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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.