Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert in my humble opinion are pioneers. I've been reading about them for well over a month now and it all started with an article in the New York Times, 'For Sale the $100 house'.
They have started The Power House Project as well as Design 99. In my words, the power house project is about making affordable housing available. A community of artistic people. Conscientious people, people who want to create a neighborhood of off the grid living in an already used and abused neighborhood that has turned into a suburban wasteland. Here is the 'about' page, which will tell you in their words what the project is.
The Power House Report is their blog about the neighborhood they are living in, the progress of the house and in general a unique view of a seemingly painful yet obvious metamorphosis in an upward direction. I have to admit, I don't know if I would have the courage to live there right now. I'm not sure I would want to constantly worry about having my tools, art, personal things stolen or my house burnt down. But what am I really doing right now? Hiding out (I like to think I'm healing and resting here but at some point don't I have to get on with it?) in Vermont, living a fairly safe and undisturbed existence. Not being involved with anything or anyone. Breathing clean air and living a rather unchallenged life.
I remember what it's like to live in a scary city. Hearing gunshots at night. Having my vehicle broken into more than once. Dealing with unruly neighbors that chased each other down the street with frying pans while screaming obscenities in the middle of the night or doing their drug deals literally 20 feet from my front door. Being afraid to walk or drive through certain areas and seeing the dregs of society scaring off anything good. It sucked. I hated being afraid, feeling unsafe, having bars over my windows and doors and always looking over my shoulder.
So, why am I writing about this? I find myself drawn to these people and this place. Yeah it has been done throughout history, artists seeping into the forgotten neighborhoods and revitalizing it. The Soho Effect, artists moving into areas that no one else wants to live in. Restaurants follow, gentrification begins. Artists can't afford to stay and move on. I think the Power House Project just might be a way for artists to flow to an area and not be pushed out when things get 'nice' again. If they are able to create this area of artists owning homes, self sustainable homes and form a tight community of people not needing new this and that that perhaps they will have a survival rate that supersedes what has previously proven to be a disaster for most artists. That excites me. I have this fantasy that I would love to be there tearing things down, ripping crap up and learning how to rebuild things. Being around other artists that want to create a self sustainable neighborhood sounds like my idea of Utopia.
While it's true you can get a house for next to nothing there, you are also going to have nothing to show for it but possibility. Many of these homes have been visited by scrappers. You will get a plot of land and an empty shell, or a house that needs so much work you might as well tear it down and start all over. And I don't know squat about building a home, let alone how I would even get the money to get something started. But that doesn't stop me from observing and wondering. It doesn't stop me from collecting more information and possibly visiting one day and seeing if I am even attracted to this in real life. It doesn't stop me from rooting them on from afar. If anything my mind is being opened and exposed to possibility and that is a good thing. I don't know these people, I don't know what it is really like there, I don't know how I would ever physically or mentally handle it (I still panic just taxi driving tourists in vermont for gods sake), but I know that I am attracted to the energy of what is happening there. If nothing else I can spread the word.
Check out Detroit book of love, a collaboration of seven contemporary photographers, including Mitch Cope. His drawings (links on the sidebar) are worth a look too!