New Work, new culture, new economy on Field Street
By Peggy Hong
Special to the Michigan Citizen
When I moved from Milwaukee, Wis., to Detroit last February, I left my home of 25 years, the nonprofit yoga school I had founded, and a community decades in the making to come and be a learner here in Detroit.
I came to Detroit because I sensed what is happening here is 10-20 years ahead of most other cities in the U.S. I was drawn to the constructive responses to deindustrialization, the history of community-based activism, the forward thinkers at the Boggs Center and beyond, and the philosophy of New Work, which strives to create meaningful, sustainable lives by using technology to free up human energy to follow our passions and strengthen community.
Last summer, a group of eight east-siders decided to form a housing collective to explore and enact the principles of New Work. We began exploratory discussions in June, and before we knew it, a neighbor offered to rent us a large house needing some TLC.
In August, the first batch of intrepid New Workers moved in. No matter that we did not yet have running water, toilets, a boiler, full electricity, nor even doorknobs.
The first several months tested our mettle. At New Work Field Street Collective we “made” water by running a dehumidifier in the basement and using the water for washing dishes. Neighbors generously let us come and use their bathrooms and fill milk jugs with drinking water. We maximized a make-shift kitchen with plastic crates for shelving and tubs for washing. As the temperature dropped, we raised funds for a boiler and radiators, and learned creative ways of staying warm with hot water bottles and heated bricks.
Why did we do this? And how are we different from other urban homesteaders?
We are united by the belief that we’re creating a sustainable response to the problems of the 21st century. Frithjof Bergmann, who has been discussing the concepts of New Work for the past 35 years, points out:
- In this age of globalization, the jobs we held so dear are not coming back. Most of our industries have been off-shored, and we cannot compete with the cheap labor and resources abroad.
- Furthermore, the way most people on the planet have survived, through subsistence farms, is no longer possible, due to widespread industrialized farming.
- Technology has made many industrial age jobs obsolete.
On top of all this, we are living through the dying days of capitalism, where profit has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, creating more and more poverty. Moreover, insofar as socialist governments are still based in an oil-based economy, they are not the answer.
At NWFSC, our purpose is to embrace neighborly interdependence by meeting mutual needs through self-sustaining industries. Instead of working jobs that drain us of energy to cover living expenses, we strive to create the things we need: grow our own food, create renewable energy, make our own clothing, etc.
In our house at Field and Vernor, we have:
- New Work Leather: belts, bags, wallets
- Homespun Hustle: handwork studio for scarves, hats, bags, clothing (sewing, knitting, fiber arts)
- Healing House: yoga, massage, meditation, Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial art), food as medicine
- Food2Gather: second and fourth Sunday brunches, third Saturday Community Potluck, and food for sale
We host yoga and Capoeira classes, donation-based brunches, and weekly open studio (Fridays, 2-5 p.m.) for handwork and leathercraft. We look forward to hosting Field Street Association block club meetings, being an Info Hub (mesh internet and computers), resource center for youth, and much more.
Our ambitious plan for 2014 is to develop renewable energy to begin moving off the grid. We invite you to come to our events, join our enterprises regardless of experience, and share your ideas for other projects. You can contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org, find us on Facebook and newworkfieldstreetcollective.tumblr.com, or call us at 313.454.1401.