Best of Detroit 2012
Public Square - Staff Picks
Our staff picks for Metro Detroit
Published: April 25, 2012
Best Day to Be a Fish at the Belle Isle Aquarium
Shiver on the River
Though the Belle Isle Aquarium officially closed its doors to the public back in 2005, there's still one day a year when metro Detroiters can get their fill of early 20th century watery amusements. As part of Shiver on the River, Belle Isle's cold-weather celebration held annually in early February, the Belle Isle Aquarium opens for one day between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Visitors step through a Beaux Arts-style arched entryway into a veritable aquarium museum: When it closed, it was the oldest continuously operated aquarium on the continent. Though small by contemporary standards, the building pays homage to an earlier era in Detroit's history — and it still brings in the crowds. At this year's Shiver on the River, more than 2,500 people reportedly lined up for a look. Not so bad for an attraction that's officially closed for business.
Best Gardening Deal for City Residents
The Garden Resource Program
A joint endeavor of such organizations as the Greening of Detroit, Earthworks Farm and the Detroit Agricultural Network, the Garden Resource Program provides seeds, plants, educational classes and more for new and existing urban gardens in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck. Last year, the program offered resources to 1,351 urban vegetable gardens. The program dispensed 49,858 seed packs, and 230,296 transplants of more than 73 varieties of fruits and vegetables, encouraging a growing network of gardeners and urban ag advocates trying to ensure a thriving, locally based food system in the city. Neighborhood-based cluster groups allow growers to meet one another and share resources and opportunities, making them eligible for additional resources, such as tilling, compost, flowers, woodchips, weed fabric, volunteers, even a tool-sharing program.
Best Way to Build Community with Beer
Van Dyke between Agnes and Coe streets, Detroit; tashmoodetroit.com
Early last year, this corner of Van Dyke in West Village was an empty lot with an overgrown tree in the back. It was less a place for people to hang out than to cut through to the alley. It sure wasn't that way in the fall. It was fenced-in, filled with crowded, communal tables and benches, becoming for a few Sundays a place where revelers drank Michigan craft beer, listened to music, ate local food and played beanbag games. From old codgers to young kids, from locals to yokels, it was suddenly alive with chatter and mirth. The empty parcel had become a pop-up, open-air beer hall — the Tashmoo Biergarten — all the work of "Team Tashmoo." Tashmoo organizers Suzanne Vier, owner of Simply Suzanne granola company, and Aaron Wagner, a buyer for a purchasing company, pointed to the boost beer gardens had gotten since the late 1990s, when hipsters started crashing places like Queens' traditional Bohemian Beer Garden. The phenomenon there has grown to where even pop-up, temporary beer gardens spring up, which led Vier to propose one for the Villages neighborhoods. "In Eastern Europe, beer gardens are a place to come together. ... In Eastern European culture, it's not just about drinking; it's about food, music, families — it's an open and inviting place." They created it, and it was such a success they intend to bring it back this year, starting at noon on Saturday, May 19. Frankly, anything that can turn a vacant lot in Detroit into a gathering place demands attention.
Best Food Desert Fighters
Peaches & Greens
8838 Third Ave., Detroit; 313-870-9210; 10
a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m.
As "food desert" becomes part of the local lexicon, awareness has grown that vendors of fresh fruit and vegetables underserve vast swaths of Detroit. Shunned by large chain grocers, these neighborhoods are places where residents, many of whom don't have cars, must shop for food at party stores and gas stations, which sell very little in the way of fresh produce. For local residents, this food crisis is a recipe for ill health, obesity and diabetes. As part of the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, the produce market, Peaches and Greens, opened in 2008, offers access to real, fresh food through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance. One of a variety of answers to the "food desert" issue, for almost five years now, Peaches and Greens has made it that much easier for city residents to get the life-giving food they need.
Best Inner-City Duck Farm
Laid in Detroit
4121 Neff Ave., Detroit;
East side Detroiter Suzanne Scoville wasn't always crazy about raising fowl. But when the opportunity to raise ducks for eggs — for culinary use at Detroit's Woodbridge Pub — came her way, she turned the yards of the properties she owns on Neff Avenue into a haven for a brace of ducks. Affectionately dubbed "Mother Nature" by some neighbors, she took to urban duck farming like, well, a duck takes to water. Though you'd think her busy enough already (she supports herself with a day job as a building contractor), Scoville says raising ducks isn't a whole lot of trouble. She says the animals possess an "unreal immune system," handle cold well, and are also more docile, smarter and more resilient than chickens. And the eggs? She says, "They're buttery, very rich, a bit fattier, higher in protein content. The whites come out a little stiffer, which causes baked goods to rise higher, fluffier. That's why bakers like them so much." See Laid in Detroit's Facebook page for more details.
Best Vision for
Here's your transit map for a 14-county area, including: Detroit, Windsor, Lansing, Port Huron, Toledo and more. Six rail lines, 71 rail stations, 82 buses, 90 railcars, 25 locomotives and an easy-to-navigate website (unlike those for the problematic services of DDOT). Sound too good to be true? Well, Neil Greenberg — who refers to himself as a "renegade transit planner" — intended it to be that way. Although Freshwater was simply an idea he drummed up last fall to warp the vision of mass transit from "why can't we" to "how can we" — as he described the process to Model D Media — it serves as a contrast to where we are with mass transit today, with fragmented, often shoddy service and no certainty that improvement plans will come to fruition. Greenberg, though, is plowing ahead. His newest project, Momentum, is a plan to help improve the proposed Regional Transit Authority (currently in the legislative process).
Best Detroit Asset
Water & Sewerage Department
If Detroit should fail to abide by the terms of its consent agreement with the state and lose complete control of city government, don't be surprised if city jewels start to go on sale. We can think of nothing as valuable, or more in need of remaining in public hands, than the third-largest water and sewer utility in the United States. As the problems of climate change continue, and water shortages in other parts of the United States grow more severe, privatized water corporations will be salivating over the prospect of getting their claws into something as essential as Detroit's Water Works Park, which has the potential to produce up to 320 million gallons of drinking water a day. If you want an idea of how the public will react if there are attempts to give a profit-driven company control of something as essential as water, check out the excellent documentary The Water Front, which chronicles the fight that ensued when an appointed manager attempted to sell off Highland Park's water system.
Best Public Project
to Push Through
New International Trade Crossing
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is in favor of building a new publicly owned bridge across the Detroit River. So are his four gubernatorial predecessors, ditto the governments of Ontario and Canada (willing to pay Michigan's share of the project), the U.S. government, automakers, labor unions, chambers of commerce far and wide. Two key entities are against. There's the Detroit International Bridge Co., owned by the Moroun family, which is willing to spend vast amounts of money and say just about anything in a desperate attempt to stave off the competition the new bridge would offer their near-monopoly. And then there's the Michigan Legislature, under the sway of the Moroun family's largesse. If the Legislature can't be convinced this is the best interest of the region, state and nation, then Gov. Snynder needs to employ one of the options he says are available and get the job done by taking executive action. No other single action can provide this struggling state with the economic benefit the NITC does.
Best Way for Matty Moroun to Improve His Public Image
Give Detroit the Ambassador Bridge or ...
The 84-year-old billionaire Moroun has already recouped his shrewd investment in the Ambassador Bridge many times over, having leveraged the value of the bridge with duty-free operations and the tax-free truck fueling stations at the Gateway Plaza and all sorts of other businesses. So why not make a grand gesture and give back to the city that has given so much to him? Generating an estimated $60 million to $100 million in revenue annually, the bridge could immediately go a long way toward solving Detroit's financial crisis and put it on a sound footing from which to begin growing again. Matty would immediately go from being a despised villain to a sainted hero remembered for all time as the man who helped save Detroit. ... OK, we're dreaming. But he could at least drop his opposition to the NITC and free the legislators under his sway to do the right thing.
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