the first year i was in detroit, i needed to build up a bike, one that was appropriate for city riding. ma hadn’t had a bike since she was 14 years old so we needed to get her something to ride too. a bike shop was pretty much out of the questions, both in terms of finances, and my general hatred for the aesthetics of new bikes (though if anyone wants to get me a new rivendell i wouldn’t be opposed). we found ourselves drawn to a community bike space called back alley bikes which has since turned into my favorite semi-for profit community bike space, the hub. while working on my bike i overheard a conversation between paul who was running the space and another gentleman. “well that’s the guy you want to talk to over there, gardening is what he does.” next thing i knew i was being distracted from building up a new bike by being introduced to xavier, an older gentleman with a well-groomed beard, and the slow laid back speaking pattern of someone who had spent a good amount of southern california. i don’t think he had spent anytime in california but most conversations started with a drawn out “heeeyyy maaaann”. i’ve run across a lot of folks who want to start gardens, and while i wouldn’t say i’m a skeptic, i do have my doubts about how many of the people i talk with actually start gardens, but i treat everyone the same – assuming that i’m not wasting my time.
i didn’t need to wonder very long though – in spite of what seemed like ambitious plans, xavier was in it to win it. he would often show up at my place of work and pepper me with questions. what eventually would develop was a jewel of the lower cass corridor; birdtown gardens.
named after the birdtown pet store that used to sit next door, birdtown quickly developed a local following and i came to know several of the gardeners and make good friends. birdtown flourished; an example of what a community garden could be, well-organized and maintained. it was especially popular with photographers, because of its proximity to large buildings, and was even featured in oprah’s magazine o. i’d like to think because of birdtown others felt like it would be a good location for a business, with canine to five opening next door and the burton theater across the street.
about six months ago i started hearing rumors that canine to five was planning to purchase the lots where birdtown was. i was surprised, i’d always thought the owner of canine was pretty darn decent person and supportive of the garden. but birdtown didn’t have any ownership of the land, in fact it was owned by the city. though a bunch of tough hearings, and some pretty critical reporting, canine to five was awarded ownership of the land. my friends were crushed, and rather than relocate, they decide to simply dig the perennials out that remained, and have on last party.
i sat by the fire and caught up with friends i hadn’t seen in a while, toasted to all the good years, and pedaled off into the night. sad to see another garden gone, and wondering if i would feel differently if i owned a dog. i don’t think i would, i’m gonna miss that garden – and no amount of taxes for the city is going to change my feelings.