Posts Tagged ‘neighborhood streets’

It’s been a long cold winter, but over the past weekend the warmer weather of spring finally made its way into the Detroit area.  I took advantage of the sunny days by hitting the streets on my bicycle. On one of my bicycle adventures, I worked my way out to Belle Isle Park by passing through the rough and tumble neighborhoods on Detroit’s eastside. It’s a section of the city where I’m always amazed by the vast open fields where thousands of single-family homes once stood. Depending on the particular street, there are remnants of small manufacturing facilities, some still in operation and others abandoned and standing open to the elements.

What I find interesting is how many of the old industrial buildings were constructed around the vintage 1900-era frame houses. It’s almost like a horseshoe layout, with the homes setting in the middle and the old factories surrounding them. In some cases you see chained-link fencing with barbed wire running the along the top. This lines the property between the businesses and the few remaining homes that are still left standing. I can only imagine what Detroit must have been like in its prime! The factories were filled with workers that lived in those small frame homes in neighborhoods all across the city.

Only a couple of house were left on the industrial street

Only a couple of houses were left on the industry lined street

Lyman Place is one of the rare eastside streets I’ve ridden on that still have a few of these homes surrounded by factories. One in particular appeared to be lived in. Not only was the small shotgun style wood frame house surrounded by small industrial buildings and secured parking lots, but the people living there had their house secured with their own fencing and security doors. As I rode by, I didn’t see any signs of life but felt like I was being watched from within, as is the case in many of the neighborhoods I ride through.

This house looked to be lived in

This house looked to be lived in

I circled the block to get a rear view of the old house. Someone must have been watching, because soon after I stopped to take a picture from the adjoining parking lot behind, a huge German Sheppard came running from the front of house barking like crazy. Somebody in the place must have seen me and let the dog out into the fenced yard, as a message that someone was home and watching.

Rear view of the house with a factory directly across the street

Back of the house with a factory across the street

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Holbrook Street between I-75 and Oakland Street is like many Detroit neighborhood streets. It is lined with open fields, a couple of graffiti covered abandoned commercial buildings and a few old homes that are in pretty good shape. There’s a Coney Island restaurant near I-75, and that’s about it for active businesses along that street. Essentially, there is nothing remarkable about that little stretch of Holbrook on the city’s near North End Neighborhood.

However, something curious in one of the fields did catch my eye while riding along the street a few weeks ago. It was a small stack of cubes or blocks that reminded me of a wedding cake or something similar. They were stacked four high, in a field on the south side of Holbrook, with the largest being on the bottom. All four were painted bright white and each featured a simple letter in various colors on each side, much like alphabet blocks that little kids used early on to build words. But these are a bit different from the traditional kid’s blocks.

AMOR is on both sides of the blocks in the same order

FATI are the other four letters found on the blocks

Only eight letters were used on two sides of each block: AMOR and FATI. Why those letters?  That’s the big unknown about this art project. In walking around the stack I saw no reference to its meaning, the artist, when it was installed, etc. While poking around the sculpture, I found it interesting that the blocks were set-up on what looked to be an aged terrazzo floor. The smooth floor must have been part of a store or business of some type and has now become part of the landscape.

Remnants of a once elegant floor is where the blocks rest

Like other mysterious art installations I’ve come across and blogged about such as “Painted Dirt” and the orange figures from the “Oakland North of Grand Boulevard” entry, the origin may never be known. If anyone has any information or insight into these unusual blocks or the outdoor art found in the two stories mentioned above (click on each to read the story), I would appreciate a posting about them in the comments section of this story.

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What’s with all the stray shopping carts scattered across this city?  While riding around the streets of Detroit, I see them everywhere. They’re in weed filled fields or lots; in the yards of vacant homes; on pedestrian free sidewalks; and some are randomly parked in the middle of a street that is lined with manufacturing facilities.  The odd thing is there are usually no food markets or other retailers in the area where I see many of the vagrant carts.  In fact, there usually isn’t any businesses within blocks, or in some cases miles, that may have the carts available to their shoppers. It’s as if the derelict carts were magically dropped from the sky to their special place in a field or street.

The abandoned metal and plastic 4-wheel carts I see are used in many ways. I’ve seen them piled high with what appears to be trash. Others are filled with old mattresses, wood, metal debris, and various urban treasures. I also see poor people slowly pushing carts filled with scrap metal along lonely streets. I can only assume they are on their way to a nearby scrap yard in hopes of making a few bucks by selling the junk they managed to collect. Generally, it seems they are being used by impoverished people as haulers to move their unusual stuff, as if they were major freight transporters delivering produce or products across the city and beyond.

Street-smart entrepreneurs also use them as mobile stores. I’ve seen the buskers pushing carts full of candy, pop, potato chips, and other miscellaneous items along sparsely populated streets yelling out, “Everything is a dollar.” They remind me of ice cream trucks that work the streets, but without the loud obnoxious music.  Sadly, the homeless and unfortunate people of this city use them to store and transport their meager goods. The carts they push along at a crawling pace are usually packed full and overflowing with trash bags and other small make-shift containers, all stuffed with their worldly possessions.

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Detroit is a great city for bicycling. The neighborhood streets and major roads carrying car traffic in and out of the city are super wide. Quite a few of them are one way, making for ideal cycling. Throughout busy Southwest Detroit and sections of midtown, many miles of bike lanes have been installed, and from what I understand, more are coming. Over on the city’s eastside, there’s been progress on the Conner Park Greenway that will eventually extend from the Detroit River out to Eight Mile Road, a distance of about nine miles.

In addition to the wide streets and bike lanes that make for easy city riding, one of the best things I like about riding the streets of Detroit is the lack of traffic. It’s not uncommon for me to ride two to three miles on major three-lane, one-way roads or on two-way streets without a single car passing me in either direction. Although Detroit lost over half its population in the last 40-years, (thus fewer cars on the streets) it’s still a major American urban center. Considering its size, the lack of traffic on the city’s streets is incredible to me.

Obviously not all the streets and roads are void of cars. Woodward, Michigan, Gratiot Avenue, and others always have plenty of traffic. One of the things that I don’t understand about riding on the wide, less traveled one-way streets is that most cars don’t generally move out of the right hand lane.  I’ll be pedaling close to the right curb, and they still whiz closely by, even though the left lane(s) are completely open with lots of space for them to move over. Drivers must be programmed to stay in the right hand lane, no matter what.

Bicyclists in Detroit are fortunate to have access to lightly traveled streets and roads. Their openness makes for enjoyable, stress free rides.  Of course, there’s the exception of stray dogs, but that’s another story.

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