Detroit, attractive to artists?

Some folks out there say that, by the time something hits the New York Times, it’s culturally irrelevant. I don’t know that I believe it, but it sure seemed to be the case a few weeks ago, when the esteemed paper of record ran the feature on the “bacon explosion.” After it appeared, the once crackling bacon meme went limp online. Sure, the bacon sales may have spiked across the country with the publication of the article, but the sense online, where it all started, was that it, like so many other cool things before it, was dead. One hopes that isn’t the case today, as the New York Times runs an op-ed by author Toby Barlow on the reclamation of downtown Detroit by artists. The piece, to my knowledge, is the first even remotely optimistic article about Detroit to run in the national press in at least a decade. And, in my opinion, it’s exactly what Detroit needs. One hopes 1) that the phenomenon is real, and 2) that it’s just the beginning… Anyway, here’s a clip:

Recently, at a dinner party, a friend mentioned that he’d never seen so many outsiders moving into town. This struck me as a highly suspect statement. After all, we were talking about Detroit, home of corrupt former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, beleaguered General Motors and the 0-16 Lions. Compared with other cities’ buzzing, glittering skylines, ours sits largely abandoned, like some hulking beehive devastated by colony collapse. Who on earth would move here?

Then again, I myself had moved to Detroit, from Brooklyn. For $100,000, I bought a town house that sits downtown in the largest and arguably the most beautiful Mies van der Rohe development ever built, an island of perfect modernism forgotten by the rest of the world.

Two other guests that night, a couple in from Chicago, had also just invested in some Detroit real estate. That weekend Jon and Sara Brumit bought a house for $100…

The piece, it turns out, is largely about Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, the Hamtramck couple behind Design 99, the place I told you about a few days ago, where my friend Steve is currently having a show based around his magazine, Stupor… Here’s more from the article:

…A group of architects and city planners in Amsterdam started a project called the “Detroit Unreal Estate Agency” and, with Mitch’s help, found a property around the corner. The director of a Dutch museum, Van Abbemuseum, has called it “a new way of shaping the urban environment.” He’s particularly intrigued by the luxury of artists having little to no housing costs. Like the unemployed Chinese factory workers flowing en masse back to their villages, artists in today’s economy need somewhere to flee.

But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished. From Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (think of a neighborhood covered in shoes and stuffed animals and you’re close) to Matthew Barney’s “Ancient Evenings” project (think Egyptian gods reincarnated as Ford Mustangs and you’re kind of close), local and international artists are already leveraging Detroit’s complex textures and landscapes to their own surreal ends…

I don’t know that it really rises to the level of being a trend, but, for the sake of Detroit, I sincerely hope that it is. I hope that young people with energy and artistic vision really are flocking to the city, buying up entire blocks, and rebuilding neighborhoods…. I hope that, despite the image portrayed in today’s Financial Times piece, there is hope for Detroit.

[Thanks to professor James Egge for the links to the New York Times and the Financial Times.]

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26 Comments

  1. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    In 1749, France (then owner) gave free land, free farm tools, and a free ticket to anyone willing to settle and farm Detroit.

    France, I believe, has a glut of artists. Perhaps we could contact Prime Minster François Fillon and see if France would be willing to export a couple hundred thousand Parisians. I mean, France did essentially found the city. I think that makes it their problem. It’s kind of irresponsible to found a city and then watch it decline.

  2. Posted March 9, 2009 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Artists don’t solve anything. Send in a grocery store and lower property taxes.

  3. Curt Waugh
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Ah dude, such a pessimist. Artists are cultural leaders. They are cool people with no money. On the other hand, there are lots of moneyed people with no cool. One will seek out the other. Yes, grocery stores are essential. But you have to start somewhere and you can’t have one without the other. Don’t be so down on culture. It’s a far larger part of a positive whole life experience than you credit it here.

  4. Posted March 9, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I grew up in Detroit and still have many friends who live there. And when I say Detroit, I don’t mean the suburbs – I am talking about the city. I love the city and the city has always had many artistic people and they have always given Detroit a certain character. But unfortunately, as ‘dude’ points out, some of the problems Detroit has arent going to go away because artists decide it is the hip place to be. There is a taxation problem in our state that hurts older established cities. It hurts Ypsilanti too but it hurts the even older and larger Detroit much worse. Detroit doesnt need anything making its recovery more difficult and taxes are a pretty basic thing.

  5. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I think a round of hi-fives is in order for us all hitting the bacon thing at its peak. Ypsi really is the cuttig edge of the cultural machette.

  6. Paw
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    No mention in the letter to the Times just how much of Guyton’s work was destroyed over the years by the city. The city, in my experience, has been actively fighting the arts for decades. It’s also worth noting that some very significant arts organizations, like the Detroit Opera House, are teetering on the brink of collapse. While a few people may be moving in, the city is gushing people and money.

  7. roots
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Still, we shouldn’t disregard the impact artists can make in helping to revive urban neighborhoods. Hasn’t this happened in Chicago? In Grand Rapids, even?

    It’s amazing what one can accomplish in a day’s work outside the office!

  8. Posted March 9, 2009 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    BA – I think that this bacon thing is a hoax. Almost everyone I know likes bacon and has liked bacon for their entire lives. What’s next to be hip? Pancakes? Chicken? Ice cream?

    Cos you know…I want to be able to say that I liked ice cream before anyone else knew it was cool.

  9. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Lynne — commenting on Mark’s blog is a useful tool for providing yourself a researchable public record of trend predictery. Once people start talking about ice cream incessantly on the internet, you can post a link to your above comment and reap the rewards of your prescience, which unfortunately is pretty much nothing, or perhaps eye-rolling and resentment.

  10. Posted March 9, 2009 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    A French grocery store selling only bacon, run by artist hipsters is what Detroit needs. It’s almost too easy…

  11. Brackinald Achery
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    …POWERED by bacon…

  12. Posted March 9, 2009 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    How much are taxes on a house that just cost $5,000? I believe you all when you say that tax rates in Detroit are high, but aren’t they all calculated based on the purchase price of the property?

  13. Posted March 9, 2009 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea of artists subsisting by selling off strips of their bacon.

    People do have bacon, right?

  14. Posted March 9, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

    No, property taxes are based on what the local assessor believes your house is worth on the market, not what you paid.

  15. Ol' E Cross
    Posted March 9, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Coincidentally, our old house in Detroit actually just sold recently for exactly $5,000. I checked the assessment and taxes are currently a little more than $3,000 annually. I suspect that number will drop by a few hundred bucks if the new owner lists it as homestead.

  16. Posted March 10, 2009 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    That is retarded. If you bought a house on the market (excluding transactions between family members, for example) for $5000, how can the assessor suggest that it’s “worth” more than that?

    You can bet that if I bought a house on the market, and then a property tax assessor tried to say it was worth significantly more than that, I’d be fighting the assessment.

  17. Posted March 10, 2009 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Say you buy a house for $5000 and put $50,000 worth of improvements and repairs in the house, build a garage, whatever. Then your house is worth more than what you paid and you can be assessed for more than what you paid. Assessments can be done every year.

  18. Posted March 10, 2009 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Also, just because I pay $1 for something, does not mean that the item in question is actually worth a dollar on the market. I could be getting a deal because I am family, the seller is desperate to sell, or the seller could be just a moron. The final price does not determine market value.

  19. Curt Waugh
    Posted March 10, 2009 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    With respect to Headley: Upon a sale, the taxable value is uncapped and becomes equal to the State Equalized Value. So, the purchase price itself is not the factor, it is the assessment. And like dude said, it can go up at any time if you put improvements into your house. Barring any improvements, increases in SEV are capped by Headley. The purchase itself is just a trigger to re-evaluate the capped SEV.

  20. Posted March 10, 2009 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Not only is Detroit a burgeoning hotbed of artists, creatives, and thinkers, there are people putting quite a bit of elbow-grease into the city these days. There’s a whole population of these folks who see Detroit exactly as a blank slate and who are creating it from the ground up, from artisan bakeries, to new cooperatives, to rooftop gardens. I’m excited to see where Detroit will be 5 or 10 years from now; I think it’ll be a completely different landscape from what it’s been in the past decade.

  21. Posted March 11, 2009 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    @dude I did specifically write “If you bought a house on the market (excluding transactions between family members, for example).” And actually, if you bought a house on the market, the final price IS the market value — that’s what market value means!

  22. Posted March 11, 2009 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    No, it’s not. If I intentionally charge a price that is under what would normally be paid for that house then that is NOT the market value. You car dealer can sell you a car for $.50, but that does not change the sticker price, nor the fact that 99% of people are willing to pay something close to the sticker price.

  23. Posted March 11, 2009 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Besides, we as consumers or sellers do not decide these things. That is up to local governments who need money to pay for stuff. In the end, it has nothing to do with markets and more to do with how much money a local government wants or needs. Obviously, this can be an open door for corruption.

  24. Posted March 11, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    FWIW: Michigan Public Radio had a nice story today about this.

  25. Posted March 11, 2009 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link, Steve – I’ll check the story out.

  26. Erin Marie
    Posted April 19, 2009 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I have lived on and off in Detroit for approximately four years, alternating between London and Chicago. Within the last four years, I have seen incredible levels of change within the city. With nationally renowned events being held in Detroit, such as the Super Bowl, Creative City Summit, and NCAA and the explosion in bike culture, urban farms (hundreds and hundreds of them), and people returning to enjoy, visit, and live in an urban environment with community, Detroit is on the rise. Three years ago, I would have honestly stated that I thought Detroit was rotting, today all I see is fresh life. I am about to graduate and am considering sticking around to be apart of redevelopment of the soon-to-be illest place to live.

    Although, I loved London and Chicago, those cities were so established and massive. Everything was marketable, even the alternative spaces have been commodified but really just continuations of the past. What is popping up in Detroit is new life, the possibility of a new future, and a new approach to constructing urban spaces

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