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Public Square - Staff Picks 

Our staff picks for Metro Detroit

Best Example of Journalism Shaking  Things Up

WXYZ-TV's "Wayne County 

Confidential" series

Back in September, WXYZ's investigative team broke the story that Turkia Mullin, newly hired to be director of the Wayne County Airport Authority, received a $200,000 severance payment as she was leaving her post as the cash-strapped county's economic development director. Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano immediately began stonewalling and obfuscating as the scandal exploded, other area media began piling on and then the FBI rolled on in. Since then, there have been a slew of firings and resignations. Two former members of Team Ficano have been charged with federal felonies, and another has been indicted. Mullin was fired from the airport post and repaid the severance. The FBI investigation is ongoing, an attempted recall of Ficano is under way. And the station has rightly received an armful of well-deserved awards for the work. Earning kudos have been reporters Heather Catallo and Ross Jones, editor Randy Lundquist and photographers Ramon Rosario and Johnny Sartin. Ann Mullen, an MT alum, is the executive producer of WXYZ-TV's investigative unit.

Best Change to Local   

Left-Wing Radio

Thom Hartmann's new time slot on WDTW/1310 AM

The way we see it, the sanest voice on the radio airwaves belongs to Thom Hartmann. He provides a wealth of knowledge, rational discourse and honest debate instead of inflammatory rhetoric. A student of history, this Michigan native's nationally syndicated show is a must listen for anyone who wants to be politically well-informed. And the best thing is that listening in this area recently got much easier when Hartmann's live call-in program moved to the afternoon drive-time slot. Check it out weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m.

Best Thing About Local Right-Wing Radio

Charlie Langton's show on   WXYT-AM/1270

Granted, Charlie usually comes off as being entirely overcaffeinated, especially at 6 in the morning. And his voice is set at a constant level: LOUD! But for a guy who occupies the same home on the local radio dial as extremist nut jobs like Glenn Beck and Laura Ingram, Langton is refreshingly — dare we say it — moderate. A lawyer with a regular gig as a commentator on the local Fox TV affiliate, Langton actually uses his radio show to promote actual debate, and does it in a way that's generally respectful. Rush Limbaugh he ain't. And that's a very good thing. Airing 6-9 weekday mornings, the show is worth listening to, even if you're a liberal.

Best Local Reality  TV Stars

The Gold Family

Hardcore Pawn, truTV

The father-and-kids melodrama of Hardcore Pawn, swirling around the daily customer encounters and backroom battles of Detroit pawnbroker Les Gold (could there be a better name for a man in his profession?), his son, Seth, and daughter, Ashley Gold Broad, remains the top-rated show on truTV in its sixth season. It has even spawned a spinoff series, Hardcore Pawn Fort Bragg, to premiere on truTV later this year. It'll have to go some to match the raw outrageousness of the original: Even though you know the family squabbles are magnified for the sake of the camera and Detroiters don't really display their ignorant backsides in public like that for the world to see (do we?), the viewing experience of Hardcore Pawn is an irresistibly guilty delight.

Best Low-Power 

Radio Station

1610-AM, The Station

11758 Sobieski St., Hamtramck; 313-718-1610; am1610.org

Since May 2009, tech geek Steven Cherry has been sending low-power AM signal from his home in Hamtramck. He built a studio for the station later that year, and it regularly hosts local luminaries who create their own radio programming, with Cherry as station manager. Of course, that all sounds much more official than the way he puts it: "We are your weird friends with lots of records," he says, in his typically disarming way. But local rockers have shows, including Jeffrey Fournier and Timmy "Vulgar" Lampinen of Timmy's Organism, as does local tavern owner and record collector Andy Dow of the Painted Lady, as well as MT's own Michael Jackman. The new shows are broadcast live on Sundays, and rebroadcast throughout the week, not just on the airwaves but streaming on the website. Most of the time, it's just freeform fun, but Cherry hopes to engage the community as much as possible. He says, "Call us or send us a text. Leave a clever message and maybe we'll play it on the air."

Best Reason We Still Have a Hoedown in Motown

Tim Roberts, program director, WYCD-FM

The Downtown Hoedown celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer, meaning Detroit undeniably was country before country was cool. But think about it: How many cities south of the Mason-Dixon would relish the idea of stealing away such a massive outdoor musical tradition and claiming it as their own — indeed, believe it should be their birthright? One of the prime movers behind keeping the country kickin' here is Roberts, who this year was named Numero Uno among all country radio programmers in America, according to the publication Radio Ink. He's considered one of the most powerful people in country music and a native Detroiter, so much of what happens surrounding keeping the Hoedown here — including its move to the more spacious and easier-to-access Comerica Park this year — conforms to Roberts' rules of order. And even though the formerly free festival is a ticketed, paid event for the first time, the alternative — thousands of visitors staying away from downtown the first weekend in June, and keeping their cash in their pockets — sounds as sad as a country ballad.

Best Arts Campaign 

Fela! at Music Hall 

It was audacious in the first place for Music Hall to bring the Broadway show Fela! here for a three-week run — a $1.6 million gamble. But Music Hall Prexy and Artistic Director Vince Paul and his crew went beyond traditional marketing and fundraising in cobbling together a web of more than 40 collaborators: philanthropic souls, corporations and institutions. There were presentations in schools (tying the Nigerian activist-musician's Afro-beat to hip hop), Fela-related exhibits at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center, etc. The show more than broke even dollar-wise, but in bringing disparate Detroiters together around a timely message, Fela! was a smash. 

Best Poet for Busy People

Ken Mikolowski

Not that he can't stretch out, but Mikolowski's poems can make haikus seem long-winded by 10, 15, even 16 syllables. Even as he cuts down the reading time, the reader still needs to have time to ponder, and if you can't give even that, you're too busy for poetry or art and can skip a couple items down the list. If you're still with us, we'll note that the poem titled "THINGS TO DO IN AN ECONOMIC CRISIS" advises "Buy low / stay high." "WAY TO GO" cuts to the quick: "Gone." Mikolowski, who is a lecturer in the University of Michigan's Residential College, tells us he recently completed a 75-poem — two-lines max — manuscript for a new book of poetry titled THAT THAT. Here's a preview: The poem "REALITY" reads "not really."

Best Hope for the Detroit Institute of Arts 

The people 

Visit the DIA's website and you'll see the latest on great goings-on. Free Friday night music, award-winning films, world-renowned offerings from the standing collection (such as Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Wedding Dance" and the Rivera murals). What you don't get is the sense of how precarious it all is. With the city and state support now zeroed out, the museum is throwing a hail Mary pass by seeking a 0.2 mill property tax in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. Without that kind of a cash infusion, museum Director Graham Beal foresees an institution open only for limited weekend hours, a rump institution. Wayne County Commissioners have OK'd a ballot measure, which would raise an annual $9 million if passed. Oakland County is still undecided on authorizing a ballot measure to raise an estimated $11 million; Macomb commissioners nixed and at press time were reconsidering a ballot measure to raise $3 million. Residents of counties passing millages would get free admission and bragging rights as arts patrons and saviors. Past efforts for cultural taxes have had mixed success (no to a 16-institution cultural tax, no to an earlier DIA proposal, yes to the Detroit Zoo). Could energizing the base of artists and arts lovers make a crucial difference for the DIA this time? 

Best Art Idea to Steal 

Lansing's Old Town Scrapfest

oldtownscrapfest.com 

This isn't a big-purse undertaking like Grand Rapids' ArtPrize, and it doesn't generate international waves, but it is modest in size, cool and easy to replicate. Sculpture teams get one hour to grab as much as 500 pounds of junk of their choosing at a scrap yard, then two weeks to build sculptures that are displayed during outdoor events, voted on by the public and finally auctioned off to raise money for ... more public arts projects. It's now entering its fourth year in Lansing. Let's see, we have scrap yards, artists, art-appreciative audiences and plenty of public arts projects that need funding. Let's have fun like they do in Lansing. 

Best New Pro Sports Team

American Ultimate Disc League's Detroit Mechanix 

theaudl.com, detmechanix.com

Go ahead and laugh at the American Ultimate Disc League. But the professional Ultimate Frisbee organization kicked off this month, and its Detroit-based team, the Detroit Mechanix, is ready for action. And the Pontiac Silverdome is going to see some consistent action again courtesy of the Mechanix home games. It's a bit like soccer, or maybe basketball, only with a Frisbee! Fans of ultimate, take note, as well: The sport's longstanding tradition, commonly referred to as "Spirit of the Game" — of leaving it up to players to make calls on the field — has been tossed out the window. The league is using refs, and, as AUDL founder and president Josh Moore recently told Slate, this will probably get more people to take the sport seriously. The Silverdome will also play host to the AUDL's first championship game on Aug. 11.

Best Creative Class Mingle 

Drinks x Design

We're reluctant to blow our own horn, but you might think we're holding back if you haven't gotten word already. Once a month, Metro Times teams up with Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) and Quicken Loans — plus other outfits such as CCS and AIGA Detroit — to corral a local design shop to open its doors for a happy hour, typically followed by cocktails at a nearby bar or restaurant. It's an opportunity to hang out, network and talk up Detroit as a burgeoning center for design and creative innovation. It happens the second Thursday of the month. Past mingles have included Skidmore Design Studios, Digitas and Signal-Return. On May 10, we're at Kraemer Design Group, (1420 Broadway, downtown Detroit; thekraemeredge.com). Watch for Drinks X Design updates at MT's Facebook page (you like us already, right?) or e-mail drinksxdesign@metrotimes.com.

Best Day to Be a Fish at the Belle Isle Aquarium

Shiver on the River

Though the Belle Isle Aquarium officially closed its doors to the public back in 2005, there's still one day a year when metro Detroiters can get their fill of early 20th century watery amusements. As part of Shiver on the River, Belle Isle's cold-weather celebration held annually in early February, the Belle Isle Aquarium opens for one day between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Visitors step through a Beaux Arts-style arched entryway into a veritable aquarium museum: When it closed, it was the oldest continuously operated aquarium on the continent. Though small by contemporary standards, the building pays homage to an earlier era in Detroit's history — and it still brings in the crowds. At this year's Shiver on the River, more than 2,500 people reportedly lined up for a look. Not so bad for an attraction that's officially closed for business.

Best Gardening Deal for City Residents

The Garden Resource Program

313-285-2300; detroitagriculture.net

A joint endeavor of such organizations as the Greening of Detroit, Earthworks Farm and the Detroit Agricultural Network, the Garden Resource Program provides seeds, plants, educational classes and more for new and existing urban gardens in Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck. Last year, the program offered resources to 1,351 urban vegetable gardens. The program dispensed 49,858 seed packs, and 230,296 transplants of more than 73 varieties of fruits and vegetables, encouraging a growing network of gardeners and urban ag advocates trying to ensure a thriving, locally based food system in the city. Neighborhood-based cluster groups allow growers to meet one another and share resources and opportunities, making them eligible for additional resources, such as tilling, compost, flowers, woodchips, weed fabric, volunteers, even a tool-sharing program.

Best Way to Build Community with Beer

Tashmoo Biergarten

Van Dyke between Agnes and Coe streets, Detroit; tashmoodetroit.com

Early last year, this corner of Van Dyke in West Village was an empty lot with an overgrown tree in the back. It was less a place for people to hang out than to cut through to the alley. It sure wasn't that way in the fall. It was fenced-in, filled with crowded, communal tables and benches, becoming for a few Sundays a place where revelers drank Michigan craft beer, listened to music, ate local food and played beanbag games. From old codgers to young kids, from locals to yokels, it was suddenly alive with chatter and mirth. The empty parcel had become a pop-up, open-air beer hall — the Tashmoo Biergarten — all the work of "Team Tashmoo." Tashmoo organizers Suzanne Vier, owner of Simply Suzanne granola company, and Aaron Wagner, a buyer for a purchasing company, pointed to the boost beer gardens had gotten since the late 1990s, when hipsters started crashing places like Queens' traditional Bohemian Beer Garden. The phenomenon there has grown to where even pop-up, temporary beer gardens spring up, which led Vier to propose one for the Villages neighborhoods. "In Eastern Europe, beer gardens are a place to come together. ... In Eastern European culture, it's not just about drinking; it's about food, music, families — it's an open and inviting place." They created it, and it was such a success they intend to bring it back this year, starting at noon on Saturday, May 19. Frankly, anything that can turn a vacant lot in Detroit into a gathering place demands attention.

Best Food Desert Fighters

Peaches & Greens

8838 Third Ave., Detroit; 313-870-9210; 10

a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, noon-4 p.m.

Saturday; centraldetroitchristian.org

As "food desert" becomes part of the local lexicon, awareness has grown that vendors of fresh fruit and vegetables underserve vast swaths of Detroit. Shunned by large chain grocers, these neighborhoods are places where residents, many of whom don't have cars, must shop for food at party stores and gas stations, which sell very little in the way of fresh produce. For local residents, this food crisis is a recipe for ill health, obesity and diabetes. As part of the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, the produce market, Peaches and Greens, opened in 2008, offers access to real, fresh food through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance. One of a variety of answers to the "food desert" issue, for almost five years now, Peaches and Greens has made it that much easier for city residents to get the life-giving food they need.

Best Inner-City Duck Farm

Laid in Detroit

4121 Neff Ave., Detroit;

East side Detroiter Suzanne Scoville wasn't always crazy about raising fowl. But when the opportunity to raise ducks for eggs — for culinary use at Detroit's Woodbridge Pub — came her way, she turned the yards of the properties she owns on Neff Avenue into a haven for a brace of ducks. Affectionately dubbed "Mother Nature" by some neighbors, she took to urban duck farming like, well, a duck takes to water. Though you'd think her busy enough already (she supports herself with a day job as a building contractor), Scoville says raising ducks isn't a whole lot of trouble. She says the animals possess an "unreal immune system," handle cold well, and are also more docile, smarter and more resilient than chickens. And the eggs? She says, "They're buttery, very rich, a bit fattier, higher in protein content. The whites come out a little stiffer, which causes baked goods to rise higher, fluffier. That's why bakers like them so much." See Laid in Detroit's Facebook page for more details. 

Best Vision for 

Mass Transit 

Freshwater Railway

FWRail.org.

Here's your transit map for a 14-county area, including: Detroit, Windsor, Lansing, Port Huron, Toledo and more. Six rail lines, 71 rail stations, 82 buses, 90 railcars, 25 locomotives and an easy-to-navigate website (unlike those for the problematic services of DDOT). Sound too good to be true? Well, Neil Greenberg — who refers to himself as a "renegade transit planner" — intended it to be that way. Although Freshwater was simply an idea he drummed up last fall to warp the vision of mass transit from "why can't we" to "how can we" — as he described the process to Model D Media — it serves as a contrast to where we are with mass transit today, with fragmented, often shoddy service and no certainty that improvement plans will come to fruition. Greenberg, though, is plowing ahead. His newest project, Momentum, is a plan to help improve the proposed Regional Transit Authority (currently in the legislative process).

Best Detroit Asset  

to Protect

Water & Sewerage Department

If Detroit should fail to abide by the terms of its consent agreement with the state and lose complete control of city government, don't be surprised if city jewels start to go on sale. We can think of nothing as valuable, or more in need of remaining in public hands, than the third-largest water and sewer utility in the United States. As the problems of climate change continue, and water shortages in other parts of the United States grow more severe, privatized water corporations will be salivating over the prospect of getting their claws into something as essential as Detroit's Water Works Park, which has the potential to produce up to 320 million gallons of drinking water a day. If you want an idea of how the public will react if there are attempts to give a profit-driven company control of something as essential as water, check out the excellent documentary The Water Front, which chronicles the fight that ensued when an appointed manager attempted to sell off Highland Park's water system.

Best Public Project 

to Push Through

New International Trade Crossing

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is in favor of building a new publicly owned bridge across the Detroit River. So are his four gubernatorial predecessors, ditto the governments of Ontario and Canada (willing to pay Michigan's share of the project), the U.S. government, automakers, labor unions, chambers of commerce far and wide. Two key entities are against. There's the Detroit International Bridge Co., owned by the Moroun family, which is willing to spend vast amounts of money and say just about anything in a desperate attempt to stave off the competition the new bridge would offer their near-monopoly. And then there's the Michigan Legislature, under the sway of the Moroun family's largesse. If the Legislature can't be convinced this is the best interest of the region, state and nation, then Gov. Snynder needs to employ one of the options he says are available and get the job done by taking executive action. No other single action can provide this struggling state with the economic benefit the NITC does.

Best Way for Matty Moroun to Improve His Public Image

Give Detroit the Ambassador Bridge or ... 

The 84-year-old billionaire Moroun has already recouped his shrewd investment in the Ambassador Bridge many times over, having leveraged the value of the bridge with duty-free operations and the tax-free truck fueling stations at the Gateway Plaza and all sorts of other businesses. So why not make a grand gesture and give back to the city that has given so much to him? Generating an estimated $60 million to $100 million in revenue annually, the bridge could immediately go a long way toward solving Detroit's financial crisis and put it on a sound footing from which to begin growing again. Matty would immediately go from being a despised villain to a sainted hero remembered for all time as the man who helped save Detroit. ... OK, we're dreaming. But he could at least drop his opposition to the NITC and free the legislators under his sway to do the right thing.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

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