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DIY Detroit

DIY Detroit: Making Do in a City without Services

Kimberley Kinder
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    DIY Detroit
    Book Description:

    For ten years James Robertson walked the twenty-one-mile round-trip from his Detroit home to his factory job; when his story went viral, it brought him an outpouring of attention and support. But what of Robertson's Detroit neighbors, likewise stuck in a blighted city without services as basic as a bus line? What they're left with, after decades of disinvestment and decline, is DIY urbanism-sweeping their own streets, maintaining public parks, planting community gardens, boarding up empty buildings, even acting as real estate agents and landlords for abandoned homes.

    DIY Detroitdescribes a phenomenon that, in our times of austerity measures and market-based governance, has become woefully routine as inhabitants of deteriorating cities "domesticate" public services in order to get by. The voices that animate this book humanize Detroit's troubles-from a middle-class African American civic activist drawn back by a crisis of conscience; to a young Latina stay-at-home mom who has never left the city and whose husband works in construction; to a European woman with a mixed-race adopted family and a passion for social reform, who introduces a chicken coop, goat shed, and market garden into the neighborhood. These people show firsthand how living with disinvestment means getting organized to manage public works on a neighborhood scale, helping friends and family members solve logistical problems, and promoting creativity, compassion, and self-direction as an alternative to broken dreams and passive lifestyles.

    Kimberley Kinder reveals how the efforts of these Detroiters and others like them create new urban logics and transform the expectations residents have about their environments. At the same time she cautions against romanticizing such acts, which are, after all, short-term solutions to a deep and spreading social injustice that demands comprehensive change.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4986-4
    Subjects: Sociology
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Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction: Self-Provisioning in Detroit (pp. 1-22)

    “We have a group of young neighbors that have a potluck club. So once a month, we all make dishes and get together. This month, I believe it’s going to be an Earth Day theme, a vegetarian deal. Before that, we did a brunch. Before that, we did Italian. Before that, I think we did Mexican. And that has been a great opportunity to dialogue with newer neighbors [and] educate them on the way things are.”

    Jamel was an African American freelance consultant in his midthirties.¹ A lifelong Michigander, he grew up in Detroit, attended college in the state capital...

  4. 1 Do-It-Yourself Cities (pp. 23-42)

    The Great Recession that began in 2007 deepened an already well-entrenched and growing trend toward precarious life in the United States. Within two years unemployment increased 4.7 percent, a change that pushed around eight million people into economic hardships and degraded the working conditions of countless others. Home and business owners lost one-third of their equity; retirement accounts lost one-fifth of their value; and the wealth of American families fell 28 percent. Within five years concentrated poverty rates had risen 21 percent in urban centers and 105 percent in suburban areas, and several million housing units had gone empty.¹


  5. 2 Seeking New Neighbors (pp. 43-68)

    “Are you looking for someone?” A twentysomething, muscular Latino man stood, arms crossed, tattoos glimmering, watching me from a nearby porch. I was surveying vacant lots, and I had lingered to inspect a thin strip of bare dirt sandwiched between two tall houses, one occupied and the other boarded and vacant. “Are you looking for someone?” he repeated. It was a polite but firm question commonly used in the neighborhood to assess the purpose and legitimacy of strangers.

    “No,” I answered. We exchanged names. I gestured vaguely toward the patch of dirt and told Rey I was looking at some...

  6. 3 Protecting Vacant Homes (pp. 69-96)

    “The next house over is actually abandoned,” Rachel said, “that one right there.” She pointed through her living room window across a grassy side lot to a small brick bungalow with white shutters, white curtains, and a lush green lawn.

    “Wow, it doesn’t look empty,” I replied.

    “Between us and the other neighbors on the other side,” she explained, “we try to keep the yard up.”

    Rachel, a Wayne State University employee, was recruited to the neighborhood in 2010 when family friends took her kids cross-country skiing. Referring to the large park behind her house, she said, “I felt like...

  7. 4 Repurposing Abandonment (pp. 97-118)

    In 1975 Camille followed her mother from rural Alabama to Detroit, and they became one of the first African American families to buy a house in a traditionally all-white neighborhood. Within a decade the neighborhood transitioned from mostly white to mostly black. Vacancies and rentals increased, and drug dealers took advantage. “We had the drugs,” Camille recalled. “The meth. We had crack. We had heroin. We had that all over…. When the drugs came, that was it. People just started running, because people were getting killed…. If the house wasn’t rented, [drug dealers] would literally bust in and take over...

  8. 5 Domesticating Public Works (pp. 119-142)

    An elderly white woman hunching over a snow shovel came into view as I rounded the corner. It was warm, nearly eighty degrees, and she was panting. She wore a leg brace that helped her walk despite partial paralysis on one side. I heard her before I saw her. The shovel made a scraping sound as it slid rhythmically across the pavement. I recognized the woman. Her name was Jean, and she was seventy years old. We had met briefly at a community meeting earlier that year, and I was glad to run into her again on the street. We...

  9. 6 Policing Home Spaces (pp. 143-166)

    “When I first heard of Habitat, I used to think they gave people houses. But after being in the program, I found out they don’t give you a house. You work for your house.”

    Estelle, a middle-aged African American stay-at-home mom, spent nine months in 2008 and 2009 logging sweat equity hours with Habitat for Humanity Detroit’s home ownership program.

    “What do you like most about the house?” I asked.

    Estelle answered emphatically, “Zero percent interest on my mortgage!” She laughed. “That’s what I like about the house.” Estelle had owned a home before, but she lost it when the...

  10. 7 Producing Local Knowledge (pp. 167-190)

    One warm spring evening in 2013, several dozen residents gathered in a rented multipurpose room for a community meeting. The neighbors brought food from their homes and gardens and spent twenty minutes chatting over their potluck meal before getting down to business. As the formal conversation began, residents discussed their ideas about how to reduce litter, improve relations with the county sheriff’s office, and reduce scrap metal theft. The conversation then turned to two residents who were completing a parcel-by-parcel survey of the neighborhood to identify which homes were occupied, vacant, or damaged and which lots were repurposed or overgrown....

  11. Conclusion: Triumphs of Hope over Reason (pp. 191-202)

    In March 2014 the cash-strapped Detroit Water and Sewerage Department began cutting water service to 350 residential customers per day. The department was $90 million in debt. The residents were mostly low-income minorities who owed at least $150 in utility fees or whose bills were at least two months overdue. Commercial and industrial facilities with debts in the tens of thousands were unaffected. Many families received no notification before their service was terminated. Renters suffered when negligent landlords failed to pay their bills on time. Parents and teachers instructed children to keep quiet about service interruptions because the state’s Child...

  12. Acknowledgments (pp. 203-204)
  13. Notes (pp. 205-214)
  14. Bibliography (pp. 215-234)
  15. Index (pp. 235-238)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 239-239)