"Green Garage: Defining Sustainability," was first published on Detroit je t'aime, and republished on Mode Shift with permission.
DETROIT — When Henry Ford made the first “quadricycle,” he’d thought of everything except how to get the damn thing out of his workshop. So he ordered that the walls be knocked down.
The Green Garage, built in 1920, used to be one of several auto dealerships in Cass Corridor. By that time, Ford’s lesson was learned and Ames – those old cars without rearview mirrors, that used Model T chassis – would come and go through two giant doors. Today those two doors are lofty windows. Behind them you can see young entrepreneurs at work.
Back in 2008, Tom and Peggy Brennan bought the building which at the time was a bricked up warehouse. Together they had a vision for an eco-friendly and sustainable business incubator. They transformed the Garage with a community of 200 people.
Now, the structure of the Garage looks like a reversed boat. It’s all wood and natural light pierces through the roof. Living in Japan for three years inspired the Brennans to create the first green alley in Detroit, where you can find a wide array of Michigan native herbs and flowers.
I was Parisian in another life — the Green Garage rightfully reminds me of a tiny version of the “104,” yet with friendlier people. At the open house last March, the Midwest warmth reached its climax. Tom said “the building was happy” to see the space filled again with people after so many years. Partly because of the old wood the Garage was made of, history is very present here.
Peggy found out that three French farmers used to occupy this land in the mid-1700s: Jacques Godet, Jean-Baptiste Des Butes and François Barrios. Here I am now, with the Detroit je t’aime crew… As a friend told me, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
There’s something in the 21st century’s air, and it’s colored green. Detroit is at the forefront of the “fix-it society.” It’s about fixing and transforming instead of throwing away and replacing. One of the businesses in residence is Mend, owned by Jason Peet. The concept: salvaged wood from soon-to-be-destroyed houses gets turned into pieces of furniture. Jason will add a special feature: the history of who lived in that house will come in a leaflet together with the piece. Another business: FoodLab, owned by Jess Daniel, looks at empowering locally owned, socially and environmentally responsible food enterprises.
New businesses or buildings that open up in that part of town often get accused of “gentrifying” Detroit. After prosperous times, the Cass Corridor became one of the poorest areas of the city from the sixties onward. The recent opening of lofts and art galleries in that area is set to ultimately raise rents and push people out.
Yet, if Tom and Peggy are “children of the white flight” now returning to the city, they’ve embraced the community in a holistic way. They’ve proven that it’s possible to rehab a building without making any waste. Better yet, without throwing anything away. Even better: by making it an open space and inspiring visitors to live green.
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*Detroit je t’aime joined Green Garage as a community-in-residence fellow this past March — you can find us working there each Wednesday this summer.