Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Urban Re-Planning: Detroit


Posted by Becky | View all posts by Becky
4 Comments » | Published in Urban Planning  |  4 Comments

We’ve seen misguided urban renewal projects ruin vibrant neighborhoods. We’ve seen highways and railroad tracks cut cities off from their waterfronts. We’ve seen insane tunnel projects try to stitch them back together. We’ve observed cities like Youngstown Ohio try to trim their city limits and downsize, we’ve seen cities like Charlottesville Virginia tinker around with the idea of changing to a town. The latest? Razing the city. Detroit is demolishing tens of thousands of buildings to revitalize itself. What’s tricky with Detroit is that the viable areas tend to be on the outskirts, and the planners want to blow out a lot of what’s in the middle. Don’t the residents burn it all down on Devil’s Night anyway? That was a wrong thing to say. Sorry. Maybe all they need it Clint Eastwood. Lately all of the Detroit images I have in my head come from Gran Torino and Hung.

This article in yesterday’s New York Times is really interesting. I wonder what efforts, if any, will be made to recycle and reuse the materials from the buidings they demolish? I wonder if this is the answer, and if it’s not, what is. I wonder at what point in declining populations and deteriorating neighborhoods we decide to just pull the plug and give up. Whatever the result, it will be a landmark precedent in urban planning forever.

  • image one from here
  • image two from here
About Becky:
Hi, I'm Becky. I live in Atlanta. Besides acting as the Editorial Director here on Hatch, you can find me talking design over at Houzz. Make me happy — leave a comment!

About Becky

has written 1620 post in this blog.

Hi, I'm Becky. I live in Atlanta. Besides acting as the Editorial Director here on Hatch, you can find me talking design over at Houzz. Make me happy — leave a comment!


Filed under Urban Planning  |  4 Comments


  1. Estie says:

    June 22nd, 2010 at 1:43 pm (#)

    What seems misguided is this post. Images from fictional entertainment sources should not be the ONLY images that inspire a post like this. Perhaps an actual visit to Detroit is in order? Many areas of the city are “viable” and there are many people with substantial training who are working on this project.

  2. visualingual says:

    June 23rd, 2010 at 7:40 am (#)

    You know what’s wild? When I was at Cranbrook, 1998-2000, the big worry was that Detroit would fall below 1 million in the upcoming census. It did; that article estimates 790,000. Holy crap!

    A few years ago, there was an exhibit called Shrinking Cities that toured the world. We saw it, fittingly enough, in Detroit. At the time, there seemed to be so much speculative rehab work being done in the city; it was bizarre. At the same moment, this idea of strategic downsizing was being introduced in a place that is now seriously looking at that option.

    From my perspective, this seems to make more sense than any other option that a city like Detroit really has at this point. The city just isn’t functional or sustainable in its current state, so something drastic HAS to be done. Nature has already reclaimed so much land within the city limits, so this really seems like a policy that would align with reality.

  3. migal says:

    June 23rd, 2010 at 8:11 am (#)

    While I am not a native, I lived near enough to Detroit for a while to be taken by its particular charm. There are many wonderful things about the city, which unfortunately, most of the world never sees. Far more common are asides similar to the Devil’s Night one above. Overlooking that, the post raises a valid point. Is there any effort being made to selvage some of the beautiful elements in these unwanted homes?

    The bricks, bits of molding and other architectural elements are pieces of history that surely deserve a better end than a landfill. Mayor Bing is a businessman and perhaps he will see the potential here. Give the homes a quick once-over, selvage what you can, raze them and then have an architectural yard sale. I, for one, would make a trip back to attend. And while I’m there, I’ll have some great ethnic food and if I’m really lucky, also take in a hockey game at the Joe.

  4. Becky says:

    June 23rd, 2010 at 12:39 pm (#)

    Estie and Migal, I did not mean to offend, and I’m sorry if I did. I have been to Detroit several times, and growing up in Ohio, the people I have met from Michigan are always some of my favorites – I definitely have a soft spot for this city and I think that the state it’s in is heartbreaking.

    I was not being guided by the images from movies (though I freaking love Gran Torino and Clint), the purpose of the post was to open a discussion based upon the information in The New York Times article I linked to. Shrinking cities are a relatively new trend, especially in these towns where the industry has left and the population has steeply declined. My point was that this is some fairly new territory in urban planning, that it will be interesting to follow what happens, and that whatever the result is, it will serve as a precedent in planning for a very long time. The post did not deride the people working on this problem in any manner, and I am anxious to see what they come up with and how it will work. It’s very refreshing to see people realize that casinos and Renaissance Centers are not the answer; that the picture is much much bigger than those types of band-aids.

    For me, so many thoughts went through my head as I read the article. I compared the state of Detroit today to the state of a lot of cities post-“white flight”. The differences between the two are many (and I am NOT trying to get into any dissection of race relations in Detroit), but most important is that those who fled did not settle in nearby suburbs but are gone for good. I also thought about the fact that this city with a record number of homeless and impoverished people is tearing down a record number of homes.

    When I read the article I thought of a young woman I met when I was visiting the University of Michigan for grad school in 1999. The newspapers were filled with proposals to bring gambling into the city to “save it.” I chatted with her for quite some time, as the admissions office there was apparently horrendous at planning for visits from students they’ve accepted. Anyway, we were talking about how casinos were not the answer, and she told me that she had just graduated from their planning program. She was full of energy and optimism and she was headed off to Portland OR with the hopes of being able to absorb what they were doing there and bringing it back to her hometown of Detroit. As soon as I read the article, I wondered if she was working on these plans today.

    I am also wondering what will become of all the building materials. When I read of so many bungalows being demolished, I felt sad, and then wondered if people would be able to get some of the great architectural salvage from these buildings, not to mention how great it would be to re-use bricks and other building materials.

    Anyway, these are just some of the thoughts that ran through my head as I furrowed my brow while reading the article, and I am very interested in knowing more details about how this will work and hearing opinions.

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