Detroit

Environment
11:30 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Urban farming in Detroit gets mixed reviews

John Hantz wants to transform Detroit's vacant land into urban farm
Photo courtesy of Hantz Farms

John Hantz wants to turn a blighted swath of Detroit into what he calls "the world’s largest urban farm." But the project, which has been in the works for nearly two years, has been slow to get off the ground. 

City officials just approved a deal to let Hantz Farms buy 20 city lots (about five acres) adjacent to their headquarters. The company plans to clean up the land and create some small orchards.

Roadblocks to city farming

  • Hantz Farms is not allowed to sell anything they grow there.
  • Large-scale farming requires re-zoning for agriculture, which brings the Michigan Right to Farm Act into play; that law is meant to protect farmers from people who complain about the sounds and smells of regular farming. Some people worry it would give Hantz Farms’ neighbors little recourse if there are problems.
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Economy
9:00 am
Thu March 10, 2011

Detroit's slumping home prices leading nation

Detroit posted the biggest percentage drop in home prices in the nation, according to a new report. Clear Capitol says home prices in Michigan’s largest home market slide 13% in February, more than any other major city.

Alex Villacorta  is Clear Capitol’s director of research.   He says home prices in Detroit are being dragged down by banks trying to sell foreclosed homes.    Bank owned homes usually sell at well below market prices.

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Commentary
10:54 am
Mon March 7, 2011

Shared Sacrifice?

If you want to see why this recession was different from others in recent history, spend a little time over at the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries.

They’ve been seeing and feeding people they’ve never seen before, people who never imagined they’d need help.

The other day, I went to see Dr. Chad Audi, the mission’s President and CEO. Not only is their caseload flooded, he said, “more and more we are seeing the working homeless.”

These are people who have jobs, but still have no place to live. The Rescue Mission does what it can to get them into housing, but the need is far greater than it used to be -- and for many, the ability to give is less.

Incidentally, there are some who think of the mission as just a soup kitchen, possibly because of their mass appeals for help with Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the homeless. A soup kitchen was pretty much what it the mission was when it was founded a century ago. Founder David Stucky kept people alive with food from his own pantry during the worst of the Great Depression.

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Education
1:37 pm
Fri March 4, 2011

Detroit schools get $231M loan from state to help pay employees, vendors

DPS gets $231 million short term loan from state
User thinkpanama Flickr

The Detroit Public School district received a $231 million dollar loan from the state. 

The loan will help the district with "employee payroll and vendor payments," according to Steve Wasko, a spokesman for the district. He says the loan won't help with any of the district's long term financial problems:

  1. $327 million budget deficit.
  2. $161 million dollars in budget cuts if Governor Rick Snyder's proposed education cuts go through.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Cwiek filed a story for NPR about the district's $327 million budget deficit. Here's an excerpt:

With Detroit's public school district facing a $327 million budget deficit, the state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager has proposed closing half the district's schools and putting up to 60 kids in a classroom.

Robert Bobb admits that his deficit elimination plan could be disastrous for students — he calls it "draconian" — but he may have no choice but to implement it.

In January, he gave the plan to the state of Michigan, warning that it's the only way for Detroit Public Schools to "cut its way out" of its deficit. The state's department of education says that's exactly what Bobb should do.

"We're working through some very difficult and challenging budget situations," Bobb said last week. He backed away somewhat from one of the plan's most staggering provisions: 60 kids in some classrooms. But he says class sizes will go up as the district closes about half its schools.

The plan also calls for replacing individual school principals with regional ones, and cutting all general bus service.

Lots of Michigan districts take out short term loans in August to help pay employees and vendors because districts' fiscal year is out of sync with the state’s fiscal year. The Detroit Public Schools district borrows twice a year for cash flow purposes - in August and March.

Auto/Economy
1:34 pm
Wed March 2, 2011

Facelift for Detroit's Cobo Center

Screen shot from a video showing plans for renovating the Cobo Center in downtown Detroit
Cobo Center Press Release

Cobo Center in Detroit is going to get more than a coat of new paint between now and next year’s auto show.

The regional authority now running Detroit’s downtown convention center announced today Cobo will undergo a $221 million renovation.

Cobo Center’s general manager, Thom Connors, says the three year project will allow Cobo to better accommodate the needs of the North American International Auto Show:

"More leasable space, more attractive space, and increased banquet and meeting room capacity and new exhibition space. Its going to make it an easier sell to a wider variety of potential clients.  And allow us to do larger, multiple events at the same time, as well as larger capacity events in the future."

As part of  the renovation, Cobo Arena will be replaced with a 40,000 square foot ballroom space.

The Detroit Free Press reported on the plans, announced this morning, to renovate downtown Detroit's Cobo Center:

The project will be ready by the 2014 North American International Auto Show, and it will “open up” Cobo to the Detroit River with a new atrium entrance and sweeping architectural changes, said Larry Alexander, chair of the five-member Cobo Regional Convention Facility Authority.

The work will mark the first major overhaul of Cobo since 1989. Cobo was built in 1960. In recent years, Cobo has suffered from roof leaks and other problems, and other cities have leapfrogged ahead of Detroit in the amount of showroom space offered and other amenities.

A bond sale enabled by the Cobo authority will pay for the renovations.

Commentary
8:47 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Glenn Beck and Detroit

Detroit was in an uproar yesterday, not because the schools are in crisis, or because the governor’s budget promises to make the city’s short-term fiscal problems even worse. 

Nor were Detroit’s leaders openly concerned about the effect the political crisis sweeping the oil-rich Middle East is having on gasoline prices and the auto industry.

No, what had them upset was the latest rant by the entertainer Glenn Beck, who holds forth on the Fox network. On Monday, Beck,  compared Detroit to Hiroshima, saying that today, Hiroshima is in far better shape. Beck said Detroit’s devastation is due to what he calls “progressive policies,” combined with corrupt government and labor unions. He said these forces combined to bail out the auto industry, which he thinks should have been allowed to die. I heard about this rant, and so reluctantly, I watched it, or most of it. It was, as I expected, classic Beck: Shallow, hate-filled, and full of half-truths.

Once upon a time, there was a rule about commentary. You could spout opinions, but your facts had to be accurate. Glenn Beck has never cared about facts, and the disgrace of Fox and whoever employs him is that nobody else requires him to do so, either.

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Detroit Public Schools
7:37 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools to stay on job through June

Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools
Sarah Hulett Michigan Radio

Robert Bobb, the Financial Manager of Detroit Public Schools, will stay on the job through June of this year. Bobb's contract was set to expire on Tuesday, but Governor Snyder has extended his contract.

A spokesperson for the Governor told the Detroit Free Press that Bobb will stay on the job through June 30th.

As the Associated Press reports:

Bobb was hired in March 2009 by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm to fix the district's finances.

Bobb has started a number of programs to improve education and standardized test scores across the district. He also has uncovered numerous cases of theft and fraud involving district employees and vendors.

The district still faces a more that $300 million budget deficit as state per pupil funding continues to decline with the drop in enrollment.

Arts/Culture
5:03 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Detroit to host "Rust Belt to Artist Belt" conference in April

The "Rust Belt to Artist Belt" conference will be held April 6-7 in Detroit
Dani Davis

Creative types from across the country will convene in Detroit next month to talk about how artists can help revitalize post-industrial cities.

Matt Clayson directs the Detroit Creative Corridor Center and is one of the people behind the “Rust Belt to Artist Belt” conference.

He says the conference will focus on the creative supply chain many post-industrial cities like Detroit have to offer:

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Arts/Culture
2:06 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Striking Detroit Symphony musicians to return to work

The musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra voted today to return to work without a contract.

Greg Bowens is the musicians spokesman:

"It was a very difficult, gut-wrenching decision; something we would have thought was unthinkable a week ago today, and that is they are trying to extend the hand of friendship in an effort to end the strike under the conditions management had previously imposed."

Bowens says the exact conditions under which the musicians would return will be revealed at a press conference this afternoon.

Management still has to agree to the idea.

The musicians have been on strike since October fourth.

Bowens wouldn't give details on why the musicians voted to go back to work without a contract, except to say this:

"Look, the Max M. Fisher Theater is spiraling out of control financially. Artists are turning down left and right the opportunity to perform there because they don't want to be a part of this strike.

The musicians understand that it's an important part of the economic engine for Midtown, and so they want to do everything they can in order to let the music play."

Arts/Culture
11:12 am
Fri February 25, 2011

Detroit Symphony strike plays out on facebook

This facebook post by DSO management generated 169 comments
screen shot DSO facebook fan page

As the fight between Detroit Symphony Orchestra management and musicians drags on for the fourth month, another fight of sorts is playing out on facebook.

Before the strike vs. now

The DSO  facebook fan page used to function like a typical fan page - stories about visiting conductors, upcoming concerts, and news about the orchestra’s Tiny Tots series.

But as the strike progressed, management has turned the DSO facebook fan page into a strike-update page, posting about negotiations and contract proposals. (The Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians have their own facebook page and post their viewpoints there.)

Some, like DSO Executive director Anne Parsons, describe the DSO facebook fan page as "a pretty active place to be." DSO conductor Leonard Slatkin commented on the page's level of "vitriol" at one point in a Detroit News Article.

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Arts/Culture
2:47 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

Old shoes wanted for Detroit's Heidelberg Project

Artist Tyree Guyton wants old shoes for a new project in Detroit.
Richard Faulder Flickr

Your junk is definitely another man's treasure.

Artist Tyree Guyton wants your old shoes for a new Heidelberg Project installation.

A message was posted on the project's Facebook page:

The word is out! Seeking shoe donations for April's "Street Folk" installation -- more details on the project coming soon.

The Detroit News reports:

Old shoes may be brought to the Heidelberg Project office at 42 Watson in Detroit, MI 48201. The office is open 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Monday to Friday. The shoe collection will continue through mid-to-late March.

The Heidelberg Project is two blocks of art installations along Heidelberg Street on Detroit's east side.

Starting in 1986, artist Tyree Guyton converted abandoned houses along his street into pieces of art by painting them and installing various pieces of junk on the houses and up and down the street.

The Heidelberg Project was first maligned by city officials (the city demolished some of the art in 1991), but is now celebrated.

The Detroit News reports that Tyree Guyton will be "honored with a 25-year retrospective of his work at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The display opens March 30."

Here's more about the project and Guyton:

Arts/Culture
12:33 pm
Thu February 24, 2011

White House pays musical tribute to Motown

Smokey Robinson, John Legend and others perform at the Motown Sound tribute concert the White House pays tribute to Motown tribute concert at the White House
Jennifer Guerra Michigan Radio

The Motown sound will take center stage at the White House tonight.

More than 100 students will be at the special musical event, including several from the record label’s hometown of Detroit.

Detroit-native Augustine Cox loves music. The 17-year old says she's known she wants to go into the music business since she was in second grade; she wants to be a performer or a music producer.

When Cox, who goes to Birch Run High School, found out she was picked to go to Washington, D.C. for a Motown tribute concert at the White House, she was thrilled. She grew up listening to "the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, the Marvelettes, Smokey Robinson." Cox says she listens to today's music, too, "but when I want to hear real music and real passion, I throw on a Motown CD."

Her current fave? The Best of Michael Jackson.

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Politics
11:24 pm
Tue February 22, 2011

Detroit Mayor's State of the City: "We are a work in progress"

Mayor Bing speaks at the Michigan gubernatorial inauguration ceremony in January.
Joe Ross Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing says he’s moved the city in the right direction.

But in his State of the City speech, Bing also warned that Governor Snyder’s proposed budget would jeopardize that progress. Snyder attended Tuesday night’s speech at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall.

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Detroit
6:56 am
Tue February 22, 2011

Mayor Bing to deliver State of the City address tonight

Mayor Dave Bing earlier this year in Lansing as he attends Governor Rick Snyder's inauguration
Corvair Owner Flickr

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing will deliver his State of the City address this evening at the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit. It will be the mayor's second address since he won a special mayoral runoff election in May 2009. The Associated Press reports, "Bing has said the speech will elaborate on the city's achievements during his short time in office."

Arts/Culture
6:18 pm
Mon February 21, 2011

What's next for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra?

DSO management has 'suspended' the orchestra's current season
Nate Luzod Creative Commons

Now that the striking Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians have rejected management’s final proposal, many are wondering: What’s next for the organization?

Management 'suspended' the orchestra's current season, and doubts are swirling around the 2011-12 season.

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Auto/Economy
3:11 pm
Fri February 18, 2011

Power and Performance: A Changing Gears Special Program

Di Bedard Flickr

The Changing Gears special program "Power and Performance" examines the roles of leadership and the economic fortunes of three Midwestern cities: Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit.

Can a strong mayor change a city by sheer will? Is quiet determination a better course of action? What difference has the quality of leadership made across the Great Lakes?

The show, hosted by Mike McIntyre, takes a look at how these cities are adapting to face new issues and also examine what problems they have that resist easy solutions.

Arts/Culture
5:13 pm
Thu February 17, 2011

Detroit's MOCAD, Heidelberg receive grants for community arts projects

The Heidelberg Project received a $50,000 from LINC
Photo courtesy of the Heidelberg Project via Facebook

Two Detroit arts organizations are one step closer to turning their artistic visions into reality.

Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a national arts organization, awarded $50,000 to the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, and $100,000 to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

Heidelberg will use the money to build an outdoor public art project on Detroit’s east side. MOCAD will use the money to create an outdoor space for art and community engagement.

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Arts/Culture
12:59 pm
Thu February 17, 2011

Musicians to vote on DSO's 'final offer'

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra strike might be reaching a crescendo.   The DSO issue what it labelled its 'final offer' to striking musicians this week.   And now, the Associated Press reports, the musicians union has scheduled a vote: 

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Detroit
8:58 am
Thu February 17, 2011

Detroit city council discusses legal options in water fight

Spirit of Detroit
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

Members of the Detroit City Council plan to sit down with their attorneys today to see if they can have any say in a new deal for managing the city’s water system. 

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Politics
5:29 pm
Wed February 16, 2011

Legislation would require spending disclosure by Detroit pension boards

sushi ina flickr

Detroit’s two pension boards would be required to post all of their spending online, under a bill before the state House.

The legislation is a response to stories published in 2009 about board members’ travel expenses. The boards’ trustees, their attorneys and staff racked up bills totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars for trips to places like Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai.

State Representative Tom McMillin in the bill’s sponsor:

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