Space is the ‘Place’

(Editor-at-Large Walter Wasacz writes a weekly column on life in Hamtramck.)

By Walter Wasacz

Place is the new desired space. “Psychogeography” is replacing the old mantra of “location, location, location” when it comes to real estate, or more to the point “unreal estate.”

Before you conclude I’m just babbling or talking gibberish, consider what’s been happening of late in Hamtramck and neighborhoods just north of the city.

Art spaces and organizations in the city like Hatch, the Hamtramck Historical Commission, Popps Packing, Public Pool and 2739 Edwin are helping to transform the cultural landscape by making something — building legacies on the wings of creative thought turned into action — out of nothing.

Well, not exactly nothing.

What stood before were commercial properties: warehouses, hospital extensions converted into police stations, social halls, bars converted into health clinics. The buzz words of the moment are recycle and reuse — and that’s exactly what’s happening in the case of various properties transformed or transforming into something other than what their original builders intended.

The rehab and reconditioning buzz is likely to continue — bet on it — as sprawl into far-reaching suburban properties becomes unsustainable. People with energy and ideas want to be among other people with energy and ideas. And that won’t happen in isolation on sub-divided land 30 miles from the core of the city.

Hamtramck, centrally fixed close to the center of 140-square mile Detroit (not counting the suburbs that make up the entire region, the city proper is a sprawling metropolis that urbanists now like to say can contain Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco within its borders) is in an ideal position to prosper as more innovative redevelopers set up stake here.

Before some of you readers panic and fear the worst (i.e. the cries heard in the 1990s that Hamtramck was becoming the “next Royal Oak.”) take a look at what Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert — a married couple who began an outside-the-box consulting business, art gallery and boutique called Design 99 on Jos. Campau a few years ago then moved it to Caniff before consolidating it into other projects in their NoHam neighborhood — are doing at their Power House and related projects.

The neighborhood, north of Carpenter, west of Conant, south of Davison, is where the famed $100 house is located. It was purchased by friends of the couple — Cope is a fine artist, Reichert an architect — who are moving from Chicago to rehab the property as a live and work space. Various creative public projects are planned for the location in the future.

Another house in the neighborhood was purchased by a Detroit architect for slightly more — $1,100. Make that $3,300 including taxes and closing fees. His plan is to make it a “floating house,” by keeping it at the same height as it was when it was built in 1922, but replacing the foundation with more solid material than the original cinder block.

On another block in what we’ll dub the Power House neighborhood — named for a house Cope and Reichert are renovating totally off the traditional grid using solar and other sources for all power — a group of Dutch artists and researchers set up a series of talks in a large hole inside an abandoned house.

Kresge Grant Award winner Steve Hughes, who lives in Hamtramck and is co-founder of the Public Pool art space on Caniff, gave a talk last week in total darkness before a standing room-only crowd. The peculiar event shot around the world via Twitter and a German blog a few days later. It was awesome and strange, rolling cultural energies forward in ways few people could have imagined just a few years ago.

Next week, I’ll preview an art crawl that will include some of the spaces talked about above in and around Hamtramck. Extraordinary things are happening on the street. Bottom line: it’s real life, expressed in real time.

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