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Thread: Save Detroit.

  1. #1
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Save Detroit.

    Okay, I'm trying to get this new category (really, the remnants of Planning Polemic, with many of the old messages relocated) up and running. I'll start it off with a question.
    I would ask "How would you save Buffalo?", but since that city's problems aren't as widely known, or as severe, as those faced by the great city of Detroit, Michigan, I'll pose this scenario. You're in some position of power in Detroit -- say, mayor and planning director. What would you do to turn Detroit around? Or ... is Detroit fine as it is?

    Discuss.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  2. #2

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    If I were the mayor of Detroit I would:

    1) make is my first priority to sell the tens of thousands of City owned vacant (and not vacant) land that is a severe drain on the City. Which would mean clearing all titles to that land.

    2) Stop City Council from doing everything as a whole body.

    3) stop changing planning directors every 6 months, and get rid of certian other director heads.

    4) coordinate the SMART and DDOT bus systems, and work for better public transit.

    5) turn back time and bring the Hudson's Buidling back, and for that matter, save the Book Caddilac.

    6) get rid of the stupid casinos, and don't let MGM go to the waterfront.

    7) Work on the schools. That would surely bring people back.

    8) Stop building suburban style houses in the city, the city is urban and that is its draw, if people wanted to live in suburban houses they would go the suburbs.

    9) stop condemning property to turn it over to developers to build suburban sytle housing that nobody will buy.

    10) Fix Fort Wayne - it is a crying shame.

    11) Convert Tiger Stadium into a professional soccer stadium (and, of course) get a professional soccer team to play there.

    12) work for better regional planning.

    13) stop ignoring urban design. I know, it is difficult to justify spending money on flower pots and trees when there are so many serious issues, but it can make a big difference.

    14) convert the waterfront to a loft district much like the Cleveland Flats, and let the silos stay where they are. The young prople in Detroit have nowhere to go and that would be a great alternatiave to Royal Oak.

    15) Try to get more good jobs in the city with tax breaks - like Compuware.

    16) build more lofts like the ones on Woodward - those are great!

    I am not sure if these are very applicable in Buffalo - they may be too specific. These are just my observations from being around the area a lot, and they all take money - which Detroit does not have.

  3. #3
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Originally posted by planasaurus
    If I were the mayor of Detroit I would:

    1) make is my first priority to sell the tens of thousands of City owned vacant (and not vacant) land that is a severe drain on the City. Which would mean clearing all titles to that land.
    That's a huge problem in Buffalo -- not only city-owned parcels, but also the amount of property in the city that is owned by non-taable entities. I've heard numbers that the amount of non-taxable land in the city is between 30% and 50%.

    Rather than selling, though, I'd consolidate and land-bank. Neighborhoods that are depopulated -- clear out the holdouts, clear the titles, get rid of the infrastructure (thus eliminating maintenance costs), consolidate the lots, and let it wait for better times.

    On a related note, I'd also consolidate commercial districts. Detroit is probably like Buffalo -- there's a lot of redundant commercial zoning, much more than the market is able to use. Rezone, consolidate the commercial, and encourage smaller but healthier commercial districts rather than spread out streetcar strips with lots of missing teeth.

    3) stop changing planning directors every 6 months, and get rid of certian other director heads.
    I believe Buffalo's planning director position is appointed - it's not a civil service position. "Commissioner of Planning" is the official title, and they leave if/when mayors change. It shoudn't be that way. Buffalo has a very small, entrenched planning agency. I'd transfer the old-timers to development review, and get some fresh blood in there.

    BTW, I'd also rewrite the zoning code, and throw in very strict architectural, site planning and landscaping requirements. Billboards -- amortize 'em out. Same thing in Detroit -- the "anything is better than nothing" philosophy has to stop; otherwise, the City attracts lowest-common-denominator development, and redevelopment becomes more difficult.

    4) coordinate the SMART and DDOT bus systems, and work for better public transit.
    Is the separate DDOT system in place to provide patronage positions and maintain the perception of city control, much like the CTA/RTA in Chicagoland? Not only consolidate, but put in rail. A Toronto or NYC-style heavy rail system with frequent stops wouldn't be feasible, because of Detroit's legendary sprawl, and light rail wouldn't appeal to commuters from distant suburbs. I'd look at an Australian-style commuter rail system, like what's found in Sydney and Melbourne (electric traction, commuter style carriages with standing room, stops spaced two to five kilometers apart, with 10 to 20 minute headways).

    In Buffalo -- expand Metro Rail, and ignore the NIMBYists.

    5) turn back time and bring the Hudson's Buidling back, and for that matter, save the Book Caddilac.
    Definitely try to save those buildings. Thing is, although I'm not an anti-preservationist, I think that buildings that would be an economic drain even after renovation, unless they are outstanding examples of an architectural style (i.e. designed by Wright or Sullivan), should be allowed to die with dignity. I express a contrarian POV regarding Buffalo's Central Terminal -- considering the neighborhood, there's really no economically feasible adaptive reuse. It's in a declining lower-income neighborhood, and any efforts to increase housing of office development in the area should be directed downtown. Each potential loft or office at Central Terminal is one less loft or office downtown. Central Terminal -- tear it down.

    Book Cadillac -- strip it out, and loft it up. Detroit has a growing "loft scene," and lofts don't require many improvements. Bare brick walls, exposed plumbing ... all the better.

    8) Stop building suburban style houses in the city, the city is urban and that is its draw, if people wanted to live in suburban houses they would go the suburbs.
    That's a big problem in Buffalo. Local planners look to the redevelopment of the city's Lower East Side as a success, but the homes are straight out of the 'burbs, ignoring Buffalo's unique residential architectural vernacular, and the fact that certain services require high densities to decrease their overall costs (i.e. public transit, street maintenance, plowing, etc.) I always said "It's Buffalo, not Amherst!", and I think it would be appropriate to say "It's Detroit, not Birmingham!"

    I'll finish this later tonight.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  4. #4

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    [QUOTE][i]

    --- That's a huge problem in Buffalo -- not only city-owned parcels, but also the amount of property in the city that is owned by non-taable entities. I've heard numbers that the amount of non-taxable land in the city is between 30% and 50%.

    Really? I thought that it was only Detroit. I think that the exact number is really unknown, but I have heard about 30% of the city is city-owned, tax reverted property.

    Clearing it out and consolidating is a great idea. Have you ever tried to kick out an 80 year old man who raised 3 kids in the house, watched his wife die in it... kind of difficult. But I do agree, spending the cash to light 5 city blocks, provide water and sewer, etc... for one house just does not make sense. On the other hand, spending 100,000 to condem a parcel that is worth 5,000 doesn't make mush sense either (and since I am mayor, I would say it might hurt my chances of reelection.

    Any idea of any other cities with large rolls of property?

    Detroit's planning director is appointed as well, but the position is still semms to be a revolving door.

    I think that the zoning code is currently in the final stages of being re-written. I am not sure what it looks like (as I have since moved on to bigger and not-so-better things)

    I am not really sure about the DOT /SMART issue, other than SMART will not pick up people from Detroit, except from downtown to take them out to the suburbs. They will not share passes. This does wonders for the already racially tense atmosphere - seeing nice clean busses drive by on Detroit streets full of white passengers using Detroit roads; while the black residents of the city wait int he rain for the dirty, unreliable DOT bus. Yea, rail would be great.

    Hey - how do I make quotes like that? I tried, but the entire post gets copied into my message.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I'll follow with a similar theme. Begin in the neighborhoods, selecting a few in which to concentrate resources, and building out from those nodes. Initially it will take a sizable public investment, but over time the private market develop so that fewer incentives are needed. An urban quality (design) goes without saying. Increased police protection, commercial/retail services and quality education will be critical. Detroit needs to retain the few middle-class people it has and offer locations that are a real consideration for others. If Detroit can create these nodes within its neighborhoods, it has a chance to retain and attract businesses.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    There are three critical efforts the City of Detroit needs to do in order to become a growing, thriving city:

    1) Invest in the schools. Currently, the school system is hemmoraging money and things aren't looking any better - a recent announcement indicated that the schools budget would be cut. (Yes, I said CUT... I'm not sure how much this has to do with the new mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick.)

    2) Bring high-quality jobs to Detroit. Efforts to bring companies like Compuware to the Detroit CBD are significant, but more needs to be done. The jobs created by the casinos (dealers, waitstaff, janitorial) are Comerica Park and Ford Field (hot dog and pretzel vendors) do not support families... if the city could hijack the suburbs (like the suburbs did to the city over the past 50 years) and bring those companies into the city, then we'd have something!

    3) Change the way the City Council is elected. Currently, members are elected at large... there is no ward system, so no candidate is tied geographically to a population. Instead, people get to look at a ballot of 20 candidates, not knowing who is who, and taking their best guess at some one they no nothing about.

    That's my two-cents!

  7. #7

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    Originally posted by Beaner



    3) Change the way the City Council is elected. Currently, members are elected at large... there is no ward system, so no candidate is tied geographically to a population. Instead, people get to look at a ballot of 20 candidates, not knowing who is who, and taking their best guess at some one they no nothing about.

    Yea. I think there were something like 120 candidates for City Council in the last election - how is a person supposed to know who is who. I saw a flier for a guy who's main point was that he was the first black man to be certified by AICP in Detroit in a certian year. (though he did not mention that he was probably one of the only people certified that year in Detroit).

    Oh, and another thing. Bring back the residency requirement.

  8. #8

    You mentioned Cleveland's flats...

    That Cleveland flats as an entertainment district are in peril. The social energy has gone up the hill into the Warehouse district. Now the flats have mostly 18 to 21 year old people getting drunk, fighting, falling/drowning into the Cuyahoga, and generally making the atomsphere undesirable. The remaining entertainment is the bottom feeder variety- slutty dancers, shitty clubs, dirty and poorly managed restaurants. Crime is a major problem.

    I'm not helping answer the question, but hip entertainment districts don't stay hip forever and should have zero government subsidy. Let the market make its own hip places.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    I agree that residency requirement needs to be reestablished. IMO, how can you strive for a city in which people want to live, work, and play, when you don't even want to yourself?

    Also, I think that the City (Detroit) needs to stop selling out to the highest bidder. It seems those that have money are given the ability to pretty much do what they want regardless of the effect it would have on the community. City officials need to take charge - money may talk, but they don't have to listen.

  10. #10
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Originally posted by SW MI Planner
    I agree that residency requirement needs to be reestablished. IMO, how can you strive for a city in which people want to live, work, and play, when you don't even want to yourself?
    I don't have a problem with residency requirements, but how about as they're appplied in Buffalo -- where you have to be a resident BEFORE you can apply for a city job. This dramatically limits the pool of available talent for a job, excluding suburbanies and out-of-towners from ciity jobs, even if they are willing to move into the city. The "residency before application" requirement is standard in most Western New York towns; recruitment outside municipal boundaries is permitted only in rare instances.

    What if the best people for a job aren't willing to live in the city? Let's say you're a $150,000/year planning director with two kids. Do the kids go to private school, fight with the masses to get into Cass Tech, or put up with the other substandard public schools? Where's a safe family neighborhood?

    Maybe an "urban incentive," where city residents have a higher payscale than those that commute to City Hall from out past Eight Mile Road.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  11. #11
          Downtown's avatar
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    Residency Requirement Story

    On the first trip to a small city in a downstate NY county, the Planning Director drove our small group of consultants around the city to show us what we were working with. (The project was a sustainable development study done over a multiple municipality region) It should also be noted that this city is the crack hub of the Hudson River Valley. So as she's driving us around, making several derogatory comments about the various features of this community, one of the people in the van asks her what part of town she lives in. To this replies "What? Are you kidding me? I don't live HERE! I live in XXX-ville." as though she had just been served the most hideous insult that she might actually live in this city.

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    Originally posted by Dan Tasman


    I don't have a problem with residency requirements, but how about as they're appplied in Buffalo -- where you have to be a resident BEFORE you can apply for a city job. .
    Really! That is stupid. Detroit's requirement was that one had to move to the City within a month of geting the job. They came out to check after a month (and were pretty strict - they look in the closet, fridge...).

  13. #13
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Bring em on!

    They can look in my fridge when they pry it from my cold dead hands!

    Now that that is out of my system, I wouldn't work for someone that had to look in my fridge to believe me. These days I think the burden of trust is on the employer. Sounds kinda liberal, don't it. Sorry Newt!

    I would work for someone with a residency requirement like Wichita Kansas which held that one must be able to reach the office within a 30 minute drive. In some of your burbs that would eliminate much of the city. It seems reasonable for emergeny personel and planners.

    All the secretaries must eventually rise to department heads if the BEFORE application residency rule is enforced. Reminds me of a RUSH (the band, not the man) tune. I'll let you guess which one.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    save Detroit?

    I just keep asking myself "Why save Detroit?" Then again most of my experience has been with their atrocious airport, so this is not a social commentary...

    I've worked for communities with and without residency requirements (currently only one of six members of my planning department resides in the community). I do beleive in small cities they tend to strengthen the bonds of community. In larger communities there can have less effect and tend to be driven by economics and politics. When I was a required resident, I found the weekend phone calls (and occassional door step complaints) from Joe Citizen quite intrusive. There was little separation of social and political life!

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Re: save Detroit?

    Originally posted by bturk
    I just keep asking myself "Why save Detroit?"
    That is indeed a great question... Why should anyone "save" Detroit? I guess that begs another question, "What's so wrong with Detroit that it needs 'saving'?" Over 900,000 people call that city home, so it can't be all that bad, right? Perhaps it isn't an issue of "saving" but more about "improving."

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    Somebody told me a few years ago that they should move the Detroit river a few miles north and make it Canada's problem.

  17. #17
    maudit anglais
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    Planasaurus: "Somebody told me a few years ago that they should move the Detroit river a few miles north and make it Canada's problem."

    Uh...no thanks.

    BTW - There have been a series of articles written in the Toronto Star over the past week, examining what various cities in the U.S. are doing to re-generate themselves (there is a general feeling that we are falling behind). The article on Detroit focused on private sector re-investment in the downtown, due in large part to the efforts of Mike Illich. Sounds like Detroit has at least that going for it.

  18. #18
    Tranplanner wrote:
    ...private sector re-investment in the downtown, due in large part to the efforts of Mike Illich. Sounds like Detroit has at least that going for it.
    Yes, at least Detroit has that much going for it. However, neighborhoods are still being neglected while downtown redevelopment is being pushed big-time for the 2006 Super Bowl. Great stuff, but we still need to find incentives for folks to move back to the neighborhoods.

  19. #19
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    Food for thought from Cleveland

    A nod to Buffalo reported in the Cleveland Free Times:

    http://www.freetimes.com/issues/1033...soundbites.php

    Tim Mueller, Cleveland’s chief development officer: …" "We can try to emulate formulas that work in other cities … so we can become Minneapolis or Buffalo." Required reading at City Hall: Built to Last by Jim Collins.

  20. #20

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    Cleveland Waterfront

    I agree with Mugbub on this one.

    Yes, the Cleveland Flats is a place for young people to go, but it is becoming undesirable. To tell the truth, it is just a place for people to get loaded any night of the week. I can't remember how many times that the city said they'd crack down on the drugs and fighting, but nothing is really happening in the line of improvements.

    However, it is a great asset in the daytime, to be able to have lunch in a restraunt off of the Cuyahoga or to just drive or walk through the warehouse district. They're really beautiful places, and offer a break from the remote congestion of downtown.

    If Detroit can learn from Cleveland's mistakes, I think that the idea could definitely be a success.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian
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    St. Louis is coming back strong. If STL can do it, Detroit can do it too. I love the Motor City.

    http://forums.stltoday.com/forum_ima...c/jivearch.gif
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 21 Nov 2006 at 2:05 PM.
    ST. LOUIS: The City is Back. Back the City.

  22. #22
    I presonally hate residency requirements. People should not be forced to live in the City where they work. If the private sector tried that, they would get sued. Residency requirements often exclude the most qualified candidates because they either don't want to move or can't move because a spouse also has a residency requirement. If someone has spent thousands of dollars renovating their dream house in Community A (which shares a border with Community B), why should they have to sell the house to move a couple of miles (or in some cases blocks) to work?
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  23. #23
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    Oh Canada?

    planasaurus wrote:
    Somebody told me a few years ago that they should move the Detroit river a few miles north and make it Canada's problem.
    Would they end up with one hell of a gun collection, or WHAT?
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  24. #24
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    The Ilitch Family, Red Wings Hockey Dominance, and Economic Development

    This article is in today's Detroit Free Press:

    "UNDERCOVER FAN: A date that will live in Red Wings lore - Ilitches bought storied franchise for $8 million

    (full story at: http://www.freep.com/sports/redwings/fan3_20020603.htm)

    It was 20 years ago today.

    Led by patriarch Mike and matriarch Marian, the Ilitch clan marched into the limelight at a news conference at Joe Louis Arena on June 3, 1982. They were the new owners of the Red Wings.

    "It was this team with an incredible history, and all of a sudden, we became the guardians of that. We were ecstatic," daughter Denise Ilitch said after the Wings had blown out the Avalanche on Friday to win the Western Conference championship.

    The announcement was more important than anybody suspected. Fans hoped only that Ilitch would resuscitate the critically ill team and revive Detroit's dormant hockey fever.

    No one knew the family would use the team as a launching pad to build a sports and entertainment empire and become key figures in restoring something else that was in critical condition -- downtown Detroit.

    As the Red Wings begin the Stanley Cup finals Tuesday night, attempting to win their third championship in six seasons, it is easy to forget how much has changed in two decades."

    So, fellow Cyburbanites, does the Ilitch family deserve much of the credit for downtown Detroit's apparent pending climb to prominence? Or is the kind of thing he has created not enough for the neighborhoods and at the wrong scale? Discuss.

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