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Shared Spaces Make This Place Our Own

Posted: 04/10/2012 5:56 pm

Space. A lot has been written about space in Detroit: the ready availability of space, the vastness of the city and the extreme ways in which the nature of space can change in just footsteps, from one door to another.

How space is used sends messages. This is where local businesses interject themselves into the discussion of place, space and community interaction. Business possesses the unique ability to convey to a larger audience what is going on, what needs to occur and who we are in our communities. A business can and does create a space that expresses the community and, in the best cases, through food, services and gifts, allows locals and visitors to share in experiences that words can't wholly describe.

Just take a drive down West Vernor known for our Hispanic population as well as having the largest small business community in Detroit. This is where our coffeehouse Café con Leche resides, across from the revitalized Clark Park and LA Sed Community building, just down the block from Mexicantown Bakery & Armandos. In each of these spaces, a unique service and experience can be shared that reflects who we are as Detroiters. We eat bolillos and conchas freshly baked. We drink single shot espressos from single origin farms and cappuccinos with soy milk with froth so thick it sticks to your spoon. We need assistance with legal matters ranging from the mundane to complex issues around immigration and family. We are a successful community that manages our public spaces in a neighborhood full of youthful exuberance. All this can be seen in the shared spaces our local businesses create.

In a very democratic way, businesses get a daily vote from every customer on whether they are utilizing space to service the community. The business makes a profit, breaks even or loses money. There's no ambiguity. We are held accountable to ensure we get it right, not only with product and service but with space. Does all the community feel comfortable? Are we welcoming to visitors? Does this space represent the place (community)? Is that space where we are or where we see ourselves?

I believe that we have a lot going on in Southwest Detroit that needs to be explored and applauded. At my café we make an effort to include local artists, local community announcements, and local products and provide a venue to showcase other small businesses. We try to use our space to allow others in the community to engage through the various mediums (coffee, Latin specialty drinks, art, music, products, and food). In the end, it's the impact that we can make utilizing the space that creates places that will make Detroit work.

For instance, an older man walked into the café to pick up his regular drink. He asked for his cortado in Spanish and looked up at the wall. He motioned to Jordi to notice the portrait displayed on our wall that overlooks the main lounge area. He said, "That's me on your wall." Jordi did a double take and agreed that looked like him. The older main said, "No, it's me. My grandson is Hello Mello." A young hipster photographer saunters into the café with all the panache of this generation. While standing in line at bobbing his head to the music on the speakers, he looks across the café after ordering his champurrado; to his amazement his sees the young aspiring singer playing. The singer is sitting at the table. This is who we are. A call comes into the café about setting a table to get feedback on Detroit Works at the cafe. This is what's going on and what needs to occur.

Businesses are central in creating the spaces that make Detroit unique. It's there where we see our neighbors and friends. It's here where we buy our goods and get our services. It's here we see each other in the daily tasks of life. Memories are made in these spaces. We see each other and discover what we need to do to continue the tapestry of our community. This is where we announce to the world who we are by defining our space through our businesses, which help us make this place our own.