldgs from the 1920s; the Historical Museum; the Detroit Science Center; the Charles H. Wright Museum; the Scarab Club; the College for Creative Studies; and a few of the buildings on WSU’s campus.
The Dally has a website — www.dallyinthealley.com. It includes a map and directions … but the best bet is probably to mapquest 5201 Woodward if we are going to meet at the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. People can take I-75 north to Warren, and then take Warren west to Woodward or to Cass,
or they can just take Woodward from downtown Detroit to the Cultural Center area.”
We will meet initially at Phog Lounge at 9:45am. We will leave by 10am on our way to the Detroit Public Library. If you want to come, you must e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook (Tom Lucier). If you can drive…good…if you can’t, we still have room in some cars heading over. And you need your Passport to attend.
THIS SATURDAY!!! We already have over 20 people coming, so there will be tons of opportunities to make friends from Windsor along with the endless opportunities to meet your American reflections during the walk. I think it’s going to be an important first step in creating a very important community that is almost non-existent…the cross-border cultural community.
Personally, I feel that this is a KEY and CRUCIAL event for community leaders to be a part of, in order to initialize, strengthen, and solidify our relationships and understanding of our American brethren.
If you find yourself to be a leader here in Windsor, I really think it’s a good time to start thinking about sharing your strengths with people across the way, who know little or nothing about this community of artists, musicians, and doers.