Sarah Alvarez

Public Insight Journalist

Sarah is the Senior Producer/Public Insight Analyst at Michigan Radio. Her job is to encourage people to share what they know and become sources for Michigan Radio and to help tell those stories.

Before coming back to Michigan and jumping into journalism Sarah was a civil rights lawyer in New York and a consultant to social justice organizations in California. She graduated from the University of Michigan, Columbia Law School and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

She lives in Ann Arbor with her wonderful husband and three wonderful, busy kids.

 

Ways To Connect

Ann Arbor Public Library

Making money as an artist can be tough, but Jerry Berta made a good living selling his clay pieces for decades.

He and his wife Madeline Kaczmarczyk, also an artist, weathered the Midwestern recession of the early 1980’s and even built a house in Rockford, Michigan where they still live. Berta said they felt like rich people. They made enough money to buy and sell a couple of restaurants along the way.

“It was so easy when we started out. We started out on a street in Ann Arbor,” Berta said. “We set up, we sold stuff, and we were in business! Now, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Even successful artists, they’re having a hard time making it.”

They later sent two kids to ivy-league colleges. But when the 2008 recession hit things changed.

“It had been happening slowly. You could just feel it,” Berta said. “People were being really tight with their money, and art, you don’t really need art. It’s changed, and I have adapted.”

Submitted by Amber Turner

Family bonding can be a reward for working in a family business. But there is also plenty Amber Turner worries about.

The restaurant industry took a beating in the economic downturn. Although some Wall Street analysts expect restaurants to pick up soon, a lagging restaurant industry makes Turner more than a little nervous. In her family, any trouble is multiplied.

submitted by Robert Brown

Robert Brown is like a lot of retired people:  He volunteers. Unlike a lot of retired people, however, his volunteer work is teaching Buddhist meditation to prisoners.

Brown is 70 and an Marine veteran. He retired from his job making signs for local businesses about four years ago. But he’s been a Soto Zen Buddhist for 40 years. In the late nineties, somebody in his temple asked if he’d like to come along to a meditation session in a prison.

Designer Felicia Ferrone worked as an architect for six years in Milan, Italy before returning home to Chicago a year and a half ago. She now runs her own design practice and wishes Chicago had more of a reputation as a design center.

Ferrone thinks what has kept Chicago from being better known is its Midwestern work ethic.

“Everyone is just busy working, instead of clamoring for attention,” she said.

Photo submitted by John George

For the past few days, we asked people whether they thought Detroit's image was on the rebound. We heard about the best and worst in the city. And people shared their visions of Detroit's future. Some people chose to show us their own Detroit in pictures.

Photo submitted by Gary Stock

Gary Stock calls himself a member of the “creative class.”He is a longtime resident of Kalamazoo, Mich.

Changing Gears is wrapping up its first week as part of the Public Insight Network. Through PIN, everyone can sign up to become a source for our coverage. It’s kind of like a citizen news wire.

To put your personal experiences in the spotlight, we’re introducing a new daily feature called Your Story. We’re letting you tell how Midwest’s economic transformation is changing your life.

Kira Plotivrnkov

All week, we’ve been covering Detroit’s attempts to improve its image. We heard about plenty of things to celebrate, but Detroit also has plenty of real problems, ranging from its struggling education system to a huge loss of residents over the last decade.

Along with the city’s positive aspects, we also asked you to tell us: what’s the worst thing about Detroit? Here is a sample of your answers.

Hate. From racism to road rage, it is not a friendly place.- Carly Van Thomme, Guadalajara, Mexico

The legacy of Kwame Kilpatrick and Henry Ford. Drive, drive, drive everywhere. -Karen Dunnan, Grand Rapids, MI

That we do not promote the diversity of the people in Detroit and surrounding suburbs as we should. It’s the people that make any city. -Gordon Alexander, Detroit, MI

Suffocating overt and covert racism that serves as a shorthand for much more complex and difficult problems. -Brian Bowe, Saugatauk, MI

The lack of public transportation and urban living necessities to keep people in the city. -Dan Baker, Lancaster, PA

Excessively numbered and large freeways that ruin the continuity of neighborhoods and contribute to a sense of isolation in many cases. – Elizabeth Luther, Detroit, MI

Unfortunately, crime. -Joel Arnold, Flint

How empty it feels.  There is nothing worse than coming home to find the lights off and the family dispersed. -Jeffrey Jablansky, New Rochelle, NY

Lack of city-dwelling yuppies, you need them for economic purposes.- Matt B., Boston, MA

People who have never been there trashing the place. -Todd Doros, Durham, NC

You can still answer our questions here.

Tomorrow, check back to read peoples’ vision for the Detroit of 2020.

Photo submitted by Joshua Mango

We're back with more from our survey about Detroit's image. Many people think the city is and always was a great place, with a bad reputation. But others think the problems and challenges the city faces are just too big. Before we get to responses about Detroit's drawbacks, here's what people say is the coolest thing about Detroit.

Cars, and the pride of a town built on the automobile industry.  If you are a car person, it is definitely a pilgrimage of sorts. - Robbert Liddell, Detroit

Cyclists will descend on Detroit for the 11th Annual Tour de Troit on Saturday.
Brian Stoeckel

When we asked, “Is Detroit cool again?” we wanted to know whether Detroit’s image is changing.

Our inspiration is Mayor Dave Bing’s Transform Detroit, a event that is showing examples of Detroit’s revitalization to about 50 reporters. Despite the positive picture the city is trying to present, we know not everyone believes the city is on its way back.

Photo submitted by Steven Fisher

Changing Gears is asking you about the best and the worst of Detroit, and the factors that are shaping your views of the Motor City. We’ll keep updating throughout the week. Here’s a sample of the first responses.

Detroit is great city, it’s just that people tend to judge before getting to know it. It’s like an old car, it’s broken down, but you love it to death. -Kira Plotivrnkov, Warren, MI

Art deco grit -Garlin Gilchrist II, Washington, DC

What’s the coolest thing about Detroit?

The coolest thing about Detroit is what it used to represent. Detroit was the American Dream. Millions of people were able to go to college because of the salary and benefits that the big three provided for their parents and grandparents.

When I am away from home and I hear someone ignorantly speaking about Detroit, I feel like someone is disrespecting a family member and I always make sure to chime in and talk about all the great things that this area offers. Joe Egan, Royal Oak, MI

It’s attitude. The city and its people genuinely seem to have a sense of community and pride in rebuilding Detroit. The willingness to learn from mistakes and try new civic ideas is appealing. -Michael McAfee, Austin, TX

Submitted by Howard Duffy

About 50 reporters arrived in Detroit on Monday for a three day conference Mayor Dave Bing is calling "Transform Detroit." Bing said this morning, via Twitter, that Transform Detroit "is a media briefing that connects reporters with community leaders and positive happenings throughout the city."

He also tweeted that he hoped he would get some reporters to tell "GOOD stories" after the conference.
The city is trying to put its best foot forward.

Stephen Henderson / flickr

Michigan Radio is becoming a part of the Public Insight Network. Just what is the Public Insight Network?

Well, it's our way to give you a microphone and get your voice heard.

You might contribute to stories on Michigan Radio or those broadcast by  Changing Gears, a radio collaboration between Michigan Radio, WBEZ Chicago, and Ideastream Cleveland.

Photo by Shawn Allee

Dow Chemical polluted the Tittabawassee River with dioxin. Dioxin has been linked to several health issues, including cancer. A comprehensive clean up of the river has barely begun. Dow chemical, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state have wrestled over the cleanup for 30 years.

Michelle Hurd Riddick has spent the last 10 years of her life pushing to get the Tittabawassee River cleaned up.

When she’s not working as a nurse, she has helped file lawsuits against Dow. She religiously attends public meetings about the clean up and follows what the EPA is doing by filing freedom of information requests. And she writes a lot of letters to state and federal officials.

Hurd Riddick is part of an environmental group called the Lone Tree Council. She talked about how she felt as we drove along the river.

“I get frustrated. I get frustrated. There are a number of citizens you know who have hung in on this issue as long as I’ve been on this issue. But not a lot of them. They have to get on with their lives. And I understand that and I respect that.”

The Tittabawassee flows through Hurd Riddick’s hometown of Saginaw before emptying its waters and contaminated sediment into Lake Huron.

Dow did not want to be recorded for this story.

Lisa Williams / United States Fish and Wildlife Service

The Tittabawassee River has flooded three times already this year. Each time floodwaters carry dirt from the bottom of the river all over yards, basements, fields and parks.

This sediment is contaminated with Dioxin from Dow chemical’s plant in Midland. Dioxin has been linked to a host of health problems including cancer.

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