Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Model D Media for June 14, 2011: Livernois the Avenue of Fashion and Detroit compared and contrasted with New Orleans

As I've written before, Model D Media are fans of Detroit and I'm a fan of Model D Media. So I'm happy to report that this week's edition came out today. Let's take a look at the sustainability articles in the features. This week's theme, in addition to urban renewal, is walkable commercial neighborhoods. First up, Livernois in northwest to north-central Detroit.

Avenue of passion: Pedestrian scale Livernois strip reloads for the future
Veronica Grandison | Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Many know Livernois Avenue as the street that harbors hundreds of businesses. But for those old enough to remember, think back to when part of its northern corridor was one of the most popular shopping districts in Detroit.

Between 7 and 8 Mile roads, the commercial district known as the Avenue of Fashion used to be the "go to" place for the best apparel in town. It included a multitude of local businesses including retail shops, art galleries, bookstores, medical offices, hair salons and barbershops.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the period when the district was thriving financially, tons of patrons could be seen strolling up and down the pavement of the Livernois strip, walking in and out of stores with bags in hand, investing money back into the community. Stores such as B. Siegel Company and historic venues like Baker's Keyboard Lounge were two of the most popular attractions in the area and kept the fashion district on its toes.

Fast-forward to 2011. The Avenue of Fashion is one of many commercial districts in the process of reshaping its image to appeal to a new generation of Detroiters who may not know about the quality shops that populate the area. Yet, unlike many other districts, the Avenue of Fashion has a rally of support that has never left its side -- the local champions of the community.
Not having grown up here, I'm quite ignorant of the things that that locals my age would know, so I'm glad Model D exists to enlighten me. Livernois in Detroit being a fashionable commercial district was one of them. However, I shouldn't be surprised. Livernois in Detroit becomes Main Street in Royal Oak and Clawson before becoming Livernois again in Troy, and the stretch here in Oakland County definitely is fashionable, although it caters more to food than clothing these days. However, the part of the street in Detroit is beginning to catch that wave, too.
While clothing boutiques have always been at the heart of the Avenue of Fashion, food is another feature within the strip that is slowly gaining momentum, especially since 1917 American Bistro opened its doors in 2009. The upscale, yet affordable dining establishment has been receiving a ton of buzz for its elegant, intimate environment and European-inspired menu. The restaurant has also had an impact on the district, attracting more people to the area. Tandy says that since American Bistro opened, she has been working with three business owners who are interested in putting restaurants in the area.
American Bistro is now on my list of places I want to eat.

As for the future, the grassroots optimism that Model D specializes in showcasing are clearly on display.
Tandy as well as other business owners in the area are working towards turning the Avenue of Fashion back into the thriving community it once was.

"I remember what it was and I know what it can be," Tandy says. "And I know it can be fabulous and we are going to make sure that it is going to be."
Livernois also passes through Ferndale, which is also "fabulous"--so much so that it was number on on my list of places to live in Oakland County (my wife and I got a house on a silver platter on the other side of I-96, so living in Ferndale hasn't happened--yet). It looks like the spirit of Ferndale is crossing back over 8 Mile.

Detroit and New Orleans: Twin cities from different mothers
Frank Arvan | Tuesday, June 14, 2011
What can we learn about Detroit from the history and character of another place? Recently I was able to attend the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Convention in New Orleans. Here are some thoughts.

New Orleans is one of the most intriguing and architecturally rich cities in America. The melding of French European traditions, island architecture and the combination of Deep South, Cajun, Creole and Caribbean cultures form a rich and tasty stew.

Detroit is equally interesting but in many different ways. Its beauty is a bit harder to see because it is so dispersed. Detroit has the beauty of neighborhoods like Indian Village, Palmer Park, Sherwood Forest. But it does not have the vital urban and walkable density that New Orleans has. Detroit has a strange beauty found in its crumbling infrastructure, and even more beauty in its energetic struggle to improve and revitalize found in Southwest Detroit, Eastern Market or in Midtown's Cultural Center.
I like the use of compare and contrast in this article, along with the subject matter. As an educator who teaches sustainability and likes to use compare and contrast assignments, I'm so taken with both the subject matter and the use of comparision and contrast that I'm tempted to copy this and pass it out to my students as a good example. But enough meta and shop talk--back to the essay.
New Orleans is dedicated to urban life. Detroit has not been an intensely urban city since the beginning of the 20th century. Detroit embraced the virtues of the automobile and its impulse to expand. The land was there to fill and we sprawled into it with the help of cars and freeways. New Orleans is surrounded by water, confined by land difficult to build on. It remained dense. New Orleans is like a traditional European city. Detroit is a modern American metropolis. Urbanity is a New Orleans legacy. In Detroit, urbanity has been generally frowned on although that mentality is changing. The ranks of those that want an urban Detroit are growing.
As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, I found the sprawl in Detroit and its suburbs very familiar. In fact, I've called Detroit "a cold L.A." before. Both places are not only in love with sprawl, but with cars as well, although in very different ways. L.A. loves cars as consumers, Detroit as producers. That said, I've had it with the sprawl of both cities, and I'm counting myself among the growing ranks of those who want an urban Detroit.

As for the essay itself, it concludes with a series of questions.
We do not have control over the natural conditions but we do have some control over our vision. As we work to make Detroit a better place what is our collective vision? Are we satisfied with our disconnected life or will we embrace the beauty of living close together? Will we see that a dense city is more energy and resource efficient? Will we see that a dense city promotes community and creativity, will improve the quality of our lives and help us keep our talented and creative youth or will we remain a city of isolated beauty and disconnected resources?

We all have the opportunity to contribute to that vision by our everyday choices. Do you choose to live close to a downtown and walk to the store or do you want live on two acres and drive everywhere. These are choices that will alter the shape of our city.
I'm all in favor of living closer together. I've had enough of car-culture suburban life and more than my fill of living out in the country. I'm also in favor of making cities more energy and resource efficient. I've already seen the light of how urban living can be a good thing, so I am one of those people who already lives close to a downtown and walks to the store. Six years ago, I drove 48,000 miles a year. Now I drive less than 10,000. I'm much happier driving much less.

No comments:

Post a Comment