Djcnor’s Weblog

Artists, Visionaries, and Detroit

Posted on: March 9, 2009

I’ve written on this blog about arts and the economy before. I might even have mentioned the fact that when artists move into a run-down neighborhood, property values balloon usually eventually pushing the artists out again. This is such a common phenomena that it is even included as a part of the Wikipedia entry on “Gentrification”

“The method by which an urban “artist colony” is transformed into an affluent neighborhood has been well documented for many years.  Artists and subcultural students (later nicknamed “hipsters“, but also including the hippies of earlier years) often seek out devaluated urban neighborhoods for their low prices, central location and for their sense of authenticity or “grit”.[38] As the bohemian character of the area grows, it appeals “not only to committed participants but also to sporadic consumers”;[39] eventually, those “sporadic” consumers edge out the earlier arrivals.”…”Sharon Zukin refers to a somewhat contradictory “Artistic Mode of Production” wherein patrician capitalists seek to increase the property values of (that is, gentrify) urban space through the recruitment and retention of artists; that is, by subtle or overt means of encouraging artists to occupy, say, former industrial facilities.[50] This has become public policy in some cities. In UK cities like Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Liverpool, the actions of regional development agencies, in tandem with private speculators, have attempted to artificially stimulate the process of gentrification. In Jackson, Michigan, the city council has approved the redevelopment of a long-closed 19th century state prison by approving the construction of low rent housing within its walls and making artists loft space available in adjacent abandoned industrial buildings. Property developers have noticed that taking a building they eventually wish to re-develop and offering it cheaply to artists for a few years can impart a ‘hip’ feel to the surrounding area.” 

I also may have written about seeing articles in the UK press about perfectly decent homes in Detroit suburbs being abandoned in the mortage crisis and going for bargain prices. The bargain price I had seen was $7500, if I remember right. And I have suggested in any number of comments on other blogs if not this one, that the solution when whole neighborhoods were endangered by foreclosures and dropping home values was to invite the artists in.

Maybe that house had its wiring and appliances intact, because now (on Treehugger) I have come upon a new article from the New York Times entitled:

The $100 House

Sure enough, while I’ve been thinking that a group of friends getting together and taking over one of those abandoned neighborhoods as an act of entrepreneurship, while I’ve been thinking that a group of artists would be just the kind of people to do that, it’s been done.

“A local couple, Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, started the ball rolling. An artist and an architect, they recently became the proud owners of a one-bedroom house in East Detroit for just $1,900.”…”Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.”…”A group of architects and city planners in Amsterdam started a project called the “Detroit Unreal Estate Agency” and, with Mitch’s help, found a property around the corner.”…”In a way, a strange, new American dream can be found here, amid the crumbling, semi-majestic ruins of a half-century’s industrial decline. The good news is that, almost magically, dreamers are already showing up. Mitch and Gina have already been approached by some Germans who want to build a giant two-story-tall beehive. Mitch thinks he knows just the spot for it.”

So if you want to be in the right place when this economic downturn finally lifts, my advice is:

Follow the artists.


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Djcnor’s Weblog

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