Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Toledo to Detroit and the refineries in-between

A morning conversation with Wanda Wilson from Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development gave us some insight into the inner-workings of some of Pittsburgh’s community and economic development initiatives. The overarching goal is to improve the city’s core – utilizing the example that “no successful city is shaped like a donut” as the impetus for downtown and adjacent neighborhood development initiatives. Our initial tour in Pittsburgh complete, we find ourselves leaving an extremely dynamic city with a promising future ahead of itself. A dedicated and selfless population and a secure stream of local foundation funding has provided a platform for an overall high quality of life, even during the depressed economic state of the last 30 years. Detroit here we come, but first a pit-stop in Toledo…

A quick stop for a nice Toledo skyline shot from across

the river turned into a small discussion about a project reusing an old power-plant. Talking with a couple folks fishing from an empty three-year old marina give us a snapshot of what is in store for the area: lofts. With more than a slight chuckle beneath their mid-western twang, they say that the power-plant is being renovated into fancy lofts, for what they say, a bewildering $1,000/month. The three fishers all adamantly call the project ridiculous. Would the marina developers disagree?

20 plus miles outside of Detroit, it begins. Slowly first with storage tanks and warehouses, than what look like refineries for miles in all directions, factories and massive industrial complexes in such a scale that I never could have imagined it. The clear blue skies make a surreal background for the towers of steel and concrete, some billowing pillars of smoke, reaching out and up with spindly industrial arms. A beautiful, hideous and incomprehensible site.

Detroit: no traffic, urban prairies, beautiful architecture, broken sidewalks, crumbling houses, shiny new buildings, signs for vacant lofts, gorgeous skyline, signs for vacant retail, signs for vacant offices, bridge to Canada, casinos, empty buildings, broken buildings, lonely buildings, wide flat roadways, graffiti, empty downtown, lots of microbrews, a dedicated population.

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