Friday, July 8, 2011

Cleanin’ out my closet: Detroit edition

[A couple of links out of the D to brighten your Friday]

IF A GOOD THING EXISTS IN DETROIT, AND THE CITY GOVERNMENT DOESN’T ACTIVELY TRY TO KILL IT, DOES IT REALLY EXIST?  The New York Times’s Mark Bittman gets excited about Detroit’s urban gardens:

But after spending some time here, I saw an alternative view of Detroit: a model for self-reliance and growth. Because while the lifeblood of Venice comes from outsiders, Detroit residents are looking within. They’d welcome help, but they’re not counting on it. Rather, to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, they’re turning from seeing things as they are and asking, “Why?” to dreaming how they might be and wondering, “Why not?”

Food is central. Justice, security, a sense of community, and more intelligent land use have become integral to the food system. Here, local food isn’t just hip, it’s a unifying factor not only among African-Americans and whites but between them. Food is an issue on which it seems everyone can agree, and this is a lesson for all of us.

And City Hall seems to be snuffing it out:

Detroit residents say they’re frustrated with the city’s “Garden Permit” process. The permits, which do not include a permit fee, are supposed to allow residents to garden on city-owned lots in their neighborhood, provided they don’t build on or otherwise alter the site…

Riet Schumack organizes the Brightmoor Youth Garden program. She says the rules are counter-intuitive, and more stringent than previous regulations.

"There’s always been certain rules,” said Schumack. “In the past, they’ve made perfect sense. But now they’ve added these four or five specific points. One of them is you can’t sell off of a lot. We produced something like 120,000 pounds of produce that was sold in the city, that was grown in Detroit. So now, we can’t do that anymore?”

The permit forbids adding or removing soil from lots. That rule creates challenges for anyone trying to garden on a brownfield site in an industrial city once populated by nearly two million people.

I’m probably a little more skeptical about the transformative powers of these gardens than Bittman, but I still think they’re a positive force in a city that has far too few.  And I do think the people of Detroit could probably accomplish some wonderful things if the peons in City Hall would just stop strangling everything. 

BONUS:  Radley Balko covers the Detroit suburbs getting in on the fun!

THE GREATEST LINE EVER:  The opening paragraphs of this story on college freshmen returning home for the summer made me spit my coffee:

Steve and Cheryl Perkins of Detroit knew that college would bring a change in their 19-year-old daughter, Haille.

But they didn't realize how much.

"She's come back home with whole new ideas, holistic eating, green living to save the environment," says Steve Perkins, whose daughter came home from Spelman College in early May. "She expects everyone in the family to suddenly and automatically embrace this. So she wants me to trade in my pickup truck for a Prius. What part of her 6-foot-5-inch, 280-pound daddy does she think would fit into a Prius?"

Isn’t that just the college experience in a nutshell?

CHOKE IT.  CHOKE IT UNTIL IT IS DEAD:  I made my first DC food truck run the other week, and it was fantastic.  I’ve been searching for good BBQ food here in DC for six months, and the stuff I got for $10 off the side of a truck was the best I’ve had so far.  Farragut Friday is a weekly quasi-holiday, as dozens of food trucks draw thousands of hungry folks to Farragut Square. 

Meanwhile, in Detroit:

Jeff Aquilina and partner Justin Kava — chef veterans of Matt Prentice's restaurant operations — were inspired by effusive magazine articles, like one in Time last year, that described how gourmet street food sold from mobile trucks had become a multimillion-dollar business in Los Angeles. But when they revved up their $60,000 kitchen on wheels on the streets last month, they soon discovered that "innovation" and "entrepreneurship" in Metro Detroit were empty words when it came to selling fried pickles ("frickles") and a Southwest brisket taco served in a crisp won-ton shell with yellow tomato salsa for $6.95.

Licensed by Wayne County, eager to pay fees and follow rules, the pair quickly hit a wall of regulations and resistance, including Detroit ordinances that essentially ban mobile food operations from anywhere near the downtown stadiums or central business district.

"They're basically not allowed anywhere," says Chris Gulock, a staff member now drafting a new ordinance for the city's planning commission.

The rules prohibit even a fully inspected and licensed restaurant on wheels from public and private property in Detroit, as the law has been interpreted.

Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus:  If it’s a good thing, kill it with fire.

No comments:

Post a Comment