Detroit: Depressing and Amazing at the Same Time

Posted on Sunday, June 24, 2012 by Rob

By Rob Meronek

When I first got to Detroit and saw the miles and miles of run down neighborhoods and abandoned buildings, I was amazed that it reminded me of parts of Cuba I visited. How can this happen in America? I learned a lot walking through these neighborhoods and talking to some residents. I know everyone says skateboarding is the best thing ever, but after learning about this scene in Detroit and what skateboarders are doing there, you really understand that this skateboard thing and the culture of it is truly something special. Here are some photos and words...

The first thing you expect when rolling into a neighborhood that's looking this run down is a rough, unsafe scene and vibe. After I walked around a bit shooting photos, I quickly realized that's not the case. Between abandoned and half burned down houses are families living that nod to you as you walk by. They hang out on the front porch as opposed to hiding in backyard privacy as most modern neighborhoods are built.
One of the first people I met was Maureen. She waved to me walking by so I asked for the photo and had a long conversation with her. She had heard about the Boards for Bros distribution going on and asked me to get a board for her for her grandson. When I came back with one, she dug through her pockets trying to offer me money. She purchased this home for about $12,000 over 30 years ago and has lived in it since, witnessing the slow decline of the neighborhood day by day. We were both born in the Philippines and the similarities she has to my mother were nearly bringing a tear to my eye.
The Emerica crew has been collecting used boards and getting donations from companies like Independent and Spitfire to build this pile of boards they're giving out for Boards for Bros today.
One of the lots in this run down neighborhood is where Tony Miorana and crew are hard at work building an amazing skate spot from all kinds of donated materials and services that have been coming in from the skate community. They're calling it Ride It Sculpture.
Schaefer and Bryan Herman are getting put on blast by HiDefJoe who is helping us make an episode of SPoT Life out of this.
Timothy Nickloff, Mark Waters, and Jeff Henderson from Emerica with Brian Schaefer.
This is these kids' last photo as a non-skater.
I hope it sticks and that silly piece of simple wood and wheels has the same impact on their lives as it has had on mine.
Welcome to skateboarding, little homies. Maybe one day you'll be contributing to this skate scene and neighborhood with love and sweat like the grown-ups around you right now.
Sean, Jordan, Andrew, and Tom - thanks for helping to assemble the boards.
I'm back to wandering the neighborhood and found another pack of new skateboarders from Boards for Bros.
Man, it's pretty depressing seeing home after home empty, burned, and/or condemned with a random one here and there with residents. I still can't believe this is America. After all this traveling, this is one of the places that hit me a little hard.
After hearing the story of the artist houses and budding skate scene here, I couldn't be more proud to be a skateboarder and part of the culture of art and music that goes with it. This home was bought for $900 by Juxtapoz Magazine, which is in the High Speed family of mags that includes Thrasher Magazine. They raised a six figure sum of money to donate to a fund to get artists to turn the houses into beautiful productions like this one. Some artists ended up purchasing the home for $2,000 and now live here, continuing work on this house and others on the street. All of this is planting the seed here to one day make this a neighborhood with more style and real culture than your average cookie cutter suburb. These homes and the skaters contributing to them are a true diamond in the rough.
One of the artists invited us in to check out their home.
This is a chandelier upstairs that goes from the ceiling to the floor.
Funny, until you see who it's from.
Looking into one of the bedrooms.
Knick knacks.
The bees keys.
Back at the skate park, the progress from just the two days we were there seemed to be moving very quickly.
Skate photographer Joe Brook is one of the main dudes behind getting this whole movement off the ground. I would like to return here in 20 years to see the impact of all this. It's going to be mind blowing.
This house is in fairly good shape and obviously has a family living in it, but next to it is a condemned home and a burned down one next to that. There are blocks and blocks and miles and miles of neighborhoods like this.
Another lived in home next to a partially burned down house. I wonder why so many homes are half burnt up like that?
It was nice to see a good amount of American flags in front of homes. This person has a stuffed tiger on a leash upstairs.
Not sure what was growing on this "farm," but the homemade fence looks pretty good. There's a nice string of decent homes here.
This is another artist house where the roof was modified to have solar panels installed for power to make it self-sustained. The organization and people managing the donations (both private and government) is called Power House Productions.
Another one of the artist houses on this street.
That's the sound house. As you can guess, musicians are doing great things in there. Find out more about everything going on in this neighborhood from the skate park to the art/music scene at http://powerhouseproductions.org. There are a few places I've traveled that leave me a thousand times more thankful than I already am to have what I have and Detroit is definitely one of them. It's good to see the skate community part of the small everyday steps that are needed to get neighborhoods like this back to greatness. Man, am I waxing poetic overboard on this or what? I can't help it. This experience moved me good.

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