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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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  • 1

    Light rail might have a seed effect on redevelopment. Toronto is the principal demonstration as they turned a sprawling city into the vibrant one of today by committing to a subway & light rail system but they expected & funded a multiyear deficit as for the first decades the system made significantly less than what was needed to cover construction and running costs. The principal effect wanted is for developers to build businesses & apartment buildings along the route of the new mass transit system. I wonder if the City of Detroit residents along Woodward & nearby neighboorhoods are prepared to accept the diverse population that would occupy those apartment buildings. Diverse as to race, as to income, as to lifestyle, etc. My impression is that, for the most part, Detroit residents are hostile to new residents different than they are, that their preference is for people to come in, spend money and then leave. Repeatedly I have been harrased by Detroit residents when I visit old neighborhoods where I grew up, walked to grade & high school, shopped, the home my mother died in and where I lived during my 20's. That, in the city of my birth, of my parents and grandparents, I was no longer welcome because of the color of my skin. So, while I am encouraged by the potential return of light rail to the Woodward corridor I hope the residents of Detroit are prepared for the profound changes such a light rail system would have to induce to be successful.

  • 2

    [...] Getting (Detroit) Back on Track – The Detroit Blog – [...]

  • 3

    Detroit isn't Portland or Toronto and light rail makes no difference ... take the money and put it into REAL job training and job creation done by small business, not the government. This creates jobs that MAKE a product ... the problem with the country and exemplified by Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, etc. is that we don't MAKE ANYTHING IN THE U.S. ANYMORE.. We buy disposable junk made in China by people making 3 cents a day.

    Put people to work so they can spend and the economy will grow. Hmmm ... where did I hear that before ... oh yes Henry Ford did it in Detroit and helped build a once great city and once great country.

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