Thursday, March 6, 2008

Briggs Neighborhood

While I love to be the bearer of all things good, at times I instead like to take the interesting and eye opening approach. Recently while in the city I decided to head over to the Briggs neighborhood, which is also called North Corktown. Briggs is located North of old Tiger Stadium and just West of Motor City Casino. The boundaries are approximately Martin Luther King Blvd. to the North, Fisher Freeway West to the West and South, and Grand River Ave. to the East.

To drive up to the neighborhood in a rear wheel drive vehicle with the streets completely unplowed and snow covered, while seeing only 3-4 people along with countless swaths of open fields, certainly left an impression. It might as well have been farm country in Northern Michigan. Yet, this wasn't farm country in Northern Michigan, this was within a mile of the city center of Detroit. The West side of the neighborhood, which is where I was mostly, was completely barren with old deteriorating houses scattered throughout. Otherwise, I found a church, a liquor store and what seemed like a junkyard. That was about it, but this neighborhood was anything but boring. Instead, it was one of the most fascinating scenes I have ever witnessed.

Although much is made of Detroit neighborhoods such as this, which seem to have returned to nature, only a small proportion of Detroit neighborhoods are like this. Again, this is not representative of the Detroit neighborhoods as a whole, as much as hipster film makers on Current TV would like you to believe. Moreover, I'm told that while I mostly stuck to the West side of the Neighborhood, the East side has had recent development and plans for revitalization. Next time I am in the area, I will look further into the East side and update this story.

Although I'm not privy to the entire history of the area, I do know that it has a mixture of both Whites and Blacks living in the area, or what is left of it. Apparently it became known as a neighborhood that had many white people in an overwhelmingly non-white city. If anyone has any more info on the neighborhood's history, feel free to comment.

If you're interested in urban prairie, the effects of suburban sprawl and flight, and the results of a city losing over half its population in a mere 50 years, this is one of the places to check out. It's more than the poverty and urban decay that can be seen in other Detroit neighborhoods because it is past that point. It is on its way to returning to its natural roots from well before Detroit reached its peak of 2 million people.

The pictures can tell the story much better than I. Below are a few of the pictures I took during my excursion, along with a link to the complete set of pictures on Flickr.

The house in the background of the above picture was one of maybe two houses within a radius of 2-3 "plots" in any given direction, although I can't be certain because it is impossible to figure out where property lines are or would be.

Again, while there is basically nothing around this house, it is not abandoned as is the case with other houses in the area.

The vastness of the nothingness around these houses is hard to describe in words. Even the pictures can only tell part of the story.

The above picture shows the ultimate contrast. While a lone home surrounded by empty fields is seen in the forefront, the "retro elegant," and "neo decadent," (their words...not mine) Motor City Casino rises in the background.

While the neighborhood has crumbled and vanished, on the East end, some things still remain. Above is a neighborhood church, which I saw churchgoers (hopefully) come out of. Across the street to the South is also a liquor store which I saw multiple people (multiple meaning around 5) walk into.

This picture gives a pretty good idea of the area. It's something to think about...

Full Detroit-Briggs Neighborhood Flickr Set

Detroit Army


Anonymous said...

hey, i'm on the citizens patrol in Corktown and that chunk of land is on my route.

It is very urban prarie. One oddity is 2 very large very new brick houses...maybe at 15th or 16th street.

but just east towards trumbull things look better with the GCDC housing developments. Phase 2 is on the way.

Go east young man!

Unknown said...

I've been through the east end of this neighborhood, but not the prairie part where you took these pictures. I like the pink and white house. It's cute.

For more info about the history of this neighborhood, I highly recommend that you read the book "Racial Situations" by John Hartigan. The book profiles 3 majority-white neighborhoods in Detroit during the mid-1990s-- Briggs (which is what he calls this neighborhood), Corktown, and Warrendale. The section on Briggs is the most interesting and detailed because Hartigan was actually living there while he did his fieldwork and got to know the people in the neighborhood.

Anonymous said...

Come back in the summer and check out the community garden on Wabash south of Temple in that neighborhood. My girlfriend and I tended a plot in that garden, but almost all of our food was stolen. I suppose whoever took the food must have really needed it.


Anonymous said...

Until you get out and see the entire city (which, based on your "discoveries" of well-known neighborhoods, it seems you haven't)don't gloss over reality by claiming that these neighborhoods are few and far between. There are many, many miles like this, and more that are forming as residents leave the city in greater numbers than those who are moving in.

It's one thing to be positive, it's another thing to lie.

Unknown said...

It is nice to see some of the new housing (habitat for humanity) that has been constructed recently west of Trumbull North of 75.

The area would be a nice area to live in, if we could get everyone to care a bit for what they have. I would like to see Cartigan's (Racial situations, a must read) response to some of the good work being completed over in that area. Impressive. *On a side note: Does anyone know if the houses being built are of the original building plans? They seem to be, even the garages seem original style and the color choices, they are beautiful.