Water Street Commons, drenched in rain, begins to show signs of life

It’s the first real rain since we seeded our acre of Water Street a few weeks ago, and I’m incredibly happy. I’d intended to go out this evening, with my friend Jeff, to dig up some spotted knapweed and put a few more transplants in the ground, but, seeing as how it’s raining, I thought that I’d spend my evening giving you a brief update instead.

A couple of us have been dropping by the plot, which we’ve taken to calling the Water Street Commons, every few days, with big watering cans, and doing our best to keep the transplants alive. As we’ve been unwilling to crack open the fire hydrant at the back of the site, though, or organize a bucket brigade from the river, we haven’t had the ability to really soak the seeds that were sown on the site at the beginning of the month. (As you’ll recall, the seed mix we purchased from Native Connections, much of which was delivered to the site by way of seed bomb, contained 8 species of native grasses, and 27 species of flowering plants.) So, while the transplants have been doing alright, we haven’t seen any real signs of new growth from our seeds.

Hopefully, with the rain we’ve seen these past few days, we’ll start to see a few signs of life, at long last.

As for transplants, we’ve been trying our best to keep bringing new things over. A few weeks ago, Jeff and I went to the annual Wild Ones native plant sale, buying yarrow, chokecherry and hairy beardtongue. And, over the recent holiday, Jeff drove out to Wildtype, and came back with flats of showy goldenrod, black-eyed susan and coreopsis, all of which have already gone into the ground. There’s still a great deal to be done, but we’re slowly making progress.

If you should happen to have native Michigan plants that you’d like to contribute to the cause, just let me know. It’s an incredibly large lot, and, as it will take quite a while for the seeds that we planted to come into their own, we’d love to make a bigger push with transplants. All we ask is that you coordinate with us, so we know what’s being planted on the site, and where. We’d hate to pull a cool plant out by its roots, thinking that it’s just another of the many invasives.

Speaking of invasives, we could also use help in our spotted knapweed eradication campaign. The stuff is virulent, and spreads like crazy, and we could really use a few more hands, especially toward the back of the parcel, where the pesky invasives are thick. Ultimately we’d like to have a formal stewardship group, coordinated by way of a shared online calendar, but, for now, just doing it ad hoc is probably fine… So, throw a shovel or a pickaxe in your trunk, and feel free to stop by after work sometime, and take your aggression out on some knapweed. (If you’d like to join the “To Hell with Knapweed” task force, but worry that you might kill good plants by mistake, just let me know and I’ll arranged to have you trained in knapweed identification and remediation.)

And, if killing weeds and planting native grass plugs isn’t your thing, we may have another opportunity for you to help out soon. Thanks to the efforts of City Planner Teresa Gillotti, sometime soon the folks from DTE will be dropping off a few truckloads of ground-up tree limbs, so that we can build wood-chip trails across the property. (The idea is to have two short trails that intersect in the middle.) And, toward that end, we’re going to need folks who can help swing shovels and push wheelbarrows.

One last thing… If you’ve been by the property this past week, you might have noticed a post with a QR code. Well, if you have a smartphone app that allows you to do such things, I’m told you can scan the code and hear the following sound poetry piece by local artists Victoria Emanuela Pozyczka and Eben Mannes.

I don’t know how far we’ll get with the idea, but we’re also thinking that it would be cool to have a few other audio tracks available for download on the site, like one done by a native plant specialist on the kinds of plants that one might encounter while walking across the Water Street Commons, or maybe one on the subject of the site’s history (perhaps narrated by former Ypsilantian Iggy Pop). We’ve even thought about asking our friend Billy Bragg to record a special message for us.

Eventually we’ll start a new Facebook group, but, for the time being, feel free to keep track of meadow-related activities through the Seed Bomb Water Street group. (Apparently Facebook won’t allow you to change the name of a group once it has more than 200 members, and we’ve got about 275. So, it looks like we’re going to have to start a new group for the Commons.)

One last thing… I haven’t done a detailed accounting of the funds raised and how we’ve spent them since my last update. I believe, however, that we have about $100 left, and I expect that we’ll spend that relatively soon on berry bushes. The next time I post on this, I’ll include all of the numbers. Until then, please join me in praying for more rain.

[note: The two photos immediately above come courtesy of the great Doug Coombe.]

Posted in Agriculture, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Now all your grandmothers know that I have OCD

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I’m featured briefly this month in the journal of genteel Ann Arbor society that is The Observer. The article, it would seem upon my first glance, is about men who, due to some serious character flaw, continue to blog in spite of the fact that the format has ceased to be relevant… and I’m included as a cautionary tale, along with the likes of Ed Vielmetti, Ben Connor Barrie, and a man who calls himself A2GastroBoy. If just one person decides not to go into blogging as a result of having stumbled across the article in his or her dentist’s office… where, as we all know, old copies of The Observer go to die… I’ll consider the whole thing a success.

And, yes, everyone in Ann Arbor now apparently knows my secret… I don’t blog because I love my community, but because I’m compelled to by the forces of OCD.

[Thank you to Patrick Dunn for the article, J. Adrian Wylie for the photo, and Reverend Aitor for the illustration.]

Posted in Mark's Life, Media, OCD | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

If Detroit was a person, Kevyn Orr would be selling its kidneys

This weekend, upon hearing Kevyn Orr’s suggestion that we explore the possibility of selling the art collection of the DIA in order to satisfy the creditors of Detroit, it occurred to me that our newly appointed Emergency Manager might find it a bit more difficult to pillage the public coffers on behalf of Wall Street if he had no computers with which to send his memos, no telephones with which to communicate with his handlers at ALEC, and no employees to set up auctions. I mean, if Bill Nowling, the spokesman for Mr. Orr, is telling the truth when he says, “We’ve got a responsibility to rationalize all the assets of the city and find out what the worth is and what the city holds,” then why not start in Mr. Orr’s office? Why not let us know what kind of cell phone and laptop he’s been issued, so that we can bid on them, just like the wealthy will have an opportunity to bid on the paintings of the masters? Who wouldn’t want a piece of history – a stack of notepads from Orr’s coffee table, a square inch of his desk, his office chair? I say we all write in, demanding to have every asset he comes in contact with “rationalized”. I don’t know that it would solve the problem before us, but I imagine it may take a bit of the wind out of Orr’s sails to walk across a carpet of rough burlap every morning to take his seat upon a hay bale and scratch his ideals onto the face of an old, muddy shovel.

Speaking of the impressive collection that has been amassed at the Detroit Institute of Arts since 1885, I don’t know whose interpretation will win out, but the museum’s director, Graham W. J. Beal, seems to think that it can’t be touched, as it’s “held in the public trust,” and, for that reason, should be safe from Orr’s carcass picking.

I can’t say it’s a surprising move on the part of the unelected Republican appointee, as his fellow Emergency Managers have a solid track record of going into Michigan’s most vulnerable cities, breaking union contracts, privatizing schools, and selling whatever can be sold, without any thought as to the long time viability of those communities. The DIA’s collection, in the eyes of any sane person, would be seen as a solid foundation from which to build long term stability. In the eyes of Orr, however, these are just assets that have value, and, if the Koch brothers want to buy a panel from Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” series to piss against in the Ayn Rand wing of their compound, so be it. And, if a wealthy art collector wants to pony up the cash for Vincent van Gogh’s “Self Portrait,” that’s just the beauty of the free market in action. The main thing is, we mustn’t stand in the way of this historically unprecedented transfer of wealth away from communal institutions and the working class… who, if they knew what was good for them, would be working harder instead of wasting their time in museums anyway.

Just remember, when communities stumble, it’s our job as Capitalists, to hold them down, rifle through their pockets, and leave them for dead.

And, finally, as I don’t think my opinion on the matter has changed very much over the past year and a half, here’s false dilemmaShould we allow our cities to go bankrupt, or should we send in an Emergency Manager to ease us peacefully into death. I maintain there’s another solution – one that doesn’t involve cutting taxes on the rich to the tune of $1.65 billion dollars, and instructing our poor to spend the winter in tents.

And, yes, you read that right. When we ended the Michigan Business Tax, it cost us $1.65 billion… or roughly what we’d gain by selling the collection of the DIA into the hands of private collectors.

Just think about that for a while.

[note: For a discussion on which of Ypsilanti’s community assets might be susceptible to an Emergency Manager, click here.]

Posted in Art and Culture, Detroit, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Playing chess on Water Street… Ypsi Food Co-op takes Family Dollar in three moves

So, yesterday, as Arlo and I were chasing “Sammy the Turkey” around Feral Farm, it kind of came to me in a flash what we should be working toward on Water Street. It would take some strategizing on our part to make it work, but I think there’s a chance that, if we play all of our cards right, the citizens of Ypsilanti might be able to avoid the worst of what’s on the horizon (i.e. the lowest common denominator strip mallification of our downtown). Here, to begin with, are the main facts as I know them.

1. A few weeks ago, over the objections of many in the community, our City Council, concerned about the economic calamity ahead of us, voted to accept a $210,000 bid by Core Resources LLC for a parcel of City-owned land at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Park Street. (The company’s stated intent is to build a dollar store on the lot.) Assuming the company breaks ground on schedule, this will be the fist new construction to be undertaken on 38-acre downtown parcel commonly referred to as “Water Street,” since the City assembled the property nearly 14 years ago, in hopes that doing so would usher in a new era of prosperity.

2. Several folks in the community, for reasons that we’ve discussed on the site before, are hoping that the Family Dollar, which is slated for the site, fails, like the Quizno’s in Depot Town (which is now Harvest Kitchen), the Long John Silver’s on Washtenaw (which is now Tuptim Thai), and any number of other large chains that have attempted to thrive here, only to ultimately create space for our beautifully parasitic local entrepreneurs.

3. The Ypsi Food Co-op needs to expand. Their annual gross sales have grown from $500,000 in 2005, to $1.6 million last year, and they’re in desperate need of space. (Their current retail space is 1,600 square feet.) Over the past several years I’ve had numerous conversations with people at the Co-op about either opening a second location downtown, or moving the whole operation to a larger building that can better accommodate the needs of the community. At one point, we even discussed the possibility of opening a new Ypsi Food Co-op on Water Street, but, as I recall, it was determined that new construction would be far too costly, even for the successful community-based business.

I know that it’s unlikely, but, assuming that the dollar store is a foregone conclusion, as it now appears to be, let’s imagine the best case scenario…

Core Resources invests $1.2 million in the construction of a 8,320 square foot facility at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Park. Said facility closes for unforeseen reasons. And the Ypsi Food Co-op moves in, purchasing the property for a deep discount, more than quadrupling their space, and bringing groceries to the underserved south side of Michigan Avenue. And, who knows, maybe they even buy the adjacent lot so that they can operate that Water Street farmers’ market we’d dreamed of.

Is it a long shot? Absolutely. Anything could happen on the site. The Family Dollar could thrive. Certainly their market research has shown them it’s likely. And, even if they were to fail, there’s no guarantee that the Co-op would inherit the space. The building could, for all we know, evolve into a blood plasma center, or a pot dispensary. There’s no harm in dreaming, though… And I really do think this is the best possible outcome – a locally owned food co-op in the heart of downtown, next to the small native prairie that we just planted. That, I think, would usher in real, sustainable economic development a lot more quickly than a dollar store. (Can’t you just picture the cohousing community being built along the banks of the river, right behind the thriving co-op?)

So, let’s keep that vision in our minds, and not lose hope, alright?

Posted in Ideas, Local Business, Locally Owned Business, Ypsilanti | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Boy Scouts of America traverse the slippery slope of godlessness that will inevitably bring about the end of mankind

[This post, for those of you who don’t get the reference, was inspired by the likes of the great Rick Santorum, who has been known to equate homosexuality to bestiality, and political commentator Michael Reagan, who so eloquently warned of the “slippery slope” between homosexuality and man-dog love, murder, etc. Personally, I’m very happy to hear that the Boy Scouts of America decided today to allow in gay members, and I hope that it’s a sign of greater changes to come. As someone who was often called “gay” in high school for being an Eagle Scout, I think it only makes sense.]

Posted in Mark's Life, Observations, Other | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments


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