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I've been waiting for a story like this to pop up, so when I heard it on the radio yesterday I geeked out a bit. As NPR's Jennifer Guerra reports, artists in Detroit are buying up foreclosed properties and turning them into cultural havens. In the crumbling Motor City, Mitch and Gina Cope have been purchasing ailing properties at rock-bottom prices, and are encouraging other artists to do the same.
That part isn't shocking; rather, it was just a matter of time until a really good example showed up. Artist communities are known for reinventing downtrodden neighborhoods the world over; in fact, the phenomenon of artists-come-in, neighborhood-becomes-hot, prices-go-up, artists-forced-out is so familiar now that what's happening in Detroit can be seen as something like the larval stage of neighborhood development. But Guerra uncovered a development that hadn't even occurred to me:
Then [Mitch and Gina Cope] set their sights on the foreclosed house down the street - a working class, wood frame, single family house that was listed for sale for $1,900. The house had been trashed by scrappers who stole everything, including the copper plumbing, radiators and electrical lines. Still, they decided to buy it and turn it into what 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," [Mitch] Cope says.
Although it is small consolation in the face of overwhelming economic strife in Detroit and elsewhere as the foreclosure crisis continues, this story gave me a real feeling of hope and renewal. To me, this example and other corresponding cases - like the artist-driven re-imaginings of shopping malls and big box stores seems symbolic of an even larger cultural shift. The arts community isn't just moving into one downtrodden urban neighborhood; rather, they're taking on the ruins of the unsustainable. They're taking on big box stores, shopping malls, and grid-connected homes in the car capitol of North America. And they're not just creating new art. They're seizing the opportunity to turn old shells of buildings into independent, renewable energy-powered, 21st century-ready spaces.Read this entire article by Julia Levitt which originally appeared at WorldChanging.com.
Personally Speaking: While on a much different scale, the artists and humanitarians revitalizing devastated neighborhoods in Detroit remind me of the endeavors to rebuild flood ravaged New Orleans. It is precisely these types of people and grassroots efforts that will allow the survival of our communities despite the amount of damage done by natural disaster or economic fallout. I fully support any individuals or organizations who are forward-thinking enough to employ creative solutions to the world's problems. Way to go Mitch and Gina Cope; the various artists, many volunteers; organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Common Ground Relief, Make It Right; and individuals like you, who have the power, ability, and make the decisions to recreate the world we inhabit in a more sustainable way. ~Jen
Jen Biederman is a Customer Service and Communications Specialist for Renewable Choice Energy.