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After Oakland fire, Detroit DIY spaces prepare for scrutiny

Dec 28, 2016

The massive fire that killed 36 people at the Ghost Ship, an Oakland, California warehouse art space, has put similar venues under the microscope in cities nationwide.

That includes Detroit. The city has many informal, DIY spaces for creative people. And at least one of them, the Trumbullplex, was visited by a city fire marshal last week.

Patience Young, a Trumbullplex resident, said the representative was friendly. He let the nearly 25-year-old artist-anarchist housing collective near Wayne State University know they would be facing a fire safety inspection, scheduled for early next month.

“He very kind to us, and said that he came because of a complaint, but also because in the wake of the Ghost Ship, he said they would be checking with multiple spaces around the city,” Young said.

The Detroit fire department could not immediately be reached for confirmation or comment Tuesday. However, similar crackdowns have happened in DIY spaces nationwide in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire.

Young said that Trumbullplex has built a mostly positive relationship with the surrounding community and city government. Earlier this year, it worked with the city to buy a side lot the collective had been tending for years, outbidding a developer for the property.

But those same forces heating up much of Detroit’s real estate market—and the politically-connected developers driving much of the action--also make some wary of a potential “witch hunt” targeting collective spaces.

Young says that while Trumbullplex has passed regular building inspections, and she feels most of the city’s collective spaces are safety-conscious, there is “a lot of stress” in Detroit’s creative community about the prospect of stricter standards, along with rising housing costs.

“I would say all of us who have been here are feeling the pressure of things changing in the city, after being neglected by the city forever,” she said. “You know, is it going to be the kind of thing where people who otherwise have been utilizing their art studios and spaces, are suddenly going to be expected to attain zoning that’s inappropriate for what they’re doing, and totally unreachable for them?

“So though we have felt supported, there is a lot of fear. Because nationwide, we’re watching places get shut down.”