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We arrived in Detroit pretty late in the evening, 8 of us returning from our rather unsuccessful visit to last year's Nobel Prize winner Lin Ostrom (for her work on "governing the commons") in Bloomington, Indiana. She was very hospitable and so were her colleagues, but our group was not a good fit - we couldn't really explain ourselves, and they were pretty distracted about getting a big healthcare grant for their university.
The Detroit Regency is not the Beverly Hills Regency, but it's very cheap and in a great location very close to the waterfront but not in the built-up part of downtown. The office where we registered was protected by bullet-proof glass, as was the Macdonald's where we went to the bathroom the next day -- a first.
Biking down by the river, I stopped to stare at this Hummer, and saw that a guy was sitting in it. He got out and said hello in a friendly way and gave me a few yards of what he does -- said his organization believes in non-violence, makes it stick, that he has a non-violence and self-protection TV show, etc. The card he gave me is for Threat Management Centers. Here are two videos with Dale Brown, the head of the company:
This second film emphasizes that his staff have to be willing to risk their lives (unlike, he says, police, who care above all about their own safety), and that his staff have to be motivated primarily by love. (!)
It felt like there were two competing themes on display -- things running down, and gardening ventures meant to use abandoned land for growing food. We visited the Earthworks gardens and their affiliated Capuchin Soup Kitchen, and had lunch there with Patrick Crouch, the program manager. He has this gardening blog, and he has a twitter account that doesn't seem to miss much.
Two of us drove down to Detroit again in 2013, this time taking along our bikes, and stayed at the same hotel. This time the bullet-proof glass was still there but it had been moved off to the side of the registration counter, with the centre area open. The two of us biked all over town and were again met with friendliness everywhere, day and evening, nothing scary. [Of note: Apparently Detroit had 411 killings in 2012 -- maybe it's gone down again?]
On October 19, three of us went to Detroit for an ordinary-people conference called “Re-imagining Work” – rich in content and in democratic deliberations. We had been asked to give a small session on bake ovens in parks. At that session we met park enthusiast Ulysses Newkirk, who later toured us through a park which had been taken over by neighbours when the city stopped maintaining it. The park was obviously well-loved, with many benches and picnic tables, barbeque pedestal grills and horseshoe pitches. Ulysses’ idea was that the park group would build a brick oven on an adjacent abandoned lot, which they had just bought for $1000, and make the oven a draw for visitors from all over the city. Just down the road, a strip of abandoned houses had been removed and replaced by a substantial market garden, with fall vegetables such as onions and spinach and carrots in long straight rows, and lots of fall flowers.
Our reflections on the conference are here.