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Curbed Detroit’s best longreads of 2019

Articles on affordable housing, beautiful renovations, the legacy of Detroit’s black architects, and more

Photo by Matthew Piper

The holiday weekend is nearly here, which is the perfect time to return to your favorite articles or catch up on all of the great reading that’s slipped through the cracks in 2019. In that spirit, we’ve gathered a few of our favorite features of the past year, arranged in no particular order.

These stories run the gamut. We published articles on why Detroit’s urban farmers are desperate for updated livestock laws, how some speculators are taking advantage of a tax break meant for individual homeowners, the little-known history of Albert Kahn’s business partnership with the Soviet Union, why more people should appreciate Hart Plaza, and more.

And if you’re looking for even more to add to your list, check out our favorite Detroit homes of 2019. Happy reading.

A long building with a slanted metal roof and skylights that stretches nearly to the ground. A few police cars sit in the parking lot. Photo by Matthew Piper

Designing the future: The legacy of black architects in Detroit

By Matthew Piper

But continue on past McGraw Avenue and this organic neighborhood texture gives way to a remarkable and unlikely sight: an apparent ziggurat from the future, occupying nearly an entire block. Long, low-slung, and perfectly symmetrical, with cylindrical brick flanks to the east and west and sloping expanses of bluish gray zinc to the north and south that race down at an exhilarating 45-degree angle to a concrete berm below, this looks like it might be the home of the first colony on Mars. It’s actually the former McMichael Middle School, built in 1981, now the Detroit Police Training Academy, designed by Detroit architects Howard Sims and Harold Varner.

A green and white bus in front of a large office building. Photo by Michelle Gerard

Riding the bus in Detroit hasn’t been this easy in years

By Aaron Mondry

This extremely pleasant public transit experience made me realize that it hasn’t been this easy to ride the bus in Detroit in probably a decade. I only take the bus a couple of times a month. And surely not every ride is as smooth as mine were. But bus service has undeniably been improving in convenience, as evidenced by the 24-hour routes and unified fare system, as well as in reliability.

Long rows of concrete stairs and benches rise from a concrete amphitheater. Photo by Michelle Gerard

The unsung brilliance of Hart Plaza

By Imani Mixon

“It’s not just a venue,” he adds. “It is really one of the primary facets of what makes this event so special. You’re not out in the middle of a field with no attachment to anything. You’re in this unique retro-futuristic place in the middle of the city on the river.”

A one-story green house with plain green siding and awnings.
The same house, awnings removed, with a sharper color on the siding and awnings removed. There’s also wood accents above the front door. Photos by Evan Thomas

Meet the couple doing designer renovations in Detroit neighborhoods

By Aaron Mondry

After gutting the interior, they build them back up, remodeling with smart designer features like cedar shake on the exterior, pass throughs on the staircase, and accented painting or wallpaper. They’re not above buying fixtures and materials from Home Depot in order to keep the homes affordable, but they match it with custom or handmade items to elevate the whole product.

A row of people in suits and professional attire stand behind a ribbon with “The Corner” repeatedly written on it. Two people in front cut it with a pair of scissors. Behind them is a big brick building with windows and maroon and gray panelling. Photo by Nadir Ali

Can anything be built in Detroit without subsidies?

By Dennis Archambault

Despite its identity as a comeback city, Detroit still remains a “weak market” in development terms. Most projects are unable to secure sufficient financing, leaving a “gap”—the difference between development costs and what market rents or projected commercial revenue can support. For Detroit, that gap can be significant.

A dense residential street on Detroit’s east side. Photo by Michelle Gerard

How a mismanaged property tax break creates winners and losers in Detroit

By Katlyn Alo

The city assessor takes a backseat approach to enforcement, often using inaccurate data and relying on state intervention to rescind exemptions. As a result, in a city where many homeowners have and continue to face foreclosure for a few hundred dollars of tax debt, other property owners are wrongfully receiving tax deductions for similar amounts.

A group of people in hardhats and yellow vests stand in the center of a gutted room. Above them is a large oval leaded-glass skylight. Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

Photo Essay: Take a rare look inside the Book Tower

By Michelle & Chris Gerard

The ornate Book Tower, designed by renowned architect Louis Kamper, is an impressive work of Italian Renaissance architecture. The ornamentation—in particular the columns, florets, and figures—on the exterior of the 38-floor building have been admired since it opened in 1926. Anyone can see these details (though you might need binoculars to truly appreciate them). But few have seen the interior of the building since the last commercial tenant left in 2009.

A black farmer in a white shirt holds a chicken. Photo by Michelle Gerard

Detroit’s farmers are losing patience with the city’s outdated livestock laws

By Aaron Mondry

It wasn’t the first time her and her partner Zomi Huron have gotten the fine, and it probably won’t be the last. They’ve been keeping animals for years and live on a block with lots of vacancies and only six neighbors, none of whom mind the animals.

An old black and white photograph of five men, two sitting, with one signing a document. Albert Kahn Associates

How Detroit’s architect helped the Soviet Union industrialize

By Irene Brisson

By May 1929, Kahn’s firm had secured a contract to design and supervise the construction of a tractor factory 650 miles southeast of Moscow. The Stalingrad Tractor Factory was designed by workers in Albert Kahn Associates’ office in Detroit, built from prefabricated steel components shipped from the United States, and outfitted with U.S.-manufactured machinery. Truly, the factory was an American import to the Soviet Union.

A large room with cement floors and art on the white walls. People mingle and look at the art. Photo by Michelle Gerard

Remembering the Baltimore Gallery

By Cynthia Lee

“It was a place of black excellence, is the best way to put it,” Brass says. “People knew this was a place they could go and experience the real artistry of Detroit and not the makeshift corporate part of it.”

A home with white vinyl siding at dusk. The front porch is lit with strung Edison bulbs. Photo by Kate Gowman

Renovating with respect

By Aaron Mondry

The house was owned for almost exactly 50 years by Rosa Mae and Louis Hill, who raised their three sons there. While clearing out items in the attic, Gowman and Graham found old photographs of the family listening to music in the living room, proudly wearing suits on the steps to the front porch, dumping a cooler full of fish on the backyard lawn to grill.

A four-story beige and brown building with a few people, cars, and bikes out front. Detroit Catholic Pastoral Alliance

What does affordable housing mean in “New Detroit”?

By Biba Adams

“There is only so much housing stock and people who get this assistance tend to keep it,” Henriquez says. “It’s a very scarce commodity, so one would have to be prepared to wait at least two years, if not longer.”

Hart Plaza

1 Hart Plaza, , MI 48226 (313) 877-8057 Visit Website

Book Tower

, , MI 48226

Detroit Police Training Academy

6050 Linwood Street, , MI 48208 Visit Website
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