By Noah Graff
Last week I went to Detroit to shoot a video spot for an advertiser of Today’s Machining World. A melancholy vibe permeated the city that I can only compare with the one I felt when I was last in New Orleans. When I arrived there were only three taxies and two limos sitting outside. Five vehicles to serve the entire Detroit Metro airport? I decided to query the empty rental car buses driving by to see if they had any cars available. I asked Hertz, Avis, and Budget, and every driver claimed that there weren’t any cars. Evidently so few people are traveling to Detroit Metro that the rental car companies have transferred their fleets to other more bustling cities.
Yet amidst all of its depression and desperation, Detroit now has an unexpected grassroots movement, attempting to revitalize the city’s housing market. At this moment, artists from around the world are buying houses in the Detroit ghetto for a few hundred dollars each.
Four years ago, artists Mitch and Gina Cope, bought a broken down house on Detroit’s North side for $1900. The house had been ravaged by scrappers who stole everything from copper plumbing, radiators to electrical lines. But the Copes bought it anyway and decided to turn it into what Mitch Cope calls the “Power House Project.” “Our idea — instead of putting it all back and connecting to the grid, we wanted to keep it off the grid and get enough solar and wind turbines and batteries to power this house and power the next-door house,” Cope says.
He thinks he can make the whole place operate “off the grid” for around $60,000, a cost he hopes to help cover with grants. He plans for the first floor to be a neighborhood art center and the second floor to be a bedroom for traveling artists. Of course, his grand vision is for the entire neighborhood to transform itself into an artist community using dirt cheep real estate as a magnet for new settlers. Cope has already convinced around a dozen artists from countries around the world such as the Netherlands and Germany to buy houses. Jon Brumit, a prominent artist from Chicago just bought a house in the area for $100.
You may find this story uplifting yet then put your nose up when you remember only 12 homes have been bought. But maybe manufacturers can learn from what these artists are doing. The bottom line is that the real estate in Detroit is going for practically nothing, Michigan is going out of its way to give tax incentives for new development, and there is an abundance of laid-off, skilled workers who potentially would jump at the chance to work at a job shop, even for a modest wage. Sounds like an opportunity for some creative types.
Listen to a podcast of the story at NPR.org