ARTPRIZE and the McKay Tower

Posted in GRAND RAPIDS, URBANISM by urbanmi on September 28, 2012


Despite all of its many criticisms and failures, ArtPrize is great for Grand Rapids and good for Michigan.

As an urban development strategy, the event highlights the city and activates the streets and businesses, awarding Grand Rapids the feel of a bustling and vibrant city. The rhythm of the city changes.  Downtown Grand Rapids already has a healthy nightlife, but, although it is improving, the life in the day is limited. With ArtPrize, residents get a glimpse of how Grand Rapids would feel if everyone used and lived in their downtown. We get to see and use our city as if it was an urbanized city. We get to see people inhabiting every space in the city simultaneously.

For this reason, I look forward to each ArtPrize.

A brief moment each year, where everyone can understand and experience the importance of cities and what Grand Rapids should strive to be every day.

I criticize ArtPrize not to condemn it, but because I celebrate its potential and want it to live up to its capacity for changing the city and improving its image.

The event, however, has failed to live up to its lofty ambitions. The purpose of the prize was to elevate Grand Rapids in the national and international consciousness and to continue to elevate Grand Rapids as a serious arts center. Unfortunately, the dependence on the community and social media retards this development. ArtPrize feels like a glorified Arts Fair, Ann Arbor on steroids. Only the museums continue to perform a commendable job elevating the quality of the entries.

Ultimately I am less concerned with the level of the “art” or crafts but who we as a public vote as our champion. Either the citizenry must learn to take their roles in the event seriously, or the event will begin to lose its credibility. No one currently views the prize as a serious participant in the culture of Art, but it should be. The ArtPrize needs to be an event each year the nation and the world looks to and is invested. I fear this will never happen with tweets and text votes.

Currently the top 25 this year includes a few deserving entrants such as Kumi Yamashita’s “Origami” but also 2 dragon, a fish, and many other animal sculptures.

Visit ArtPrize Worst for an informative study on the many of the works.

This moleskine was given as a gift to first year entrants.

I wish I had one



Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on September 23, 2012

Grand Rapids Furniture Company siting.

In San Diego, the now long gone Grand Rapids Furniture Co. logo decorates a building near Pacific Highway.

Michigan Central Station

Posted in DETROIT, INFRASTRUCTURE by urbanmi on August 30, 2012

The icons of Detroit’s Image: The Renaissance Center and Michigan Central Station.

They represent Detroit’s foolishness and stupidity.

The Renaissance Center is a comical story, saying more about the ineffectiveness of post-war urban policy and the failure to understand the sociological affects or architecture and infrastructure. However, the continual failure of the Michigan Central Station is the single largest black eye on the narrative of the revival of Detroit. The revival of Michigan Central Station would be the single most significant action to alter the image and narrative of Detroit.

It’s revival is necessary; and it’s demolition would be a damning action by Detroit politicians.

Interestingly the Owner of the Michigan Central Station, is billionaire Matty Moroun, the villian of the Ambassador Bridge saga. Aggressively saving the station, would be an effective way of partially rebuilding his reputation. His selfish actions alone hold back the revitalization of not only Detroit but the entire state of Michigan.

Imagination Station – Their headquarters is right in front of the station, and they are one of the groups responsible for the park that now lies in the shadow of the station.

Michigan Central Preservation Society

I would love to link to INFRASTRUCTURIST’s fantastic post on 11 beautiful historic train stations destroyed by the wrecking ball. Unfortunately, infrastructurist no longer exists.


Z World – Detroit Zombie Theme Park

Posted in DETROIT, ENTERTAINMENT by urbanmi on July 30, 2012

Mark Siwak is proposing a new event space in Detroit, using Indiegogo to help raise revenue.

Z World. Wiwak is proposing to establish a zombie theme park in a neglected part of Detroit.

His proposal:

Z World Detroit

There are formal proposals to essentially abandon some of Detroit’s neighborhoods.

That’s not a solution.  Collectively we must be more creative than that.

Here’s an idea that will turn the tables on blight.  Not only will this idea turn a blighted area into an asset, a portion of the ticket revenue will go to a fund to demolish abandoned buildings throughout the city.  Blight will fight blight!

Here’s an idea to start something fun and unique that will revitalize an area while creating some jobs for Detroiters.

His proposal takes the city as event space to a new level, but falls into the traps of thinking of the theme and amusement park as an existing typology instead of attempting to imagine an entirely new kind of space. His sketches utilize parking lots, hard fences, and strictly define the park, in doing so damaging the illusion.

Imagine, instead, the fences of this amusement park consisting of piled up cars, and building debris. A rough, meandering edge of the fall of man existing within the borders of the city, announcing the park but not creating a buffer of concrete and asphalt. This project could dissolve the line between public and private elements of the city, the transition between park and city would essentially be non-existent. It would not be necessary to erect large fences and acres of parking lots.

Within the park, it would not be clear whether or not you were in a theme park. The entrance would be barren, abandoned, with the military holding the line. The exploration should begin slowly and progressively, with initially minor, relatively innocuous encounters building up to large confrontations ever deeper into the park.

The logistics of such a park are fascinating.

  • How many employees would be necessary to run the park?
  • Would the cost of so many extra park employees (relatively) be comparable to the cost of owning and maintaining the typical amusment park ride.
  • How would concessions and souvenirs be sold?
    • Themed shacks and abandon homes hawking “supplies”
  • How would you create unique and replicable encounters for a constant stream of visitors.
    • Would entrance to the park be limited and timed.
  • How would you explore the park, could you turn back and retrace your steps or could you pause indefinitely and enjoy the site of staggering zombies, or would you be rushed along as in a haunted house.

The idea extends the concepts from the Zombie Run, and could benefit from a case study. Ultimately I think using a Dawn of the Dead type strategy to designing the park would be far more successful and far easier to implement than the Urban environment. Using a mall would control the encounters, and progression more easily and could take lessons from Haunted Houses for operations.

Unfortunately his proposal shows a misunderstanding of the issues of Detroit. He comments on the proposal of shrinking the city without understanding that the proposal is not about abandonment but about preserving what currently exists and using what limited resources there are in the city appropriately. Furthermore, if demolition is a strategy to be used over shrinking the city, how would it be used appropriately.

Demolition is not a strategy for Detroit. Demolition as a strategy, if extended into the future would also make the possibility of the park impossible. It leaves behind acres of abandoned land and often savable buildings are torn down, historic buildings are torn down in the spirit of “advancement.” Cities like Chicago, have experienced the regret of tearing down treasured buildings as a result of not valuing the assets they have.

It is however beneficial to demolish the hundreds of derelict homes, but in order to sensibly demolish these homes, it makes sense to utilize a strategy of shrinkage. Through utilizing a combined strategy in targeted areas it becomes possible to focus assets in needed areas and promote new neighborhoods, while removing blighted areas and preparing them for a time when Detroit can grow again.

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Posted in URBANISM by urbanmi on July 30, 2012

We want to live in cities.

The era of suburbs being desirable is dying out. These blighted areas with few amenities, services, people have lost their luster. Most of us see them for what they are: costly, inconvenient, unhealthy, isolated.

Suburbs are an ideal. In reality they do not work. In reality we live in exurbs, areas completely disconnected from a core where every road is either a tributary or a river. Stores, work, friends, family, and schools are all far away. Roads replace sidewalks and cars replace people as the chosen for who this place should be made convenient for. We defer to the automobile. Many suburbs do not even bother constructing a sidewalk, announcing to all who foolishly say they wish to live there, that “you shall not walk. You will have no need for feet.”

Fortunately we are shifting back to the city, returning to urban centers as we realize the convenience, the cost, and the amenities. We are learning the environmental consequences of living on the fringes, and we are feeling the economic strains of the lifestyle.

This transition is being marked by many media organizations realizing and celebrating this return. The Atlantic conducts a series on cities. NPR is gathering content for the NPR Cities project.

These projects excite me, they are optimistic, and informative, and cull the content of the web into the relevant information that I am emotionally and personally invested. This is the avenue that local news organizations should be cultivating but are failing.


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Posted in DETROIT, FOOD, GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on July 20, 2012

Michigan is an underrated and great brewing state. I believe Michigan is often overlooked as a great beer state since no single city dominates brewing. What Michigan provides is quality craft beer from top to bottom. Michigan breweries dominate stouts, no single concentration of breweries execute as many tremendous and varied stouts as Michigan.

The Michigan Brewers Guild  has great features and links to all the notable breweries. (Shout Outs to my Hometown Founders, Bell’s, Jolly PumpkinKuhnhen, Dark Horse)

While wasting time and following a chain of links I stumbled upon the 10 best cities for Beer Lovers and happily saw Grand Rapids (along with Kalamazoon) receive recognition for their beer. I often find Michigan is overlooked in these lists. Particularly since these lists are often traps to shovel paid advertisements down our collective consumer gullet. (If you recall the horrendous Newsweek list ranking Grand Rapids as one of the cities)  This list, however, was far better than GQs beer list in 2010 which ranked Chicago as one of the best beer cities by looking at numbers of bars and breweries alone without taking into account their quality. (No list of beer cities should be recognizing the Rock Bottom Brewery as a representative).

Do yourself a favor and attend either the Summer or Winterfests and look at Craftbeer.com recognizing piece on Michigan Brewing.

Now we just need more people to realize the overwhelming collection of fantastic brewing occurring here. Maybe I would be able to get more on the coasts.


Posted in DETROIT, ENTERTAINMENT by urbanmi on June 22, 2012

Detropia from Ford Foundation on Vimeo.

I was waiting to write about this one until after I see it,

but I want to help draw attention to this work.


This is the type of work on Detroit, that is beginning to come out with much more regularity, much like the online short series from Palladium Boots, that shows the problems but the positive actions as well.  This positive narrative needs to be encouraged; cultivated. My graduate architecture thesis from 2010-2011 (which I will begin to publish
It will be shown on PBS next season, I will definitely be watching unless I can find a way to watch prior to that date.on here) explored these very same themes. It is counter productive to perpetuate the narrative of Detroit as a dying city; Detroit is not dead, and due to its importance economically, strategically, and politically, Detroit will not die. Detroit is a struggling and sick urban core that exists in a thriving and rich metropolitan region.

The production also demonstrates the powerful potential of ground-up financing structures such as Kickstarter have for creative works. Through these crowd-sourced financing structures, artists, filmmakers, developers, etc. are able to find the niche markets that will inevitably be their audience and directly appeal to those with like-minded interest as a means for accomplishing projects. It is freer, it frees production from the top-down financing that can prove to be a limitation.

30 Minutes or Less

Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on June 20, 2012

I miss Taco Boy.

I forgot about its existence.

I finally made the time to watch “30 Minutes or Less.” The was filmed in and around and takes place in and around my hometown of Grand Rapids. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, Danny Mcbride, Nick Swardson, and Aziz Ansari; the movie is the most significant movie filmed in Grand Rapids to this point. Other films made in Grand Rapids have been straight to video, like the Val Kilmer romp “The Steam Experiment.”

Unfortunately with the end of the Michigan Film Tax Credit it will probably be the last film made in Grand Rapids (Thanks Gov. Rick Snyder). This is unfortunate for Michigan Audiences. Previously, we, as a state, have enjoyed a few significant films either filmed in or that take place in the State (Evil Dead Series, Robocop, etc.)

The experience of watching one’s own city and one’s own environment presented on screen is its own experience. Fictional, Factual, and Interpretive accounts of what a city is and what a city means. What it means to experience a city and be a part of a city. These films add to that lore and enrich the mythology of those cities. Cities like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles get overlooked through the regularity of being a setting.

Film captures the temporality of the Urban Experience. The emphasis of narrative elevates a city to more than setting, to a character in itself. The city becomes friend, foe, protagonist, or antagonist. Film, as a medium, reveals content about the city invisible and difficult to garner through other mediums.  Distance is understood through mood; humor is brought out by circumstance.

Detroit has been both celebrated and victimized in film.  (A dissection to be conducted more specifically at another time.)  Film transmits the essence of a city to a large audience quickly, immediately, and more completely.


Guy Madden’s My Winnipeg documents of the city he grew up in.


Refer to Jack Lessenberry for great commentary on the Michigan Film Tax Credit

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Urban Farming

Posted in DETROIT by urbanmi on May 31, 2012

Whole foods is coming to Detroit. Another milestone in the redevelopment and shifting demographics and sociology in the region. Like many Detroiters and savvier businessman, Whole Foods has noticed and believes in the revitalization in Detroit. Their arrival reflects the influx of young, educated, and as the US Census made concrete, white people in Detroit, a core constituency for the Whole Foods Brand.

The last 10 years displayed the first growth in the white youth demographic in Detroit since the 1950s. Artists and Designers are attracted to the potential and great bones of this once great American City.

Lessenberry Essay on Farming

Michigan Messenger

Eat Local from the Atlantic

Landscape+Urbanism blog Agrarian Urbanism

Grist Motown to Greentown


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Posted in GRAND RAPIDS by urbanmi on April 1, 2012

Doing research on coffee houses for a current design project and happily discovered Madcap coffee was recognized as one of the nations best coffee companies by food and wine magazine.

i miss home.

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