Business - Issue 72 - Magazine | Monocle

thumbnail text

Experiments in revival

Detroit [PROPERTY]

The people of Detroit were leaving their debt-ridden city long before it filed for bankruptcy in July 2013. Today, Motor City counts around 80,000 vacant buildings and its population is almost a third of what it was in 1950. But some entrepreneurs are viewing it as a laboratory and are experimenting with ambitious businesses.

Sarah Cox is the co-founder of Write A House, a non-profit launched in 2012 that proposes to turn abandoned houses into free homes for writers. “We’re trying to help Detroit by fixing up dilapidated houses and by bringing in new talent.”

Other enterprises include a group that mows Detroit’s abandoned playgrounds and a young entrepreneur who started the Detroit Bus Company – an alternative to the city’s crumbling public transportation system . Plans are even afoot to create a 56-hectare forest in the middle of the city. In the absence of federal or local government initiatives to stem the flow leaving the city, Detroit has become a proving ground for businesses looking to make money and unite the ailing community.

Three firms:

  1. Hantz Farms
    Bought more than 1,500 vacant city-owned lots on Detroit’s lower east side to create an urban forest.
  2. Detroit Mower Gang
    This group mows abandoned playgrounds.
  3. Why Don’t We Own This?
    A free online auction database that provides a map of properties going under the hammer.


David Lebée

Founder, Dayuse Hotels


Parisian entrepreneur David Lebée has found a niche in organising accommodation for business visitors and amorous couples who want a hotel but don’t need to stay the night.

What’s the concept behind the company?
The aim is to offer hotel rooms during the day, while they are empty – to bring customers a new hotel service and hoteliers a new way to gain revenue in an otherwise unused time slot.

Who’s your typical customer?
Fifty per cent are couples (faithful or otherwise). They use our services to spice up their love lives and avoid monotony. Over a third are travellers usually using our services between flights, for a nap or to take a shower. Airline companies also call in for their flight attendants in transit. The rest are business customers there for meetings or interviews.

How big is the company?
We have around 2,500 rooms available on a daily basis for use between 08.00 in the morning and 23.00. Our prices are always between 30 and 70 per cent lower than the overnight price. It helps the hotel to increase its occupancy and revenue. The guests are also happy to pay the right price for their stay and we are happy to coordinate all this.

Are there plans to expand the company?
We launched three and a half years ago and haven’t stopped growing. We’re in more than 10 countries now and expect to open in Spain, Germany, Brazil and the west coast of the US by the end of the year.

Engines of growth


Though the likes of China, Japan and the US dominate the global automotive industry a number of nations are busy playing catch-up. Last year Mexico became the world’s fourth largest car exporter. Global automakers are pouring billions of euros into factories, mainly in a 645km corridor from Puebla (home to a new €950m Audi plant and VW engine facility) to Aguascalientes, a former thermal spa centre and railway hub.

Mexico’s proximity to the US and Latin American markets, its low labour cost and high numbers of qualified engineers (specialised schools churn out over 9,000 skilled technicians each year) are all ingredients in the market’s growth. Japanese companies account for 41 per cent of the new car market and Mazda, Honda and Nissan have major plants in the country. The next step for many in the industry is to help secure fairer wages for the engineers driving this success.

Strong vehicle export markets:

  1. US
    Rose 9.5 per cent to 1,646,950 vehicles in 2012
  2. Canada
    Rose 21.7 per cent to 194,851 units in 2012
  3. Brazil
    Rose 5.7 per cent to 137,443 units in 2012

The Dispatch

Currency x 3

Josh Fehnert

April 2014
  1. US
    In the city of Ithaca, New York, more than 900 community-proud residents and businesses accept alternative payment in the form of Ithaca Hours. Each note is worth roughly €7.30 and unlike dollars they keep goods and services within the community – some businesses even pay part of their wages in the local tender.
  2. Somaliland
    In an age of digital transactions the unrecognised state of Somaliland has a reassuringly analogue currency – livestock. At present goats and sheep represent around €50 a piece, while “used” camels can command more than €720.
  3. UK
    The UK’s main parliamentary parties have said that Scotland would not be able to keep the sterling if the country votes for independence this autumn. First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond insists they will hold on to the pound.

Share on:






Go back: Contents



sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • Monocle on Culture