The Rust Belt Revival: What's Happening in Detroit, Michigan

The Motor City is now how to an incubator for creative professionals, off-the-grid housing in the heart of the city, and one of the nation s preeminent art museums.

Jerry Paffendorf of Loveland Technologies

Jerry Paffendorf of Loveland Technologies


Call it Cartography 2.0. With his company Loveland Technologies, the artist, futurist, and start-up vet Jerry Paffendorf is building interactive online maps ( and apps ( that inform users about who owns properties throughout Detroit. Making this information transparent, Paffendorf reasons, will spur the sale and repair of properties—a vital service in a city where more than a third of all residential parcels are vacant. It all began three years ago when Paffendorf, 30, bought a vacant lot in east Detroit for $500, divided it into 10,000 individual square-inch plots, and auctioned them off to approximately 600 "inchvestors." The buyers then formed an online community called Loveland, which served as a kind of think tank for land-use issues and policy. "We have the ambition of a Facebook," Paffendorf says. "We want to make a legacy impact by having the city adopt these concepts, then I want it packaged so other cities can gain from it too."


The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.


When it opened in 2006 in a former car showroom, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit signaled a radical approach to urban development: With its deliberately raw interiors and an exterior swathed in graffiti, MOCAD acknowledged, rather than obscured, the Motor City's rough history. It has since helped foster the growth of one of the country's most thriving arts communities, and its next chapter is set to begin in 2013, with a planned renovation that will complement larger development projects in the surrounding Sugar Hill Arts District.


Phillip Cooley at Pony Ride


Foreclosures have hit Detroit especially hard, but amid the gloom and doom of the real-estate crash, Phillip Cooley sowed the seeds of a creative boom. Last spring the 34-year-old civic activist, a former fashion model, purchased a 1930s industrial warehouse for $100,000 and turned it into an incubator for the city's most innovative entrepreneurs. He called it Pony Ride because, he says, "Who doesn't want to go on a pony ride?" To saddle up, tenants must have a socially conscious purpose and agree to teach their craft to the community. More than 40 have moved in, including a boat-maker, a dance studio, a film-production company, and a designer who builds furniture from the city's fallen trees. "I want some interesting collisions to happen here," says Cooley, an interesting collision unto himself. The Michigan native walked runways in Paris, Milan, and Tokyo before making his name in 2005 by opening Slows Bar-B-Q, a smoke joint in the city's Corktown neighborhood that serves as a platform for local community building. Nearby Pony Ride promotes the same values by offering absurdly cheap rent: "Ten cents per square foot," Cooley says, "and that's with utilities."



Could Detroit's ubiquitous and indispensable product in the 21st century be . . . robots? Mark Salamango thinks so. The former U.S. Army engineer hopes to open RobotTown, a parklike campus dedicated to robotics innovation and education where humans and machines could work together, by 2014.


Cory Lavigne at the Bagley Avenue Pedestrian Bridge


Opened on Cinco de Mayo 2010 after 12 years in the making, the award-winning Bagley Avenue Pedestrian Bridge spans two freeways to connect the two halves of southwest Detroit's Mexicantown neighborhood, long completely divided by a stream of speeding cars. It has quickly become a symbol of unity and, with its uniquely asymmetrical cable-stayed design, an architectural icon. "It's not like a polished, refined Calatrava," says Cory Lavigne, the bridge's 40-year-old creator. "It's more working-class Detroit."


Mitch Cope of the Power House


In 2008, when homeowners underwater on their mortgages were fleeing North Detroit, the artist Mitch Cope and his architect wife, Gina Reichert, nabbed a former drug den there for $1,900—less than the price of a 17-inch MacBook Pro—and called it the Power House. They already had a place nearby, so they weren't looking to move in. Instead, they wanted to conduct an experiment in self-reliance and urban revitalization. "We wanted the house to be a public venue for talking about neighborhoods that are more sustainable," says Cope, 38, a Detroit native. They outfitted the one-bedroom bungalow, whose wiring, heating, and plumbing had been stripped by scrappers, with solar panels and wind turbines, turning it into an off-the-grid structure that now serves as a residence for visiting artists. The project's success prompted Cope and Reichert, along with fellow activists, to create 10 similar structures in a four-block radius, many outlandishly painted by street artists, that serve as a beacon of the neighborhood's rebirth. "The challenge," Cope says, "is to get people to move in faster than they're moving out."


The site of the new Corktown Cinema


This month Nathan Faustyn and his friends are opening Corktown Cinema, a movie house in a converted brass foundry in resurgent Corktown. You'll be able to watch cult favorites like Akira and Videodrome or silent movies accompanied by Motor City rock bands in seats salvaged from old theaters while enjoying locally sourced popcorn and coffee. "We kept leaving Detroit but getting pulled back here," Faustyn, 28, says of his group's motivation. "So finally we decided we should do something to better it."


Know This Neighborhood: Corktown, Detroit

Today, Detroit's oldest neighborhood is the best example of the city's unpretentious brand of cool.


Corktown Cinema: 2051 Rosa Parks Blvd., 313-473-9238, corktowncinema

Honor & Folly: A design-focused B&B with bike rentals and cooking classes.

2132 Michigan Ave.,

Mercury Burger Bar: Great eats overlooking the iconic abandoned train station.

2163 Michigan Ave., 313-964-5000

Slows Bar-B-Q: 2138 Michigan Ave., 313-962-9828;

Sugar House: Craft cocktails, Motor City-style.

2130 Michigan Ave., 313-962-0123;

FACT: Detroit has a floating post office—a 45-foot tugboat with its own ZIP code (48222) that delivers mail to ships passing on the Detroit River.


You Might Like

Powered by ZergNet