Category Archives: Uncategorized

Migrating

I’ve finally decided to start blogging under (more or less) my own name.  If you like you can follow me at the new blog.

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So early in the spring

Jokes about Michigan’s abbreviated spring are cliché for anyone who’s lived here for more than a few months.  Winter is interminable, and lingers long into April; we’ve been reminded of that this week, when we got snowfall yesterday.     The trees typically don’t bloom til early May even in the southeast; from that point things evolve rapidly so that by month’s end the daily high is routinely in the 80s, and the air is humid.

I have a considerable chip on my shoulder about the state I’ve spent my life in,* and our climate is one of many reasons for that.  On the plus side, once you’ve lived here, it makes you really appreciate what other parts of the country take for granted.   I had no complaints about the chill of San Francisco in January or the (usually) brief showers in Scotland in September, and Texas in March was almost thrilling.  And unlike Southerners or Californians, Midwesterners know how to drive in an inch of snow.   I like to think this harshness makes us Midwesterners a little tougher than the rest of our fellow Americans.

As I write this the sun has re-emerged after being smothered by clouds most of the day, and the temperature is a crisp, invigorating chill.  It’s perfect for sweater-wearing, and I think the dogs are going to get a walk this evening.

*and about a lot of other things, obviously…

April 16, 2013

It felt like something was missing, so I’m going to try writing again.

I have started a number of different online blogs and they always end up fizzling out sooner or later.  With Motown To TreeTown, I started it following Penelope Trunk‘s advice that you should focus your blog on a specific topic rather than making it a general “Dear Diary” type blog.  (I’d cite the exact post where she advised this but I can’t find it anymore, and I’ve subsequently realized Penelope Trunk is completely batshit anyway so there’s no point in taking her advice as gospel.)

I was super into urbanism at the time so that’s what I decided to blog about, and I needed a niche, so I focused on my own peculiar geographic circumstances.  And it worked pretty well for about a year and a half.  I pushed myself and kicked out over a hundred posts, many of them quite lengthy.  But eventually I got depressed about the subject matter (because frankly southeast Michigan is kind of an urbanist’s nightmare), distracted by, well, living my life, and tired of spending so much of my spare time in front of a computer screen.  It was starting to feel like work, and I already have 45 hours of that per week not counting time spent commuting.

So I’m back, and I am going to keep my ambitions modest:  1 post per day, 100-200 words, this time no topic constraints.  I thought about starting an entirely new blog and thought, Why bother?  I’ll just keep what I have now and re-brand things as I go.  What’s important is getting the words out.  Eventually I think I’ll just write under my own name and register a domain name like, say, MarkMaynard.com.  But I think I’ll hold off on that til I’m safely and securely self-employed, which may not be too far off.

I’m already at 250 words which is tl;dr so I’m going to wrap this up.  More to come.

PSA

Obviously the pace of my posting has slowed considerably the past few months.  I’ll be taking a hiatus from this blog of length yet-to-be-determined.  I’m not necessarily abandoning it, but between the commitments of work and my personal life, I just haven’t had the time nor the motivation to publish anything of quality lately, and I’m not sure when I will next.  Stay tuned, and thanks for following me.

A weekend in Chicago

A nighttime view of Merchandise Mart

We went to Chicago this past weekend for Market Days.  It was my first trip to Chicago in exactly two years, since we went for Market Days 2009.

I am a latecomer to urban living.  Growing up in a small town, our closest neighbor of any size was Saginaw, which gave me pretty low expectations of what a city should be.  My family didn’t travel much, and when we did it was mostly to rural northern Lower Michigan or to the Owen Sound area of Ontario.

So when we went to Chicago every few years, it was a thrilling experience.   I started visiting more frequently beginning my senior year of high school, after my best friend enrolled at University of Chicago.  My visits took place mostly in winter and tended to center around Hyde Park, which, although it has a certain distinguished charm, is not the most glamorous neighborhood.  Consequently, I had a view of Chicago as a gritty place with nasty weather and early sunsets.  (Having learned how much difference the time of year makes in shaping a visitor’s perceptions, I’m only more infuriated by the criminal mis-timing of the North American International Auto Show.)  Over the years, more and more of my classmates from Bay City moved there.  (As I’ve grown older, this strikes me more and more as a feature than as a bug.)  Familiarity bred a little bit of contempt, and I never seriously considered following them.

I know, this coming from somebody who then voluntarily moved to metro Detroit.  How embarassing.

My first visit to the city in 2008, after I’d been living in Detroit, transformed my perspective.   The first glimpse from the Skyway of the distant Loop revealed a shimmering ziggurat of new construction, reflecting blue from the lake and the sky;  it was as if I’d never seen the place before.  I’ve often remarked in this blog on how spending a lot of time in Detroit changes the lens through which you see large cities.   For me, visiting cities like LA and Chicago fills me with wonder at busy streets with shiny new skyscrapers, block after block of occupied buildings in good condition filled with successful tenants, and herds of that elusive species, the unicorn — I mean, (mostly) attractive, eligible gay men, which you very rarely find outside of big cities.  Chicago seems even more remarkable and anomalous in comparison with other cities in the Great Lakes region, in that it has the extreme density and rich texture of age that most newer, “successful” cities in the Midwest and Sunbelt lack.  As I’ve delved into its history, I’ve grown to appreciate that Chicago is not just another big American city; it was the original “shock city” with a fascinating birth story, exploding almost overnight faster than any place before it.

When you spend as much time reading about cities as I do, it’s always refreshing and instructive to occasionally make the effort to get out and see them yourself.  I’ve read a lot of hand-wringing and naysaying about contemporary Chicago since I started this blog.  There was the wave of horrendous gang violence on the South Side a year or two ago.  When Mayor Daley announced he wasn’t seeking re-election, many commentators questioned his legacy, painting the city as a Potemkin village, with the Loop a playground for the rich while other parts of town stagnated.  It escalated further in response to the population loss that the 2010 Census revealed.

This weekend’s visit plainly revealed the divide between north and south.  I was struck by the density of the former, with new development crowding right up to the very rails of the L, whereas on the south side there is plenty of underutilized space.  People are paying through the nose and building ever higher in the Loop (none of that fear of height so dominant here in Ann Arbor), but there doesn’t seem to be even a fraction of that demand trickling south.   We make a big deal about 8 Mile Road in metro Detroit; riding the L, you can experience a similarly stark economic divide without crossing a political border.

From the vantage of my friend’s 11th-story apartment on the Near North this past weekend, however, Chicago has never looked better.   In the struggles of the neighborhoods outside the city’s favoured quarters, I suggest Detroiters can draw some hope;  success can coexist with failure within the borders of a single city.   There has been a lot of complaint in Detroit that the greater downtown is a similar kind of Green Zone, an enclave for the young, well-off and white while the rest of the city continues to decay.  Chicago has been getting the same criticism.  To me, that’s a significant improvement over a city with nothing but decay.  I’ll take a pocket of promise over none at all.  Struggling, low-income families on the South side of Chicago aren’t necessarily doing much better than struggling, low-income families in Detroit, but I doubt they’re doing much worse.  You have to start somewhere.   I’m starting to hear (probably premature) wailing about gentrification in Detroit.  That does nothing for the people it is supposedly intended to help, and should be the last thing anybody worries about.

Facing southeast from Near North.

Numbers and beer

I have to thank my readership for helping me reach a special milestone.

For the month of June, I hit exactly 1,000 views.  No kidding, right on the nose.

The previous high was in April of this year, with 933.   One thousand feels pretty good.

I have another exciting piece of news, which is that I’m partnering with the fine bloggers at Damn Arbor to co-host the Ann Arbor Bloggers Meet Up.  Come meet your favorite local bloggers in the basement at the Heidelberg on North Main, Friday July 15, 6pm.   If the thought of meeting Ann Arbor’s (and, by extension, Michigan’s) finest bloggers doesn’t sufficiently excite you, you have the choice of approximately a gazillion German beers which can be consumed– I shit you not– in a boot, if you so desire.  Yes, an actual boot.*

Plus some pretty wonderful German food.  RSVP in the comment section of this post so we can give a reasonable headcount.  Or on Facebook (stay tuned for the event link).

*Really, even if you hate this blog there’s nothing like a bootful** of German beer.  See you there.

**OK, a glass boot.

“Great Lakes Bay” and silly re-branding

This blog is ostensibly focused on Metro Detroit (broadly interpreted to include the Ann Arbor area).  But for the purposes of this post, I am diverting my attention to the area of Michigan I grew up in, the Saginaw Bay area, or as we used to call it, the “Tri-Cities” of Saginaw, Bay City, and Midland.

Over the past few years, some well-intentioned booster (possibly the “Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance,” an amalgamation of the local Chambers of Commerce) somehow got the local elites to re-brand this area as the “Great Lakes Bay” region.  Why did they do this?  Is there such a thing as the “Great Lakes Bay”?  Last I checked, the inlet of Lake Huron into which the Saginaw River flows was still the Saginaw Bay.

But, you see, Saginaw has a bit of an image problem;  in fact, the name “Saginaw” seems to be the PR equivalent of toxic waste.  At some point, this appears to have been brought to the attention of the folks in charge of marketing the region.

While the concept of the “Great Lakes” may have a more warm and fuzzy feel to it, evoking as it does all those Tim Allen-narrated “Pure Michigan” ads, the new term “Great Lakes Bay” possesses, in my view, a number of less attractive qualities:

  • Generic: If you wanted to go with something generic, why not stick with “the Tri-Cities”?
  • Presumptuous: The Great Lakes region boasts a vast array of inlets that can be classified as bays;  consequently, I find it presumptuous for the Saginaw Bay to appropriate for itself the status of THE bay.
  • Pretentious and/or slightly racist:  Yes, Saginaw has a pretty lousy reputation, for a number of reasons.  White-washing the name of an entire region is not going to move Midland or Bay City or Frankenmuth to a different spot on the map.
  • Condescending:  Who does the GLBRA think they are fooling? How dumb do they think we are?

Let’s just call a spade a spade.  I, for one, am not going to indulge the GLBRA in this nonsense.