re:focus Detroit

re:advance 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!)


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.