Monthly Archives: May 2010

Retrofitting Metro Detroit for urbanism

When friends come back from trips to Chicago, they often lament that Detroit is not a “real city.” As quick as I am to protest — we have great parks, renowned museums, incredible architecture, huge festivals, immigrant enclaves, and more, don’t we? — I know exactly what they mean. Detroit may have all the components of a major city, but it lacks the connective tissue, the urban fabric, to tie it all together. Even Detroit’s most hyped urban neighborhoods are pockmarked with empty buildings, and the region’s growing suburban downtowns lack real diversity and remain isolated from each other.

In the next few posts, I’d like to explore what it would take to create a cohesive urban corridor in Metro Detroit out of the hodge podge of development we have today. Doing so, I think, will involve at least three major steps. I’ll explore each of these in turn in the next few weeks:

  1. Stop the sprawl. Metro Detroit’s population hasn’t risen in forty years, yet we keep subsidizing sprawl. It’s time to focus on redeveloping the city and retrofitting existing suburbs instead.
  2. Complete urban neighborhoods. Metro Detroit has the building blocks for urbanism, from Midtown to Hamtramck to suburban Main Streets like 9 Mile in Ferndale. We just need to develop them.
  3. Link them together with rapid transit. Starting with Woodward, rapid transit could bind Metro Detroit’s many hubs of urban activity together, forming a single urban corridor to anchor the region.

My hope is that this series of posts will spark a broader discussion about the future of Detroit. For too long, we’ve elected politicians without vision for the region. It’s time to start thinking seriously about what Detroit could become and what we need to do to get it there.

Saying so long to Cityfest / Tastefest

Cityfest, Detroit’s best summer festival, is no more. After a great 20-year run, the New Center Council, the organizers of the festival, have decided to focus instead on redeveloping New Center Park. Just as the award-winning Campus Martius has brought new life to downtown, organizers hope the renovated park will serve as a year-round anchor for the neighborhood. The park, which has capacity for 700, will host free movies and concerts Wednesday through Saturday all summer long.

New Center Park Site Plan

New Center Park Site Plan

As disappointed as I am to see Cityfest shut down, I can’t totally begrudge their decision. The New Center Council is an economic development agency, not a cultural organization. The motivation for producing Cityfest was to draw attention to the New Center and build the area’s image. In that regard, the event was a great success. Who didn’t gawk at the majesty of the Fisher Building while standing in line for ribs? But a four-day party doesn’t make a neighborhood. A great urban park can.

New Center Park Pavilion

New Center Park Pavilion

I’m certainly still rooting for Cityfest to make a comeback. Summertime in Detroit won’t be the same without it, especially with Festival of the Arts having met its end as well. But if the choice is between a great, four-day party and a round-the-clock neighborhood, I know which one I favor.