The Hanging Gardens project, as you may have heard, was undertaken by a group of volunteers from Team Detroit who created a vertical garden on the walls of the burned-up-but-being-fixed-up Forest Arms apartment building. When I left town the kickoff had just taken place. The overall impression was a lot of green bags hanging from the windows of a burned-out building, which wasn't actually very exciting yet.
A party at the Hanging Gardens, then, seemed like the best time to check out the progress, and the perfect time to make a return to Detroit society. As it were.
I arrived at the party in a pissy mood, having just left a friendly but rather heated discussion with a local developer about the value of authenticity (or as it devolved, "douchebaggery" vs. "funkiness"), and then the passenger window in my long-suffering ride decided to get a little flakey. I really, really was not in the mood to leave my car with the window open, as I am sure you can imagine, so I hastily remedied that and headed into the party.
With the flowers grown in and the Forest Arms wrapped around a cocktail party in full swing, my bad mood evaporated. It was as if someone had gathered a couple dozen of my favorite Detroiters and put them into one surreal, uniquely Detroit setting. Which come to think of it is exactly what happened.
Oh I could name names, but all you need to do is read any issue of Model D, or pick up a newspaper or watch a documentary and you'll have a pretty good idea who was there. Detroit movers and (until they get a drink in them) shakers. A wide array of old-timers and newcomers. And a whole slew of Team Detroiters, the folks who set the whole thing in motion. All people who get Detroit and the possibilities life here presents.
The party was Detroit summer perfection. A beautiful night, a smattering of funky furniture, no shortage of gossip - I mean, conversation - and food and drinks borne of this local food movement that is so awesome I can hardly believe it is happening here.
We wandered through the building, my friends and I, checking out the rehab work and we ended up on the roof, where the party had partially migrated.
It's been a long time since I've had a more authentically Detroit moment than standing on the rooftop of an empty building with a drink in my hand, watching Robert M. Nelson tell one of his ribald jokes through a megaphone to an appreciative audience.
Oh Robert, what would Detroit 2010 be without you?
I can't lie, in the chaos of wrapping up my loose ends in May I had my doubts about the merits of this project. Seeing it in full bloom, this almost formal flower garden set against the reversal of a ruin, I now find it to be an interesting foil to the whole "nature reclaiming the city" meme. And of course, it really is quite beautiful. It's a great example of what some creative thinking can do to mitigate what might otherwise stand as a symbol of loss, rehabilitation notwithstanding.
If you happen to find yourself near the intersection of Forest and Second, take a few moments to walk around and enjoy the Hanging Gardens. Like most cool things in Detroit, it won't be long before the moment is over.
I am, naturally, very grateful my homecoming coincided with such a unique experience at the Hanging Gardens; it reinforced everything I'd gleaned from my travels, and everything I was discussing just before the party. If I were Noel Coward I would write a clever little song to sum up the evening, but I'm not. So all I can say is this: I couldn't have liked it more.