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Here’s what the New York Times missed about Brush Park and Detroit

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It’s not just new and it’s not just blight

Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

On Monday, the New York Times published a photo essay about how Detroit is being revived as it moves out from state financial oversight. Reporter Monica Davey and photographer Emily Najera focused on Brush Park, a neighborhood bordering downtown that’s seeing more development than almost any other area in Detroit. The ensuing photo essay then contrasts Brush Park with Poletown East, one area among many in the city that is admittedly struggling.

The essay focuses on some standalone houses around Brush Park, and doesn’t mention the major-developer-backed developments involved in transforming the area. The rather short take also declines to detail just how long it’s taken the neighborhood to “come back,” or the tax incentives offered to developers to rehab it.

The photo essay also falls into the trap of ruin porn that’s been the go-to for any national piece about Detroit for years; now it’s often contrasted with the city’s new arena, which depended on hundreds of millions of tax dollars to get built.

We appreciate the piece from the Times last fall about the complicated housing market here, but again, the photos remain infatuated with blight. When will the world see more of the University District, Sherwood Forest, the Villages?

Detroit is more complex, frustrating, beautiful, and yes, even resilient than the national media makes it out to be. It’s not just new and it’s not just desolate, yet this is what the world often sees in these pieces. We follow along when small developers work through bureaucracy and permitting to try to break ground on a project. We notice when neighborhoods advocate for their streets and homes in block clubs around the city. We track when yet another building gets knocked down for a more lucrative parking lot.

In the center of Brush Park, the City Modern development is well underway, with a large senior apartment building going up at the corner of John R and Alfred streets, along with townhouses under construction the next block over.

Like many of the larger development projects downtown, City Modern is a product of Dan Gilbert’s Bedrock. Bedrock, which owns over 90 buildings downtown, is simultaneously building a skyscraper at the Hudson’s site, renovating the Book Tower and David Stott Building, planning to take over the fail jail site with plans for a major mixed-use development and building the county a new jail, and breaking ground soon on the expansive Monroe Blocks development. It’s also in talks to redevelop the Brewster-Douglass site in Brush Park.

Elsewhere in Brush Park, smaller developers have new condo projects in the works, including new builds on Mack Avenue and Eliot Street, along with rebuilding a structure on Watson Street to house high-end condos. Long-time tenants like the Heidelberg Project have had to move out, while craft cocktails bars move in. Real estate prices have skyrocketed in recent years, especially once the Little Caesars Arena opened in 2017 across Woodward Avenue.

Yes, eight years ago you probably could have bought a house in Brush Park for $500 (like many outside of the city still think). Now, prices for new condos in the neighborhood are listing for $500 per square foot.

The Times photo essay also jumps a few miles away to Michigan Central Station and the windows that were installed in 2015. It doesn’t mention the possibility that Ford may buy and renovate the massive property, which would forever change Corktown and Southwest Detroit. It’s not a done deal yet, but it’s the big story in Detroit right now.

Brush Park is a complicated neighborhood and one that’s undergoing transformational changes. We get it; it’s extremely photogenic. (To wit, our own profile and photo tour of many of the restored Victorians in Brush Park, from 2016.)

And in fact, the New York Times listed Detroit as a top destination in the world in 2017. We just wish that they’d stay for more than a weekend.