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Thread: Detroit: Then, Now, The Future

  1. #26

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    I wrote an article about Detroit a few years ago that never got published. In it, I said that Detroit is our nation's whipping boy. America needs Detroit to be dysfunctional. America needs Detroit to bear the burden of negative perceptions. If it wasn't going to be Detroit, it would've been some other city. I argued this for three reasons:

    The image of Detroit serves as a constant reminder to cities of what not to become. City leaders around the nation can always refer to Detroit as the quintessential urban dystopia, invoking images of crime and crumbling infrastructure. By doing this they can garner support for (or more likely, against) a local project, because if this project does or doesnít happen, you know what could happen to our fair city? We could become like Detroit!

    The image of Detroit allows the rest of the nationís cities to avoid facing their own issues Ė urban and suburban. As long as Detroitís negative image remains prominent in peopleís minds, they can forget about trying to improve what may be just as bad in their own communities. I

    The image of Detroit allows the rest of the nation to maintain a smug arrogance and sense of superiority. This is what I perceive as happening with the media attention Detroit gets now. The whole "how did this happen in America" sentiment.
    The fact is it's happening all across America, even in your city.

    Can Detroit EVER get a break?

  2. #27
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    Wow...lots of really great buildings in Brush Park. Nice to see that many have been restored. You never see those on the "ruin pron" sites.
    Somewhat off-topic: when I was in Cairo, Illinois last year, I started to think of myself as a "blight tourist". I wondered if that was something good or bad, and thought "could blight tourism be something that could keep Cairo hanging on in the future?"

    I've heard of Europeans -- Germans, especially -- who visit Detroit just to take in the urban blight. There's several urbex sites by Torontonians with extensive photo tours of Buffalo's Central Terminal, many with a condescending "that's why we're better than them" attitude. They don't know the history of what brought on the blight; they only know it's there, and point to it and their memories of the fire-obsessed Buffalo newscasts of the past as a sign that they're somehow superior.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  3. #28
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    Wow...lots of really great buildings in Brush Park. Nice to see that many have been restored. You never see those on the "ruin pron" sites.
    Of course you don't you also don't see the great riverfront, campus martius, the beautiful art deco skyscrapers that are actually used, the actual neighborhoods where there are sane people of all color or ethnic background maintaining their homes, yet all you hear is how racially divided it is. The biggest issue I have with the TIME articles is they generally show all of the white folks doing good, yet you hardly see the many black folks working just as hard (I suppose being black in Detroit is not newsworthy). They also seem to only find the black bums, and there are a heck of a lot of white ones here too.

    You hear that Detroit does not have a chain grocery store. Big deal. We have lots of supermarkets that are independently owned and doing quite well. They may not be parts of chains, but they are served by a cooperative such as Spartan or Foodland (Kroger). We also have Eastern Market where tens of thousands shop daily and purchase goods from Farmers, Butchers, Cheese Shops, Fish Stores, Wine Stores....

    Not trying to see Detroit through rose colored glasses here, I know there are very serious problems here. Its just that too much focus is put on what Detroit don't have instead of what it does have.

    Pete is so right we're the whipping-boy.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  4. #29
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    I suppose most of you guys have already seen Bob Herbert's Op-ed piece, but if not: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/21/op...21herbert.html
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  5. #30
    Cyburbian munibulldog's avatar
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    it is impossible to understand Detroit without looking at the metro area. Southeast Michigan is under economic stress but its not as bad as it could be. Detroit suburbs are still some of the nicest places to live in the US.

    There are 100 reasons why the City of Detroit is in its current condition. Every person can make up their own explanation of why there are problems and they will be correct. The result of the problems is that people don't want to live there, businesses don't want to do business there and developers don't want to develop there. I am talking trends here, I realize that there are many people who live, work and do business in the City.

    My personal favorite explanation is that Detroit has gone downhill since the Prohibition ended. It lost is source of income from smuggling liquor from Windsor and things just haven't been the same since. Detroit has always been a boom and bust town. And it has seen some incredible growth, with auto industry, war material manufacturing and liquor smuggling. We are now seeing the hangover of the end of prohibition, the end of WWII, the end of a closed market to foreign auto industry.

    But the story of Detroit is not over. The day that the developers figure out that it is a better opportunity to develop in the City than in South Lyon or other far flung rural area, thats when the floodgates will open and there will be a mad rush to develop areas within the City. Unfortunately, it is likely that a redevelopment of parts of Detroit will be a suburban remake from the same people that brought you Canton. Luckily the ROW pattern is already in place in Detroit, which is a far better urban design than the suburban ring drive-o-mania.

    Detroit has a huge potential which is currently held back by the mindset of people living in the suburbs. There is a lot of justification to fear of the City, but in the end, it comes down to available real estate and municipal services. It may take time for the mentality of suburbanites to flip. But if that Ferndale thing starts creeping toward the City and people discover that crime in the D is not any worse than crime in Southfield, get ready City of Detroit. If the City can provide municipal services, especially police services, the wave of development will move into the City rather than to the rural fringe. We are not there yet but we will see this happen as a trend in the next 10 to 20 years. Unfortunately it may be too late to save many of the architectual jewels in the city.

  6. #31
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Bob Herbert has a praiseworthy piece on Detroit:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/24/op...24herbert.html

  7. #32
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by munibulldog View post
    ...The day that the developers figure out that it is a better opportunity ...than in South Lyon ...suburban remake from the same people that brought you Canton.... far better urban design than the suburban ring drive-o-mania. ... that Ferndale thing ...not any worse than crime in Southfield...
    Great post, especially these excerpts. Just yesterday I cited some similar non-places, contrasted with "we have a there here."

  8. #33
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by munibulldog View post
    But the story of Detroit is not over. The day that the developers figure out that it is a better opportunity to develop in the City than in South Lyon or other far flung rural area, thats when the floodgates will open and there will be a mad rush to develop areas within the City...

    Detroit has a huge potential which is currently held back by the mindset of people living in the suburbs. There is a lot of justification to fear of the City, but in the end, it comes down to available real estate and municipal services...
    Overall, I appreciate the fact that your post is hopeful. But the school district is in disarray. And that's a major factor for many Michigan families when deciding where to live. Planning for residential land uses is no way to run a city, but a failing school district has severe consequences for surrounding neighborhoods.

  9. #34
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    So, how about an update on the status of a second international bridge crossing in Detroit? I hear that the fight continues between the owner of the Ambassador Bridge (carrying about 25% of trade between the USA and Canada) and Michigan authorities.

    Bear
    Occupy Cyburbia!

  10. #35
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Sorry to make such a short comment, but I just saw this real estate listing, and thought "Jesus."

    $140K for a huge pre-WWII Tudor-style house on an estate lot backing onto the Detroit Country Club.

    I know this doesn't add anything to the discussion, but still, when I see things like this, it makes me think of the law of supply and demand; if the demand really that low? Such a house in the City of Buffalo -- again, BUFFALO -- would probably be in the $500K to $750K range, which is still inexpensive by national standards.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  11. #36
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Sorry to make such a short comment, but I just saw this real estate listing, and thought "Jesus."

    $140K for a huge pre-WWII Tudor-style house on an estate lot backing onto the Detroit Country Club.

    I know this doesn't add anything to the discussion, but still, when I see things like this, it makes me think of the law of supply and demand; if the demand really that low? Such a house in the City of Buffalo -- again, BUFFALO -- would probably be in the $500K to $750K range, which is still inexpensive by national standards.
    And it's been listed for nearly five months, too.

    It has to have issues other than its being in the City of Detroit - scouring Google Earth images of that general area shows nothing seriously amiss with the neighborhood. Perhaps that house hasn't been updated in any way since it was built (one of the interior images does show a 'classic' early-20th Century heating radiator) and its last occupant was the now-deceased elderly widow of its builder.

    Mike

  12. #37
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Metropolitan Detroit has lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs in the last decade. Each manufacturing job in this region is worth about 2 spin off jobs. This means we are down about 1.2 million jobs; most of which have left in the last few years. This has lead to people up and leaving or moving in with relatives. There are virtually no new homes being built; in a metro of about 4 to 5 million (depending upon how you measure it). The law of supply and demand is seriously out of whack.

    I'd hate to even think of what my home is worth. At about 850 square feet, it is only a fraction the size of this one.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  13. #38
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    And it's been listed for nearly five months, too.

    It has to have issues other than its being in the City of Detroit...
    Five months on the market really isn't that long in this area (of course, judging by how green everything is in the pictures, I would assume that it has actually been on the market much longer than five months but has been taken off and re-listed or the listing changed enough to make it a "new" listing five months ago).

    Being in the city of Detroit isn't the issue that is stopping that house from selling... it is the complications that come along with that such as high property (and auto) insurance premiums, poor public schools (a house that size would most likely appeal to somebody with a family but would they want to send their kids to Detroit schools? If not, then they have to fork over private school tuition), lack of retail in close proximity (no grocery stores in the city right near there, they would have to drive to the suburbs... which wouldn't really be that far from that house), high taxes relative to city services received, etc...

    But that is a nice looking house! If I wasn't in a breeding state-of-mind at this point in my life, I'd be tempted... well, except for the fact that the heating bill on that place would probably be double my mortgage in the winter! Ouch! That house is about an fifteenth of the price of houses in my neighborhood with similar architecture!
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  14. #39
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    WSU has made some excellent points. My grandparent's house is a couple of blocks from mine and its been on the market for 1.5 years! Its a solid brick bungalow on a relatively well kept street in a desirable part of the City, it is however not a foreclosure, and those have really killed the local market. While there are alternatives for education, most are very expensive. I am a city resident however and have found that by shopping around I now have very affordable car and home insurance. The biggest whack that these folks would face would be taxes. I am willing to bet that the house is still assessed at $400k; which would mean about $14,000 a year in taxes alone. I'd shutter to think how much it would take to heat this house and what the bills would be for normal maintenance such as paint or roof. BTW WSU there are grocery stores in that area, and its not too far from groceries in Ferndale.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  15. #40
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    Speaking of Detroit and previous threads on the subject here in Cyburbialand, it looks like Detroit's city government is looking to seriously 'shrink' its urbanized area, moving last holdouts out of neighborhoods that are the farthest gone to different parts of the city and cutting off city services to those abandoned areas.

    There is an article in today's Detroit News discussing this:
    http://www.detnews.com/article/20100...to-shrink-city

    This is similar to what is being done in, for example, Youngstown, OH.

    Mike

  16. #41
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mgk920 View post
    Speaking of Detroit and previous threads on the subject here in Cyburbialand, it looks like Detroit's city government is looking to seriously 'shrink' its urbanized area...

    This is similar to what is being talked about in, for example, Youngstown, OH.
    Fixed.

    After 3+ years of talk in Youngstown, I don't think they have actually shut down any sectors of the city yet. I think I even read that after all this time, they haven't even moved a single citizen out of the targeted areas! (Not counting households who moved of their own accord based on other circumstances)
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  17. #42
    Cyburbian
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    It's a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. The house is too cheap for the maintenance it requires. The taxes are going to be too high for a 140K house. Families with disposable incomes attracted to a house of this caliber will opt for Grosse Pointe with its better schools, facilities and lower taxes.

    Poor house.

    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    Sorry to make such a short comment, but I just saw this real estate listing, and thought "Jesus."

    $140K for a huge pre-WWII Tudor-style house on an estate lot backing onto the Detroit Country Club.

    I know this doesn't add anything to the discussion, but still, when I see things like this, it makes me think of the law of supply and demand; if the demand really that low? Such a house in the City of Buffalo -- again, BUFFALO -- would probably be in the $500K to $750K range, which is still inexpensive by national standards.

  18. #43
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by PennPlanner View post
    It's a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation. The house is too cheap for the maintenance it requires. The taxes are going to be too high for a 140K house. Families with disposable incomes attracted to a house of this caliber will opt for Grosse Pointe with its better schools, facilities and lower taxes.

    Poor house.
    Grosse Pointe taxes are comparable, but it does have much better parts and better schools. There are a glut of homes this size there too.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  19. #44
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Downsizing Detroit

    This Bear is quite surprised. I thought that Detroit Mayor Dave Bing's plans to work toward "downsizing Detroit" would have garnered tons of responses from planners. The subject is a natural for those of the Planner trade. Have the planners all given up on what was the world's industrial giant?

    What say you?

    Bear
    Occupy Cyburbia!

  20. #45
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Bear,

    Detroit has already downsized. Going from about 2 million to about anywhere from 800k to 950k (yes its that hard to figure out). The big question now is how to rework the infrastructure to meet the new reality.

    Despite all of the talk, there is still not a workable plan that has been adopted. Because of this you get all sorts of odd things happening. For example, a new subdivision is going into a 0.5 by 0.5 mile section near me that used to be a housing project. New housing is being built, yet across the street is a neighborhood that despretely needs attention. A neighborhood plan for Brightmoor can be read about on the APA website, it goes the other direction!

    The key issue here are the taking of blocks where they may only be a few residents left on a street and how to kick them out of the homes they may have known their whole lives and settle them elsewhere. The City needs to be very careful in doing this because they do not want to lose this population to a nearby suburb, but it can't well afford to give lots of subsidies to move them to a better part of town either without getting those who don't get a subsidy angry.

    In spite all of this there are some great opportunities here. More parkland could be developed and large tracts could be opened for golf courses, reducing pavement and runoff into the great lakes.

    This is going to be a very long process. A lot of this has been discussed on a local website regarding Detroit.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  21. #46
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Even a non-planner such as this Bear saw the demise of Detroit. In the 1930s my parents lived on Lothrup Street, just about "ground zero" for the riots that took place in 1967. I was stuck to the TV tube when the riots happened, not realizing at that time that "white flight" would kick into high gear (mandatory Detroit auto reference) following the raid on the blind pig.

    Political corruption certainly added to the bad fuel mixture (another auto reference). Dave Bing seems honest and reality-based, maybe a good beginning to a new beginning for Detroit. Those are hard choices this plan will encounter, including the choices for neighborhoods to abandon, lawsuits, eminent domain (shouldn't it be "Eminem" domain? if you are cruisin' 8-Mile?). And so much of it seems to be counting on money from the Feds. IMO, an Obama Administration is likely to provide those monies but any different administration (possible in 2012) may not open the wallet.

    It is probably obvious that I have a soft spot for Toledo's "big brother".

    Bear
    Occupy Cyburbia!

  22. #47
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    The Economix blog on the NY Times website has a post today about the proposal to downsize Detroit entitled "Shrinking Detroit Back to Greatness." Linky.

  23. #48
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Noted Urban Planner Coming to Detroit (And it's not an article about me going downtown yesterday evening for bowling night!)


    Maybe something really will come of Detroit's downsizing plan. The Kresge Foundation has already hired a planner that will be paid by the foundation but work for the city's planning and economic development department. I can imagine others in the city (either regular citizens or folks in the city government) who might feel this is some sort of conflict of interest by having an outsider, paid for by a suburban foundation no less! gasp! working in such a capacity.

    I'm curious to know what the big brain of Cyburbia thinks about this type of arrangement. To me it seems a lot more complicated than just a consultant coming in for a small project but I haven't yet decided how I feel about the arrangement. Maybe having an outsider come she will be able to provide a more impartial view, especially considering she's not really a Detroit or Detroit-suburbs native and doesn't have as much of a personal stake in it as others might?
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  24. #49
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    After seeing a lot of hypothesizing by Buffalo's armchair planner crowd about Buffalo's population loss through the years -- which many attribute to "racism", IMHO an overly simple and naive explanation for a very nuanced and complicated phenomenon -- I think I've got a good grasp on what happened in both cities.

    In Buffalo, where in the 1960s riots were small and didn't extend more than a block or two beyond their epicenter, there really wasn't much "white flight" in the sense of whites fleeing blacks because they were black. Tens of thousands of blacks needed a place to live when they migrated to Buffalo in the Great Northern Migration, and whites in their path of migration through the city slowly moved to accommodate them. There was some acceleration of outmigration by whites as tipping points were reached in some neighborhoods, but some of that was to other city neighborhoods. Since the 1970s, after the Great Northern Migration began to slow, in neighborhoods that experienced racial transition, the process took about 20 years from start to finish. Until the 1980s, the outmigration of white households was roughly equivalent to the inmigration and creation of black households.

    In Detroit, it seems like the outmigration of white households far exceeded the inmigration and creation of black households, leaving behind a massive wake of vacant housing.

    Buffalo's urban prairie is confined largely to parts of the East Side with functionally obsolete housing; areas that were always working-class. Except for some increasingly gap-toothed blocks in Masten Park, Buffalo has no formerly middle-class urban prairie. (To be fair, there's spreading urban prairie in mostly white industrial island neighborhoods such as The Valley and The Hydraulics -- small residential clusters surrounded by heavy industry -- which never experienced racial transition. Nobody is replacing the white ethnics that are leaving such neighborhoods.) Detroit's urban prairie isn't confined to former working-class neighborhoods; it spread to every type of neighborhood.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  25. #50
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    In Detroit, it seems like the outmigration of white households far exceeded the inmigration and creation of black households, leaving behind a massive wake of vacant housing.

    Buffalo's urban prairie is confined largely to parts of the East Side with functionally obsolete housing; areas that were always working-class. Except for some increasingly gap-toothed blocks in Masten Park, Buffalo has no formerly middle-class urban prairie. (To be fair, there's spreading urban prairie in mostly white industrial island neighborhoods such as The Valley and The Hydraulics -- small residential clusters surrounded by heavy industry -- which never experienced racial transition. Nobody is replacing the white ethnics that are leaving such neighborhoods.) Detroit's urban prairie isn't confined to former working-class neighborhoods; it spread to every type of neighborhood.
    1. You're quite right, lots of people who fomerly lived in the City proper moved out. Immigration to the Detroit area has been hampered over the last 50-60 due to the fact that technological advances in the manufacturing sector have supplied more workers than there are jobs. The only folks moving here would typically be highly skilled and specialized people who would see the cost differential and not have an emotional attachment to City or Suburb and would choose suburb. In Detroit, its not just a matter or white flight, its a flight of mostly everyone that can afford to move out does, as mentioned earlier, the cost differentials dues to higher taxes, insurance redlining, where unless you stay ontop of it you will pay double or triple to insure your stuff, and dismal public schools makes Detroit proper to be a poor selection.

    2. Most of Detroit was built to be working class housing. The key difference here is that some of the working class housing is nearly as nice as the upper class housing because of the higher wages that were paid to factory workers in this area. In the very central area, many of the former mansions were transformed to rooming houses to house factory workers when the previous residents built new mansions in places like Boston-Edison, Palmer Woods, or Rosedale. The abandonment of the higher end neighborhoods is a relatively new phenomen that has been accellerated with the sharp reduction in housing values since Mayor Kilpatrick was elected.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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