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Getting (Detroit) Back on Track

Cool article in this month's Hour Detroit (our version of the New Yorker? Debatable.)

It's an interview with Miles O'Brien, the Grosse Pointe Farms native, former CNN anchor and anchor of Blueprint America, a documentary series about America's crumbling infrastructure.

I am in complete agreement with O'Brien, who describes here how he thinks light rail could change the Motor City. Oh, and we both want to save the train depot. Realists? Maybe not. Visionaries? Ah, let's hope so.

You're especially enthusiastic about the light-rail project planned for Woodward Avenue. Streetcars played a big role in Detroit's growth, but how can they save the Motor City now?

When you look at Detroit and you look at rail, it's part of a whole notion of how do you eliminate the so-called jack-o-lantern effect, where a city becomes so disparate and there are so many spread-out pockets. … Rail plays an important role in clustering people. I think light rail inside the city, much like they had the old streetcar lines, would do an awful lot to condense the neighborhoods down and right-size the city such that they can provide the kinds of services they need to in a more efficient way. That's what the vibrancy of a city is all about.

So you're saying train tracks can provide the framework for restructuring?

Yes. It's been proven. Go to Portland. They built light rail. If you build it, they will come.

One Detroiter in the documentary says a light-rail system into the suburbs could help bridge the racial divide. Do you buy that?

The freeways, or ‘ditches' as they call them in Detroit, are a perfect metaphor for buzzing through the city and not being connected to it in any way, shape, or form. And that's how you develop those great rifts. … Will having better buses and light rail solve the racial divide? No, of course not. But will it help? Yeah, I think it will.

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