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back to the urban prairie

Recently we returned to the urban prairie, with camera, to check up on the birds.

Here’s the same neighborhood by City Airport shown in the previous post, from Google Maps.  Right near that warehouse, we found a singing Eastern Meadowlark!  The green arrow serves as a placemarker for the intersection of Gilbo and Leander.  Click on the images to enlarge.


Using Google Earth, we can pan down the intersection of Gilbo and Leander, looking southwest down Leander.


I think the Google images are around three years old. Here is what the urban prairie looks like from that the same intersection. You can look at the 1961 photo in the previous post to see all the homes that used to be here. Yes, the city did get out to mow this area, so it looks rather tidy.


Some streets have more trash than others.  When the city mows the lots, they don’t mow where there are piles of garbage, and it contributes to these properties becoming more overgrown with shrubs and trees than grass and herbaceous plants. Certain tree species are distinctive in these areas; I’ll have to do a post called “A field guide to the urban prairie.” This woodsy block, where we heard a Red-eyed Vireo, is a few streets over:


While there are some occupied houses in the neighborhood, there are also a lot like this one nearby on French Road, right across from the airport runways, getting swallowed up by vegetation:


As I mentioned, Ring-necked Pheasants are probably more common in the city of Detroit than in the suburbs. Here is a cautious cock peeking over the grass in yet another abandoned lot, this one in southwest Detroit:

This area of Detroit is quite interesting to me, as when my maternal relatives immigrated here from Canada around 1900, they all lived in this area. Using old census data, I’ve looked for their homes; not a single one still exists. Some gave way to freeways and industry, some just gave way. This is a struggling area with a rich history, strong sense of identity, and near the center of Detroit’s Hispanic community.  I’ll write about it in the future.

Have I piqued anybody’s interest about this 305-year-old city?  Here are some links, so you can explore beyond the headlines:

  • Greening of Detroit — urban reforestation.
  • Preservation Wayne — historical preservation organization.  Among many other worthy projects, they give excellent walking tours of the city.
  • Faded Detroit — a
    photoblog showing a lot of restoration of great Detroit buildings,
    residential and commericial, as well as some that were beyond repair
    and met the wrecking ball. Includes a lot of historical photos to
    compare to the present day.
  • DetroitYES — grandaddy of them all, with a very active forum and many links to urban decay and renewal, including the well-known Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.
Filed in Field work, Urban issues

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • pascal July 13, 2006, 2:42 pm

    Imagine if we'd had Google Earth back in the 1800's – to show the total landscape metamorphosis when the loggers took out the huge stands of eastern white pine. Think it'd be as hard to convice that deforestation is as big an issue as it really should be?

  • Clare July 14, 2006, 9:05 am

    I have to admit that I'm fascinated by this prairie and the photos. It sort of overwhelms my mind imagining this large area of a city transformed. The images have some weird dicotomy of devestation and wealth.

  • pablo July 14, 2006, 9:30 am

    My father once told me that every house he ever lived in (as a child) has since been torn down. This was in Kansas City. Developers have told him that as soon as he is finished with the house he is in, they will buy it from him, tear it down, and build a McMansion on the lot. This is in St. Louis.

    Nice surprise about the pheasant. I wonder if they hang around my neighborhood.

  • Jess July 14, 2006, 10:15 am

    I love it when you post about this subject. Fascinating how we clear the land, use it, and when we no longer want it anymore, nature picks right back up and starts over. So forgiving, this space.

  • Mr. Nuthatch July 14, 2006, 2:52 pm

    Don't be fooled by how nature is "reclaiming" these urban areas. The areas are no where near what they were originally (in terms of species diversity and mix).
    It is great to see some nature creeping back in to these areas, but the original landscape and habitat in pre-settlement times must have been fabulous.
    Even if the land is left undisturbed for future decades, I wonder how the habitat would turn out, given the fact that it was a concrete jungle recently. The Detroit metro area is very large and there is very little untouched land in the vicinity that could be a source of recolonizing flora and fauna.

  • Nuthatch July 14, 2006, 9:35 pm

    After all these months, my husband finally leaves a comment!

  • John July 15, 2006, 8:14 pm

    It amazes me that such a large plot of land would be left fallow like that. In an east coast city, land like that would probably be bulldozed and redeveloped.

  • Jennifer Grucza July 22, 2006, 2:54 pm

    Wow, it really looks like you're out in the country, not in the middle of a city (except for all the garbage).