Re:build, re:vitalize downtown Pontiac

The People of Detroit

What better way to show positive things in the city of Detroit than through the people who actually live and experience it? Photographer Noah Stephens is doing just that with this “People of Detroit” series. Thanks to Noah for submitting so many great portraits to our flickr group.

Check out his set on flickr!


Tri-City area

Local companies like Hemlock Semiconductor have done a great job of bringing jobs to the Tri-City area. A manufacturer of polycrystalline silicon for photo-voltaic cells and sustainable semi-conductors HSC is a great example of how Michigan can focus on jobs and clean energy at the same time.

-Justin McCormick

Motor City Brewing Works

Thanks to flickr user kmaz for his submission to the re:focus project. He says that Motor City Brewing Works is having trouble meeting meeting demand lately. Supporting local businesses like the Motor City Brewing Works benefits everyone in the state of Michigan. Kmaz states this is only one of many reasons why Michigan is a great beer state.

re:grow Detroit

This is the greenhouse at the Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit. As I walked up to the farm I was greeted by one of the volunteers there, named Howard. I explained to Howard that I was doing a project on change and positive things in Michigan and asked if I could take a few pictures. He responded with “there’s always something positive happening in Detroit!” His enthusiasm for the project was inspiring and I enjoyed listening to what he had to say. He declined to have his picture taken, but I think his words are just as powerful.

Howard explained to me that he has lived in this neighborhood for 60 years and still loves it here despite all its problems. He talked about living through the riots and how much has changed since he’s been in Detroit. He is currently unemployed and spends his time volunteering at the farm and at his church. He said volunteering helps him stay positive, and it makes him feel good to be helping the community.

Earthworks is located in a neighborhood full of familiar sites in Detroit: abandoned industrial facilities, abandoned homes, and vacant plots of land. However, Earthworks in not only making use of available land in Detroit. They are providing healthy food to those in need at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen next door. There are no major supermarkets in the city of Detroit; so many residents get their food from small corner stores, gas stations, or fast food restaurants. Expansion of urban farming will not only make use of vacant land in the city; it is going to make Detroit a healthier, greener and even safer place to live. Howard noted that the neighborhood has seen less crime since the Earthworks Urban Farm was started.

It was truly inspiring to talk to someone doing such a positive thing in a city that’s so often associated with negativity. Many people come to Detroit specifically to see the ruins and decay. Obviously, there is plenty of that here and, yes; I do spend a lot of time documenting it myself. However, the Earthworks Urban Farm and Howard’s story is just one of many examples that there is far more to Detroit than what you see at the surface. I think the national media has exhausted the “decline of Detroit” story. These are the stories that the rest of the country needs to hear. Yes, there are positive and exciting things happening in Detroit. Just ask Howard, he’ll be more than willing to tell you.

re:advance Detroit

advance Detroit. [image and words by flickr user buckshot.jones]

The retreat is over. It seems as though cities, much like whole nations, are either advancing forward or falling back. All this movement, forward and back, is never neat and clean. It is always messy and often painful. For as long as I can remember Detroit has been in a slow and messy retreat. Amid the debris of the retreat you can see pockets of advancement.

This community on the eastside is being targeted for renewal. Not the old fashioned 20th century urban renewal with its cold modern architecture and urban planning creating warehouses for the poor. This renewal gets back to the fundamental question of real estate economics; what is the highest and best use of the land? The city plans to move the few remaining people in this neighborhood into denser, more stable areas of the city. The land then can then be cleared for urban gardens and farms. This feeds into the growing desire for locally owned foods and a greater connection with how our food is grown, processed and marketed. The benefits of this plan are huge and many. The city can distribute services to the citizens more effectively and at a lower cost. The denser neighborhoods will create the market effect discussed by Jane Jacobs and a new industry will grow within the city borders- the first time that has happened since the turn of the last century when Henry Ford rode his Quadracyle down the street.

This reimagining of the city will be messy and come with a great deal of pain. Even in these neighborhoods with astonishing amounts of abandonment you will find most of the remaining residents are proud and tough. It is not unusual to drive down a street to see a row of abandoned houses with a lovingly maintained home right in the middle of the burnt and wrecked relics. For many of these folks moving and leaving behind their homes will hurt. It may cut right to their heart. But it is time for the city to advance and their pride, hard work and love will be in greatly needed by their new neighbors as they continue to advance and restore the city. In the coming decades folks will come to Detroit not to bear witness to the post- industrial apocalypse, but rather to marvel at the new modern city, an exciting blend of urban and rural.


(Many thanks to Scott for the image and inspiring words!)


This time-lapse video was shot in Ubly in Michigan’s Huron County. This wind farm is an example of how we can make Michigan a better state through the use of alternative energy and innovation.

Wind power and alternative energy plays a big role in refocusing Michigan. The state now has more than 35 companies supplying components or services to the wind energy industry. This concept of repowering Michigan through wind turbines is important in creating a cleaner environment in the state as well as creating jobs to combat high unemployment rates. In the last three years, more than 35 firms in Michigan have been built or retooled their factories to supply parts to the commercial wind industry.

Support alternative energy to repower, and refocus the state of Michigan for a better future!

re:farm Detroit

Welcome to the Catherine Furgeson Academy in Detroit. It’s a school specifically for pregnant teenage girls and teen moms. The school has an urban farm directly behind it and many of the classes teach the girls different skills on the farm. There is an award-winning documentary about the school titled Grown in Detroit

Now this may seem like a strange concept. A public school only for pregnant girls with a farm instead of a playground or sports field? It’s a unique concept that just seems to fit in Detroit. Urban farming is a big part of urban renewal efforts in Detroit. They offer reuse of land, healthier food options for Detroit residents, and in this case it offers valuable skills to younger students. Urban farming is a great example of what will make a more focused future for the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan!


If you haven’t seen it yet, this video is definitely worth watching. It basically talks about the future of infrastructure in America, specifically here in Detroit. They talk about how the city built on the automobile can no longer rely on cars as its main mode of transportation. In fact, a lot of the problems in Detroit today are because of a lack of a viable public transportation system and the reliance on the automobile. Many people in the city of Detroit cannot afford a car, yet basically the only way to get around the city is by car. The bus system (one is seen driving by in this shot) is inconsistent and doesn’t even make stops in parts of the city that need it. And, the people mover only serves a very small fraction of downtown.

The video talks about plans for bringing light rail to Woodward Ave, the main road that leads from the city’s core to its suburbs. The light rail center would be located just down the road from where I took this shot. I was inspired by the video and decided to walk around this area and take some shots. The video also talks about how old automobile manufacturing plants could be used to produce equipment for wind turbines, solar cells, etc.

Alternative transportation options, such as the possibility of the light rail in Detroit, will make a better future for the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan. Alternative transportation is just one of many ways we can begin to refocus the state of Michigan for a better future.