Cartable culture

As New York real estate dynamics create new social dynamics in neighborhoods, Glenn Collins, writing in the NYT today, asks, “Is charisma cartable?

Bar 6, Buenos Aires

Bar 6, Buenos Aires

from Argentina's Travel Guide

from Argentina's Travel Guide

“But if drinking and dining have always been a movable feast in New York, is charisma cartable? Can the character of everything from venerable pubs to palatial eateries migrate with their names and owners? This portability issue has gained new urgency in a season of economic disarray, when property owners are less willing to extend the leases of even the most beloved old-timers.”


Favorite neighborhood bars, losing leases, relocate and hope that the vestiges of place, transported and reinstalled, will draw familiar customers and the character and culture of their original locations. He writes that, “Loyalists can be fickle, and geography perilous.”

He references a consultant who says, “you want to transfer a core set of values, so people will make an emotional connection and keep coming. But there’s a need for reinvention as well — new people must sense that this is the place to be.”

In the more barren urban landscape of Detroit, I often wonder if culture is cartable. Or maybe my question and challenge is, can form create culture?

In a recent trip to Argentina, we found a host of great places in Buenos Aires. Bar 6 was one of them.

The interior was a delight. Under an arching wooden canopy with an angular slice of sunlight  were a variety of settings supporting a variety of social opportunities. Much more than a bar, Bar 6 seemed to embody the dynamics of the entire neighborhood.

At mid-day, it was lunch that brought the people. In the early afternoon, the place seemed to catch a diverse clientele, both local and global, enjoying a break from the shopping in the Palermo neighborhood, or just stopping by because it was the local place to be. In the late afternoon, the moms took over the place, strollering in the infants, meeting the schoolkids, chatting with the current generation of young mothers.  By early evening, the commuting dads seemed to arrive to join their wives and kids for a cocktail to end the day and set a stage for dinner. Late in the evening, the hipsters arrived, and the place took on an extraordinarily different dynamic. Throughout it all there was a great sound track, and each of the formal settings–bar stool, couch, club chair, cafe table–supported each constituency.

Was this urban culture at work? Or was this form at work?

I yearn for the replication of this form in Detroit. I yearn for the places and spaces that support a diversity of generations, lifestyles, purposes and activities. I live, instead, in a place of social zoning—coffee places, family places, dinner places, places to explicitly articulate membership in a specific economic class/strata, cruising places, etc.

No place (I know of)  in Detroit is lit except from the narrow, frontal dimension. No place in Detroit offers anything than dark. No place in Detroit offers a diversity of settings. No place in Detroit offers appropriateness for every time of day and every generation. No place in Detroit accommodates more than one race, one generation, one lifestyle, one class, one. Nothing about Detroit is about community, only about conflict.

Does the embedded culture support the design of the place? Can design of place transform a culture? Can design, regardless of place, support community? Who designs Detoit, anyway? Who pays them, and for what? (Sorry!)

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