For a while now I have taken back-roads on my morning drive into Detroit where I teach at the College for Creative Studies. I don’t enjoy taking the freeway because I feel like it really doesn’t save time, and I end up more frustrated than if I simply take local roads. Many days I drive in taking Oakland Avenue to shorten my commute. To some Oakland Avenue might seem a bit too desolate and a bit intimidating, but I find it fascinating.
Oakland Avenue covers an area of Detroit that is known as Paradise Valley, or at least part of what was once Paradise Valley. This neighborhood once was the center of a vibrant music scene up until the early 1950s, and is where musicians like John Lee Hooker got their start. On my drive down Oakland Avenue I pass the Apex bar where he first played. Most of this neighborhood was swallowed up by the I- 75 interstate project of the early 1960’s, and I feel it has had difficulty recovering ever since.
I have felt frustration driving down Oakland Avenue because it hasn’t changed much. There are abandoned buildings, and open lots where buildings once stood. I find it difficult at times because as I drive by, I want to somehow do something, but don’t know what I can realistically do.
In the past month or so on my drive into the college, I started to notice empty garden or flower beds starting to pop up on some of the empty lots, and was intrigued by what this all meant. It was a noticeable change because nothing had been happening on this street in quite some time. One day while driving back from teaching I noticed a couple of people tending to one of these flower beds, and I decided to pull over and talk with them to find out what this was all about.
I spoke with Ellen Donnelly of Bloomtown Detroit
, and she mentioned to me that they were in the process of planting bulbs in all o these flowerbeds, and that they were looking for volunteers to help out.
I checked out their website
, and here is what Bloomtown is all about-
BLOOM TOWN is a project that simultaneously remembers a once thriving American City and celebrates its re-birth as the city with the most potential for creative social, political and economic change. In 1950 Detroit was the 4th largest city in the United States with over 2 million inhabitants—today less than 900,00 people live there. After half a century of radical decline neighborhoods that were once densely populated with single-family homes now find themselves sparsely populated with either buildings or people. Land values cannot be any lower: a typical 30’ x 100’ city plot sells for as little as $300 at public auction. Earlier this year the City of Detroit commenced a demolition blitz, aiming to demolish roughly 10,000 houses over the next three years. It is here, in the vacant standard city plot, that BLOOM TOWN will be constructed.
Six monochromatic gardens will be situated within the foundation walls of (recently) razed Detroit houses. The gardens will both mark and map the passing of time by building local anticipation and temporal awareness through the bloom cycles of the gardens. They will be planted such that their chromatic tones will simultaneously shift creating an urban network of coordinated gardens. This chromatic shift will serve as a new type of way-finding device in the city and will increase the flow of movement through and around a single neighborhood due to their presence. The gardens are conceived of as being places of calm, places of community, and places of activation. In spirit they are akin to the community gardens established in the 1970s in New York; these gardens became centers for activity, life and art in then-impoverished neighborhoods.
BLOOM TOWN is based on the interaction that happens during the creative act of constructing. It is also based on the interaction that happens during the inhabitation of the project, between individuals and between people and nature. This proposal refuses to see only the problems that face the residents and government of Detroit, and instead seeks to engage in a transformative process that will benefit the current and future residents of the city. This project is about hope, transformation, and empowerment. It is also about beauty, memory and community. BLOOM TOWN is an artwork and architectural work that inspires change. It is a community-based project that seeks to engage a wide range of individuals in many capacities. It is a work that heightens ones awareness of their surroundings: visually, cognitively, through its haptic qualities. It is meant to be experienced through direct engagement and will evolve and change over time, thereby asking for continued participation in both the process of making and maintenance, but also in visiting. BLOOM TOWN finds its strength in pure optimism, and sees these six gardens as one step in a new future for Detroit.