Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lafayette Greens--Detroit Grows Up!

There's no place like Detroit.  Where else can so many folks "be" from a place where they've never
lived? Detroit's got lots of citizens, but few inhabitants.

It's tough to visit other cities who seemed to "get it."  Even places like New York, whose existence hasn't always been pristine, have made repurposing neighborhoods nearly an art form.  Abandoned New York Central train tracks now wind through a revitalized warehouse district reborn as a mile-long linear park. 

In Detroit there's always been the desire for a true urban experience, but for most of my lifetime all well intentioned attempts eventually fell flat. There's certainly a deep loyalty, and a conflicted love for the grimy city, but things never seemed to change. What did change was generally not for the better.

Boomers set their sights on the suburbs. 'Detroiters" who never grew up in the city.  Few forayed into the city even during the work week, the main occupants of downtown being barristers and bums.  Some bragged that they hadn't been to Detroit since the Tigers last won the World Series--never specifying which one.

Michigan has a stellar university system, so when the first batch of offspring began graduating with impressive credentials, they found there were no jobs, especially in Detroit.  Thus the exodus of the first half of a generation--to Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and other urban areas that had job vacancies, and a throbbing metropolis.  Meanwhile something was percolating with our offspring that never dawned on their middle aged parents. 

Those young adults who'd spent internships or began starter jobs in neighboring cities came home and created their own urban experience.  Others just stayed put.

Today, over the lunch hour, the typical worker on  the sidewalk of Detroit wears Dre Beats and sports a messenger bag.  Prada pumps seem pretentious and out of place. 

Thus, upon exiting the courthouse on a mild summer mid morning with my resident twenty something barrister daughter, we snuck off to the Coney Island--and upon a sight that made my green heart sing.  A lovely urban garden had sprung up on the long end of a triangular block where a fourteen story abandoned building once crumbled. 

Lafayette Greens is serious urban gardening.  It features rows of raised garden beds made from galvanized steel. The beds are designed as accessible and barrier-free.  The site is beautifully designed in a sustaining style.   Detroit was designed by Augustus B. Woodward in the style of Washington D.C., with the city center as the hub of a wheel, and the streets as spokes.  Makes sense for a Motor City.  The layout of Lafayette Greens makes comparable use of circular shapes and
patterns, interspersed with linear rows of raised gardens, each assigned to a willing sponsor.

The garden is active all year, with the planting of cover crops in off season and the use of "low tunnels" or winter greenhouses. 

Intense and undistracted young people in bright t-shirts huddled together over raised beds as if at a conference table.  Later in the day, they will likely sit indoors with the same look of purpose, fielding overseas calls and customer inquiries.

City dwellers chatted at bright umbrella tables. 

The Greening of Detroit manages the site. 

For a city that has  stared down the abyss, this green means rebirth. The contrast's refreshing and  the feeling's revitalizing.

It's worth the trip to the Greens.  And next door for the coney dog.


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