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March 2nd, 2012
I have been pretending to know Detroit for most of my adult life.
It’s a common affliction among youngish white journalists in Michigan who’ve never lived in the city. Even the fact that I talk about “knowing” the city is probably a giveaway that I’m not a Detroiter. My friends who are Detroiters, and Detroiters who comment on my stories, seem pretty tired of the discussion about what Detroit is or isn’t, what it represents or doesn’t and what the rest of us think about any of it. They’ve moved on.
But I can’t seem to stop myself from writing about Detroit as if I know what I’m talking about. I’ve even attacked other non-Detroiters for their lack of understanding (most people who read that rant believed it was written by a Detroiter, which only embarrasses me more).
Like most white, non-Detroiters, my fascination with the city started in my early 20s. And it involved urban exploring.
I was an intern in the (partner station!) Michigan Radio news room when I did my first story about urban exploring. A year later, as Detroit was on a demolition binge to get ready to host the Super Bowl, I produced a story about an amazing find inside the long-abandoned Motown headquarters. (No, not that one. This one.)
You can listen to it here:
The story behind the record I found inside the Motown Building is still a mystery to me. And there were many more treasures inside that building. When the building was demolished, old papers signed by Smokey Robinson and others blew down Woodward Avenue.
Maybe that’s why I felt a bit of a twinge of sadness this morning when I heard that the long-abandoned, dangerous and unsightly Packard Plant will finally be demolished as well. Maybe that’s why I still can’t get enough of documentaries that feature Detroit’s “ruin porn” (even if I make fun of them).
Or maybe I feel that way because I’m a privileged white person who’s never had to live next to one of these buildings. I’ve never watched my property value plummet because of it. I’ve never felt what it’s like to have non-Detroiters go on and on about these things as if it’s the only thing to talk about when you talk about Detroit.
But I actually think not being a Detroiter is the reason I care about these things so much.
Detroiters are allowed to feel sick of the discussion. They’ve probably got better things to do. But I live in Grand Rapids, Mich., where plenty of people wrote off Detroit long ago. I know people who still believe that driving into Detroit is roughly equivalent to driving into Palestine. So, yeah, maybe I’m a little jumpy when an innocent blogger uses mildly negative language when talking about Detroit.
But here’s the thing: Just because I don’t live in Detroit doesn’t mean I have no stake in its future. If you live anywhere in the industrial Midwest, Detroit represents you in some way. It is a symbol of our region, fair or not. If you live in Michigan, or northwest Ohio, your economic future is directly tied to Detroit’s.
I may not really know Detroit. I may be stupid and unhelpful if I look at an abandoned building and say it’s beautiful. But stupid or not, I do know enough to say that Detroit is a great city, an important city – for Michigan, for the Midwest and for the nation.
And I’m damn sure not going to stop saying that.
March 2nd, 2012
The Detroit News reports this morning on the demolition of one of the city’s icons.
The Packard Plant was designed by the great Albert Kahn, and built in 1903. It covers 3.5 million square feet. It’s been empty for half a century.
Among the so-called ruins of Detroit, the Packard Plant comes second only to the Michigan Central train depot in fame and importance. If you’ve ever watched a news report about Detroit’s decline, or seen one of the many documentaries about Detroit, you’ve seen the Packard Plant. When world-famous graffiti artist Banksy came to Detroit, he chose the Packard Plant as his canvas.
The Detroit News says the owner of the plant hopes to start demolition within a month.
Curbed Detroit says it’s “heartbreaking news” for fans of Detroit’s ruins.
The Packard Plant is an eyesore, and probably a danger to the public. But it also can tell you a lot about the creativity and resilience of Detroit. Even this crumbling monster is seen as a work of art, and an inspiration.
From the Detroit News article:
“In a sick way, it’s incredibly beautiful,” freelance photographer Casey Carlton said Thursday as she explored the edges of Packard.
Demolishing a long-abandoned, dangerously unsecured factory in a struggling part of Detroit can’t really be seen as a bad thing. But the Packard Plant will be missed.
March 1st, 2012
The Michigan primary already seems like old news. The vote happened two days ago, and the national media moved on immediately afterward, though the victor in Michigan’s race is still somewhat contestable.
On Tuesday, we asked you to tell us why you voted the way you did in the Michigan primary. We got quite a few responses, including some strong support for Ron Paul, who came in third in the primary.
Here is a sampling of what you told us:
I want the general election debate to be conducted as close to the center as possible… away from the fringes. Romney is the only GOP candidate that gives that possibility. If he is the GOP candidate, it will force President Obama to move to the center, too.
I voted for Ron Paul in the 2008 primary as well. Watching the corporate shill news anchors on Cable news literally *beg* people to vote for Santorum made me realize that the Penn. Senator was actually just another Washington-insider corporate crook. Voting for Ron Paul is a vote to legalize freedom.
I am a life-long Democrat. I listened to all the conniving about voting for this or that Republican to mess them up, but I felt this was both disrespectful and dangerous – I didn’t want to be partially responsible, for example, for a President Santorum out of a mistaken belief that he couldn’t beat Obama. I decided that I would use my vote as a way to express why I’m not a Republican by voting for the only candidate on the ballot I would ever consider, John Huntsman.
I realized that by voting for Santorum I was helping to keep the race in limbo. If Romney took a decisive victory things might settle easier and I want to be sure that no one wins easily. I am a strong supporter of Obama. I believe that the GOP has played many not-too above-water games, and as far as I am concerned, turn about (is) fair play.
February 29th, 2012
That’s why I was pleased to learn that the bank invited a group of people from different cities across the Midwest for a day-long event yesterday to kick off a new project that will look at what works – and what doesn’t – when encouraging economic revitalization.
Among the attendees: representatives from ArtPrize, the annual Grand Rapids public art competition that has brought hundreds of thousands of people to the city’s downtown during the fall event. If you’re not familiar with ArtPrize, here’s some of our reporting on the competition.
ArtPrize’s Brian Burch said the day went well, with lots of analysis and recommendations but a few overarching solutions that are applicable to many industrial cities.
Burch said it also confirmed many of the concepts behind ArtPrize – the idea that a focus on people and creativity foster innovation and economic growth.
“The best things communities can do is invest in education and develop a marketplace of ideas that make it easier for anyone to realize their dreams and take ideas into action,” Burch said.
You can learn more about the Fed’s initiative here.
February 29th, 2012
Today, the Occupy Wall Street movement started a fresh wave of protest activity across the country. Its the first major action from the group in weeks. Organizers are hoping it won’t be the last. Today’s protests are relatively small, compared to what we saw over the summer. But other events are in the works.
Salon reports today that Occupy organizers are looking into a possible “general strike” on May 1st. If the group pulls it off, Salon says it would be the first general strike in this country in 65 years.
And the 99% Spring movement we told you about earlier this month is also gearing up. The group is planning demonstrations nationwide from April 9-15. They’re hoping to get 100,000 people to participate. Today, the call went out for people to help train the protesters. Last week, the conservative web site The Daily Caller reported that the UAW was behind the training plan. The official 99% Spring website lists a number of union participants, along with liberal groups such as MoveOn.org.
February 29th, 2012
Today, Changing Gears’ Kate Davidson has the first in a two-part report on the growing burden of student debt.
We typically think that going to college is all about getting that four-year degree. And we see community colleges as a stepping stone to get there. But a new report released yesterday shows that’s not the path for many college students in America.
In fact, a surprisingly large number of students actually transfer from four-year institutions into two year community colleges.
The info comes from the National Student Clearinghouse and Indiana University’s Project on Academic Success. NSC directly tracks 93 percent of all college enrollments in this country. The study followed the entire class of students, of all ages, who started college in 2006.
A third of all students had at least one transfer. Of those who transferred from a public four-year institution, more than half went to a two-year community college. The study says:
Of all first-time students who started at a four-year institution, 17 percent transferred to a two year institution within five years. Reverse transfers is an under-researched topic and the reasons behind such mobility have not been thoroughly studied. Taking a few classes at a community college that count towards a degree completion can be a good decision for the student and not harmful to his/her baccalaureate attainment. However, a permanent reverse transfer may indicate a significant student-institution mismatch or change in student goals. For example, some students may have opted to earn more technical- or skills-oriented two-year degrees or certificates during their academic career.
What do you think is behind this trend? Are students simply trying to save money on their credits, or are they deciding a bachelor’s degree isn’t for them? And what does it mean for our economy?
America’s student loan debt is now bigger than its credit card debt. It’s about a trillion dollars. Student loan default rates are rising. While many families struggle to afford traditional colleges, a lot of student debt comes from attending private, for-profit schools that focus on vocational training. These students default on their loans twice as often as students from public colleges. Today we’re looking at one small school battling big defaults.
“I guess I do what everyone else has been doing, dodging the phone calls.”
Mark Howell is on the verge of defaulting on his student loans. Actually, the school he went to has the highest student loan default rate in Michigan. (For the moment.)
It’s not the University of Michigan. Not Kalamazoo College.
It’s barber college.
In Ohio and Wisconsin beauty schools top the list. Now, these are small schools so their default rates are volatile; a few defaults make a big difference. But this is a story about why these default rates matter to old-fashioned trade schools like the Flint Institute of Barbering.
So, picture an overgrown barber shop, bright and cheerful. In the morning, a crowd of people gathers for student haircuts — $2.50 for a beginning student, $5 for advanced.
Tom Amundson is 50 and new to barber school. He was an automotive designer for 30 years but got laid off a few times. Then he caught up with a buddy who owns a barber shop.
“He talked to me about it and he said, ‘Why don’t you get into the business?’” he says. “And I said, ‘Kinda old.’ And he said, ‘No, you’re never too old to cut hair.’”
So Amundson took out federal loans, just like three quarters of his class. He’s hoping to make up to $35,000 as a barber — about half what he made as a designer.
Martha Poulos’s family has run the barber school since 1925. Tuition and fees are about $8,000 for a year. But Poulos says most of her students are low-income, from urban Flint; many come to school full-time while supporting children. She says that all plays into the default rates.
“The three year ago rate was 15.5%,” she says. “Our 2008 cohort was 29%. Our 2009 cohort – and these are the official rates – was 30.5%.”
That means almost a third of those who started repaying their loans in fiscal year 2009 had defaulted two years later.
“We were very alarmed,” Poulos says. “And not happy, and we’re trying to work as much as we can and do the best we can…”
Now, Martha Poulos is dedicated to her students. This woman will dye their jeans black, by hand, if they can’t afford to meet the school’s dress code. But she didn’t have a DIY solution to the default problem. So she hired a service to track students who are delinquent on their loans. She says she couldn’t risk it.
Schools with high default rates can lose access to federal student aid. While the Flint Institute of Barbering does bring in money through its barber shop, more than half its revenue comes from federal student aid.
“They are so reliant on federal financial aid dollars,” says David Deming of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He’s talking about the wider for-profit sector of higher education, which he says gets almost 75% of its revenue from federal student aid.
According to the Department of Education, 15% of students who train at proprietary schools default on their federal loans. That’s compared to a national average of 8.8%, at last count.
(You can see the national trend on this graph. The big dip was due to a tightening of financial aid regulations in the early 90s.)
David Deming thinks for-profit students default more because they tend to pay more than students at public colleges. He adds that default statistics understate the extent to which people struggle to pay back loans.
“If you take out a five figure loan for a relatively short program,” he says, “if you don’t find employment relatively soon after that program it’s going to be very hard to pay back your loan.”
Of course, barber school is a small part of the for-profit training world. Changing Gears is going to look at student debt from bigger technical schools in the weeks ahead.
In the meantime, remember Mark Howell? He’s now a barber in a kindof hard to find corner of a mall in Flint. Cutting hair is his passion. But he says building clientele is slow in a town that’s full of barbers.
“You can’t make the payments,” he says, “but at the same time, you’re trying to find work to make the payments. And if you don’t make the payments, you gotta deal with the consequences behind that, which is your license at stake.”
He’s already gotten a couple loan deferments. He says he’s scratching and hustling to make ends meet. And he’s not the only one.
February 28th, 2012
Tourism is a growing industry in the state of Michigan. By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of the state’s Pure Michigan ads. In the summer, the ads show beaches and sunshine. In the winter, it’s all about the snow.
This year, officials at Pure Michigan have also been pushing a winter sport that most people probably haven’t heard of: ice climbing. Meg Cramer went to the Michigan Ice Fest earlier this month to report a story for our partner station, Michigan Radio.
She took some amazing photographs we just had to share.
Click here, to listen to Meg’s full story on Michigan Radio.
And tell us what you think – would you climb a frozen waterfall?
February 28th, 2012
As part of our Your Family Story series, we’re collecting recipes that have been passed down within families. Send in your mother’s, grandfather’s, or cousin’s famous recipe for goulash, pozole, dumplings or any dish that your family has enjoyed.
We’re collecting recipes until midnight tomorrow. We’ll publish all the recipes. The winner, to be chosen by the Changing Gears team, will be announced here and on our partner websites. They’ll collect a grab bag of public radio goodies.
Today, Changing Gears Senior Editor Micki Maynard shares this recipe for Mazurek:
My father’s family, which is of French descent, has been in the United States for many generations, settling primarily in Massachusetts. But my mother is a first generation American. Her family came to the United States around 1905. Her father hailed from what was known as Byelorussia, and now Belorus, an area also known as White Russia.
My mom learned European dishes from her mother and New England recipes through my dad, so we enjoyed a varied menu at home. I’ve always heard my mother say what a good cook my grandmother was. But, I didn’t know until this year that my grandmother was co-owner of a bakery in Grand Rapids. The Northwestern Bakery stood on Leonard Street, although the building is no longer there.
Each Easter, my family gathers for brunch, and Mazurek (pronouncd mah-ZUR-eck) is always the last dish that is served. We sit over coffee and tea and enjoy this dense, rich pastry, very much like a soft shortbread. My mom was always the Mazurek baker, until she offered to teach me. She also shared the recipe with my brother, who baked the Mazurek that you see here.
Want to add Mazurek to your repertoire? Follow this recipe.
For the shortbread base:
2 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup softened butter
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbsp cream or half & half
Sift the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. In a separate small bowl, mix egg with the cream. Add it to the flour mixture. Mix lightly (it may be a little sticky). Spread the mixture in a buttered glass or ceramic pie dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until baked, but not brown.
1/3 cup almond paste (more, if desired)
1/3 cup raspberry jam
1/3 cup apricot jam
candied fruit, if desired
Allow the base to cool until slightly warm. Spread the almond paste on the base (thin it with a little milk if needed to make it pliable). Decorate the top with the apricot and raspberry jam — you can create quadrants with each flavor, and separate them with almond paste borders, or drop the jam in spoonfuls. Add candied fruit if desired.
Mazurek keeps well in the refrigerator for about a week; you may also freeze it. Warm it briefly in the oven or microwave if desired, but take care not to melt the jam.
February 27th, 2012
We admit it, we’ve been a little poll-obsessed lately. But last week, a poll caught our attention that had nothing to do with the upcoming GOP primaries in Michigan and Ohio. The poll was done by Public Policy Polling and it basically ranks U.S. states based on popularity.
Turns out, the Midwest didn’t do so hot. No Midwestern states were in the top 10, and Illinois had one of the lowest scores of all states. But buried deep in the data, we noticed that opinions of states varied hugely depending on who was being polled. And, since we spend a lot of time in the Midwest talking about how to attract young people, we wondered how the poll results would be different if you just looked at people aged 18-29. So we put together some charts. As you can see, the results are a little surprising. Tennessee? Really?