One year. One city. Endless opportunities.

Embracing a Smaller City

I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of veteran Detroit Free Press reporter John Gallagher's new book, "Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City," which comes out of the Wayne State University press in October. I'm already intrigued with what this long-time architecture aficionado and all-around good journalist has to say about what the city needs to seed a true turnaround.

Sunday's Freep gave a preview of Gallagher's thoughts...I'm most interested in what he had to say about embracing a smaller city. He's seemingly not interested in bringing Detroit around just yet in terms of boosting population. Rather, he is suggesting we embrace the city's smaller size and fix its problems with the "best in class" solutions out there. By letting the city rework itself while in this de-populated state, we can improve this old dog and teach it 21st century tricks. Indeed. A highlight:

Let's start by acknowledging that when we shun the idea of a smaller city, we hinder our ability to capitalize on the advantages of being smaller. … That vacant lot that we were holding for some hoped-for development? Now maybe we can turn it into a community garden to help feed the neighborhood. That eight- or ten-lane thoroughfare that no longer carries the volume of traffic for which it was designed? Now we can put it on a road diet, reducing automotive lanes by creating bicycle lanes, widening sidewalks, and running a transit line up the middle. The streams and wetlands buried generations ago to provide sewers for a growing city? Now we can rediscover these natural treasures, restoring the ecology to create a greener environment that's cooler in summer and healthier year-round.

Your thoughts, please?

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  • 1

    As one who is an Architect, who has won awards, and who has studied and worked in Planning, I too anxiously await my copy.

    But the Freep almost killed it for me.

    Cutting off I-375 and the loop of 10 is a fantastic way to strangle downtown. It's an absolutely brilliant way to set up a quick strangle to kill it completely. This idea is a giant equivalent of the red light bar on Washington Boulevard.

    Making all those suggested road changes will cost beau coup bucks when they should be going towards rebuilding the housing and creating great parks and cycle links and walking paths.

    One of the things that John does not know is that Planning and Road and Highway work is highly disconnected here in the US. I 75 needs to be widened by at least 2 lanes at the bend and there should be an exit into the northern end of downtown.

    There is no benefit to the city or commerce in those huge traffic jams that occur every weekday.

    Using the word smaller drives me nuts. Yes Robert Bobb is wiping out King and making it smaller but why not think in the reverse direction...

    If we start building better mousetraps the mice will come and we can quit fretting.

    It really is a conversation FOR a city. I think that it has been building and there are many more white faces in the city that in years. It now appears that it is very cool to come downtown and that is a great thing.

    When young Bill Ford talked his Pops into returning to the City he showed his savvy and did a fantastic thing. I only wish that he had selected a better, more creative Architect.

    If Beijing can do that, why not us?

    Why do we have to have so much dumb architecture here? Is it that we do not have enough concern for that conversation? It's a requisite for a great city.

    Eco talk fascinates me so I want to hear John's take on it. Most people seem to be very ungrounded on that.

    I saw a beautiful young Black woman on a bicycle racing west on Jefferson earlier today in full European black regalia and marveled... that is a harbinger of greater times underway for me, although I must admit that I was wondering if she was chasing after Robert in his Merc convertible with the top down.

    John's refusal to learn anything going on with the EFM is more than disconcerting.

    I am interested in whether he is parroting the current glib talk or really has done some hard thinking.

    Time to chase the Chinese now? Or give up and plant inpatients.


  • 2

    Just because young whites are seen in the city means nothing I resent it when the presence of white folks is a litmus test of something good happening to the city...Imagine that twisted tale the very people who destroyed the city are now viewed as saviors....Sorry but fairy tales are fiction not reality..

    Same commentary applies to JG's book...

  • 3

    Woah, you got problems, and those problems will solve nothing.

    I have a friend who fought in Korea and Viet Nam and came back and set up a truck tire repair company and did exceedingly well and worked his arse off.

    When he worked for Ford and announced that he was going to quit they asked him to come back the next day and they put him in a room with Henry II. Henry told him that he heard that George was a good worker and pleaded with him to stay. George thanked him and went on to create his own fortune.

    He has led a very interesting life and is as wonderful as it gets. (He even shot down some Migs in Korea and a couple of guys trying to rob him when leaving a bar.)

    Now George tells me his opinions which I value highly as logical and reasoned and seasoned. He did not think much of Kwame and has insisted that Whites must return to help get things straightened out.

    There appears to be a culture problem and that too many people think that it is all about sneaking and snookering, lying and stealing.

    Run around resenting this and resenting that and hating Whites solves nothing.

    We must work together to build a great City again.

    Coleman was an awfully smart man, besides his fantastic sense of humor. He always had paired leadership for each department because he knew that some Whites were smart and experienced.

    Experience is an important thing though you may not think so.

    I am reminded that a woman was put in charge of an engineering department that had a lot of civil records.
    She said, "What are all those nasty old books doing here?" So she called in several dumpsters and had them thrown away. Problem is, those were the historic records of all of the utilities... highly valuable to those who need to know.

    So that was a nutcase thing by inexperienced people a result of the Women's movement and the Black Movement unbridled.

    Inexperienced people in control always screw up things. You can take that comment to the bank. It has happened here in Lafayette Park.

    Detroit was an exemplar City, fantastic School system and well run City Departments. We led the way in water supply and sanitation. Dr. Oakman was no dummy.

    There are numerous, wonderful sections of the City and they must be maintained and improved upon and intelligent new development must happen.

    I think that you totally missed the point about the young lady on the bicycle, blinded by your never ending misdirected rage.

    Are there bad white people? Absolutely... look at Bobb's right hand men... as crummy as it gets, Carpetbaggers... a 5th rate architect who runs around screaming demolish it and lying about the reasons and Walbridge in there to shunt monies to Mitt Romney so he can attack Obama.

    It might be very difficult for you to understand Thrasher, but never ending rage actually is part of the problem.

    Did the Whites run away from it? Yup.

    Let's get back to discussing the real issues of Planning and Architecture that John tried to address.


  • 4

    There is a famous landscape Architecture firm here named Johnson, Johnson and Roy. The two Johnson brothers fresh out of Harvard came to teach at Michigan at the Architecture School and they had landed the Landscaping design contract on the GM Tech Center for the Saarinen's.

    They were good and sure could draw beautifully and make fantastic presentations.

    Jim Van Sweden studied under them and he did the Ghetty. Fun watching him push the Architect around.

    Now the Johnson Brothers did land a project in Kalamazoo. and they put on their fancy presentations and sold the City Fathers into closing off the main drag and making a pedestrian mall.

    Well I totally killed the business in the town.

    So that is what I worry about with John's suggestion of closing off the arteries. It is a grandiose idea too and would be the final straw.

    Detroit had a huge problem downtown... No parking despite the fact that the first two parking structures in America were built here and the liftgate was invented here.

    When People for Downtown Hudson's met with the last remnants of the executive staff we mentioned that they should advocate for more parking. They said that they had and that simply was not true.

    Now we have gotten a lot of parking lots downtown in the past 20 years. Some are beautiful. The problem is somewhat solved on that end of things.

    It's the parking lots that are saving downtown.

    Unfortunately or not, people love their Cars as China is finding out. They love to ride in them on seats that are better built than their finest furniture at home and see what's going on.

    So the cars are our modern day horses and we love them just as much.

    There was this guy named Richard Nixon who was despised even though he opened up the door to China like Admiral Perry did with Japan.

    Because of the first energy crisis he ordered the free right hand turn when traffic was clear but he also ordered a 55 MPH speed limit which the people came to despise and I'd assert that was the subliminal thing that caused us to hate him the most.

    So we have to be very careful about cars.


  • 5

    Rage and resentment?
    Excuse me, Bill, but I think that white people who left for the suburbs in 1965-70 and who refused to keep their businesses open, open new businesses or continue to lobby for efforts within the limits of their beloved Detroit city were and still are the most outraged and resentful among us.
    We all know that money keeps a city alive. If the money leaves, and stays away angrily and resentfully, and won't listen to the city government's efforts to restore, renovate, rebuild or reuse buildings with new businesses, then why is it a good thing to see more of you around?

    And anyway...
    Per John Gallager's book excerpt, shunning the idea of a smaller city doesn't mean that our lovely local, state and federal governments can't handle doing what's right.
    I-75 comes in at Madison. That would be the north end of downtown.
    Changing the width of the highway to suit individual drivers who commute here is a stupid idea. I thought we were ALL talking about public transportation, including a light rail similar to the one just completed in Phoenix, AZ, in 2009.
    The impetus of local communities to plant things in vacant lots won't end with the city holding the land for another, larger, more lucrative venture. There is a lot of land here, and like the suburbs, there are plenty of people willing to venture into the realm of planting.
    Bill, are you literally trying to say that if a Viet Nam vet can go from a decent job at Ford to a successful independent business in Detroit, then we all should have done that all these years instead of allowing those bastard white f***s to abandon the storefronts on all of our streets? We didn't own the buildings. Do you want us to get a bank loan and build a brand new gas station, restaurant and clothing store, or privately fund a new city park? Or do you suggest that maybe our local, STATE AND FEDERAL governments should have made some sort of effort before 2010? Or that other large businesses couldn't have moved in?
    And, the young beautiful Black woman racing west on Jefferson who is your harbinger for a brighter future for us? No one here wants a savior. None of us have ever been unable or unwilling to work. Even your regular dope slinger works for 10 hours a day, through rain, sleet and snow. Now what's that all about?

  • 6

    I don't believe that the money left resentfully. Hey, to some the Silverdome and the Palace was the bright new future. The grand skyscrapers in the boonies was the future for them.

    Southfield and parts north was the movement... the bright new future to some. Look at the way Birmingham got ripped apart.

    In many ways that is a very vital downtown.

    Look at the kids going to the movies there.

    The question remains, Do you want to generate a vibrant and exciting downtown or not?

    The entrance to Madison is not far enough North.

    Widening the expressway at the bend is to cut down the traffic jams that always happen there. Lots of gas and fumes and fuming people because of that poorly designed restriction. This is not about commuting at all, it's about commerce.

    How could you construe my comment about George that way??!

    Call us what you will, people gave up because they had to with no parking and all sorts of constrictions.

    Isn't Robert Bobb the Savior? ;D

    I don't know much about dope slingers but dopiness is the enemy.

    I don't shun any idea of a smaller population of Detroit. That is irrelevant.

    The parking is here now. Good things are happening.

    Are we all going to continue this effort together or is this going to degenerate into race baiting?

    My wife strongly felt that mixed communities were the very best.


    • 6.1

      Wait a minute....did Birmingham get ripped apart or is it a vital downtown?

    • 6.2

      Don't listen to Thrasher, no one else does. Many of us would much rather read your stream of consciousness than his twisted view of the world. Thanks for your insight on Detroit and the metro area, from a perspective that most of us would not have seen before.
      I am sure that you, along with the rest of us, recognize the hypocracy in his attacks on your writing, i.e. inability to separate ones self from the subject (or not make the subject into a race debate).

  • 7

    I'm sorry -- George is your close friend who happens to be black?

  • 8

    George is a friend who I love and trust and simply enjoy listening to.

    Like my wife and the three children that we raised for various periods of time, they are all black.

    Coleman married us.

    And yes, I have white friends as well.

    I established the position of Chief Architect at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority and was actually thrilled at the position. Working with Mike McCoy from Cranbrook we designed a beautiful logo for the MSHDA. It was ruined.

    I was told by the director that I would have authority over whether or not a project would pass. MLK housing was before us and I deemed it too crowded and not nice enough. Bill Rosenberg said that it had to go through to establish credibility for the Authority since it has been in existence for several years and no project had been funded.

    The recent reworking of MLK Housing is very nicely done but I still believe that there should have been more open space for the kids to play. Tearing down a building or two to achieve that would have enhanced the project.

    Yet I remain disgusted with the Authority for walking away from funding projects in Detroit and for funding all of those crappy houses littering the boonies of Michigan.

    Now is the time to do some great housing developments on par with what Walter Reuther demanded when he got Lafayette Park going.

    I talked with Coleman about putting on a great International housing competition and he agreed and had Ron Flees help select a site.

    I thought that the AIA should be involved and one of the egomaniacs killed it.

    It's still a great idea... the new housing in Detroit should be World Class, not the crappy stuff of Habitat for Humanity or any other well meaning group that simply does not understand Architecture.

    Walter's Demand for the Finest has proven to be a great thing. His Architect friend, Oscar Stonoroff from Philadelphia was also instrumental in guiding this project.

    You may not agree but the test of time has shown the wisdom of Walter and the brilliance of Mies and Hilbersheimer and Caldwell.

    People looking out from the towers of Ren Cen wonder what that lush green area is. It's us.

    More of this quality work will bring people into Detroit and inspire some to stay instead of moving out to Birmingham and Southfield.


  • 9

    Now get rid of the incinerator the odors emanating from it are worse than the old brewerys and it has taken out a swath of usable , Create a great sanitary landfill so the kids can Ski in the winter like Riverview. The view of the city in the winter would be wonderful.

    Put a great golf course in here. There is room for one not too far from downtown and golf courses are always fun to look at if they are nicely designed regardless of whether or not you play the game. And yes, it should have some water features.

    This can all be linked together with walking and cycling and segway paths.

    Working downtown? Hop on your segway and zip over and drive a few during lunch.

    Careful thought must be given to the established neighborhoods that are viable.

    They must be located in the plan.

    Those that have weak spots must be augmented.

    There is a lot of beautiful architecture and it must be preserved and protected. It represents our history.

    Now is the time for bold and insightful plans.


  • 10

    Good 'stuff guys. a couple of things...1.). We all agree that linking the various 'livable-desirable' neighborhoods, or Islands makes most sense. 2). ia, and everyone else; I'm reconsidering Ripping apart the Racists, White, get the Idea. It's too simplistic to point out the Error of their ways. Instead, let's all open up , hopefully, dialogues, NOT Monologues. Extremists should vent-in a civil manner. But...There seems to be kernals of truth in what everybody is saying: Some Popping , more than others(the proverbial'old ladies, is it?) The extremists can cancel each other out, and we can learn what's 'pissi-g' off ALL Detroiters. As to empty storefronts: As a kid in a lower workingclass, yet , well maintained, immigrant filled neighborhood, there were already 20-25% empty storefronts. Despite what Modern Republican- Hacks say, there wasn't THAT much onnovation, or funding, or hard work, being done. Every 3-6 blocks had the granite-appearing bank branches, a bar, or 2, perhaps a small partysore, and a cleaners, maybe a Chinese-type Restaurant, or a good Fishand Chips. Having your own storefront was a dream-works..No filthy, factories, and being your OWN MAN-WOMAN. As the n'hoods became poorer, the clients who shared your visions, became smaller; One wig-shop could provide a modest income, but because it was cheap-rent, AND a common dream shared by others, those proprtrs. did their right and opened another, then, another, wigs, partystores, soul-food emporiums came and went, JUST LIKE SMALLER'INDEPENDENT grocers , Cleaners, run by Middle-Eastern folks of all beliefs. Only 'storefronts occupied, by any ethnicity were those who could stick an Uncle, several nephews, a couple of nieces, in a heavily armed or alarmed , business.Plexiglass, and new versions of the Ubiquitous Locking gates became the norm... Being eyeballed, w/ some justification, by angry storeowners, who weren't even from America, much less, Cerveny, Guest , de Sales , 'PB', just wasn't worth it. IF you had income and inclination, some would take off for the burbs. The Racists on one side HAD FUNDS---THE RACISTS on other sides, HAD ANGER. The dwindling crime ravaged near middle-class, got tired of getting hassled by Racists, from one side or another, and Homogenized themselves. Both extremes used valid bad experiences, to justify their poison. The dwindling poor souls of all ilks wanted BETTER! The nice white -collar-professional black couple and their kids didn't need ANYMORE 'crap' than all it took to'get there'. Soon, they split, leaving the older residents as the vestiges of REAL, or Imagined, Racism. Throw in Nut-jobs--some who were Republic of New Africa members marching 'thru your yard, or alley in RNA -excuseme- Boy ScoutUniforms, WHY would any defenseless, people not hate ANY person who reminded trhem of Nazi's, or the Communists Dictators of the old Country? The few of us and our parents, would look after our n/hood, as best we could--White, Black, Whatever, AND WhatEver Ages we were. If your child's personal safety is , in one's mind, threatened, what are you to do?...Stick it out?..Or Leave? Kudos to all members of All races, who were, AND ARE, Sticking it out! ... That said, SHUT-UP or PUT UP! NOT YOU ia, and other , intelligent people!!Those OTHERS- ,YOU KNOW, THE KNUCKLEHEADS!......By the way, at a CAR show in Mid-Indiana, some of the more naive club members just said what they thought...Why would anyone go INTO the City-Proper? Aren't you 'fraid of getting, not robbed, or hassled, KILLED?! I politely (THNX!) informed how lots of crime has dominished due to more street activity by "young people" w/ no prior urban exposure....Downtown has always been safe, it's just a little smaller. Then to those out there who diminished our Current status as a World Classs City, I informed of how Detroit, Chicago, even, Philadelphia were about same size, BACK WHEN THERE WAS 1/2 the population in AMERICA, AS now! That opened some MORE EYES... Detroit STILL 'Fronts' larger than its current population, by the ENORMOUS(STILL!) Corporations and institutions, second to none!...NONE! THEY, NOT ME, Suggested getting some rooms near the River, and holding a mid-sized car show, etc.,. I then informed of lack of Suitable venues in City Proper, Except what's left of Stoepels, Rouges, Chandlers, Butzels...Hey!...Now THERE IS AN IDEA?...Coordinated venues -safe and secure for peoples $$$$ Car, Coord. Hotels, Maybe an OLD FACTORY THAT BUILT Caddys' or Packards, or DeSOTOs , or FORDS...Oops, we do have the Piquette plant. It's a Start!...In getting people to spend BIG $$$, BIG Attractions are the way to go! HURRY UP!! Porsche , and, what?..., BMW, just built $$$$ Million (EUROS, SORRY!) Museum and places to have FUN w/ your Car!! Hey!...Now THWERWE's AN IDEA?>>>

  • 11


    Please do not lecture to me about racism and related topics..I don't engaged in' race baiting"..I communicate without pc verbaige..

    Please also spare me your history about being married to a Black woman BTW that does not make you an expert on coloreds and negroes...

    • 11.1

      Well said, gt. I come here looking for intelligent posts on a specific subject and find "stream of consiousness" rants to be distracting.

  • 12


    Thanks..I am so tired of people who lack the skill set to separate themselves for the subject matter..Of course this is my main objection with blogs/forums people attack folks like me on a personal basis instead of the substance of my comments good, bad or ugly...

    This topic is worthy of robust chatter not endless streams of nothingness..

    • 12.1

      gt, napper, I figured that lack of a quality responsewould set one of you race-baiting hotheads, that's why , in '"my stream of consciousness rant, I mentioned Racists xcancelling each other out. As for the long 'rant', I plead guilty...Apparently my computer skills lack as much as your depth of subject. Why not pick one thing...1 THING, you can disect and try to make an intelligent comment on? Endless strems of nothingness'?..Well OK...If you insist. Have YOU TWO, EVER, EVER, suggested any, ANY, constructive ideas , AT least POSITIVE ones...Hell!...Even ANY COHERENT ONES? I guess throwing any opotential ideas is more insane than 1 million Detroiters Splitting because more Crime and Murders have been committed (including over 1 Thousand drug deaths) in past 35 years? More insane than dozens of bleak miles of destitute and forlorn land-cityscape? Robust cghatter, all?...The fact you can't keep your minds on topic long enough to take even one of my "stream of..."-blah -blah--WHAA -Whaaa!--Poor babies!...Shush now, little ones...Mommy 'll come to calm you down..Shush-Shush....Ideas..Shoosh...And disprove it(Them) shows both of you should Re-E-ducate yourselves with History, Geography, modern, news, and contemporary thought. REAL Problem Solvers Apply above! Amen, and Bye-bye! Nighty, Night! Sweet Dreams!..Don't let the BEDBUGS BITE!

  • 13

    Went to the Greater Grace to see Detroit Works in Action.

    I am blown away. This is fantastic!

    And this is what I was talking about when seeing the beautiful young lady on the touring bicycle... She indeed is a harbinger of highly educated, committed, young Blacks taking control of the situation in Detroit.

    Greater Grace is stunning and beautifully done and it clearly was the place to kick off the effort.

    Yes the crowd was hugely Black as it should be.

    And to my surprise some young Black women are in Charge of this effort. Erudite, poised and well spoken. It really is a thing to behold. Unimaginable to some I am sure.

    Clearly their education in Planning will finally see this through and they really have a wonderful canvas to work upon. Forget the fretting and despair and blame and hate. This group is going to see it through and the results will stun America and indeed Detroit will have shown the way to reinvent a City in dire need.

    I am telling you that when this gets seen through the world will be amazed on many levels.

    These women are Professional Planners and Architects and they will make great things happen!

    And they are seeking suggestions so I did pipe up about having a great international Architecural competition for housing like the one that Coleman Supported. They declared that the first suggestion.

    And Dave Bing made it clear... the City is not being downsized, it is not getting Smaller and he intends to make it a great place to live. He's made some great choices here.

    Do it right and people will want to live here, not in the vapid Suburbs nor in the desolate dumbed down Boonies.

    This is the greatest thing since Bill Ford talked his Dad into abandoning the Silverdome and coming home.

    And it will be way more far reaching.

    Those fretting must stop now.

    This is a first class initiative, completely the opposite of what is happening to the School System.

    We shall be proud!


  • 14

    Just a suggestion for thoought by those in charge of the changes to come: get your hands on some old plat maps of the city and study them. I find that there are many clues to be found in them about how cities once were when they were designed to meet the needs of people first and cars second. Gallagher mentioned uncovering some of the old waterways that were buried years ago....a great idea and one which might surprise people to learn that there once were many streams and rivers that helped organize the earlier Detroit. Could it help again? I think it's worth a look before being dismissed. A "greener" Detroit might make us unique. Even Bill's idea about a golf course isn't as nutty as it first sounds and, coupled with uncovering the old waterways might be the beginning of a strategy for change.
    Another great source of inspiration is the series of paperback books published over the past several years showing pictures of the City before the "cars first" mantra took over our planning decision-making. They are organized by era an show scenes throughout the city of how streets used to be designed to accommodate cars AND people, but mostly people first and cars second. They even show pictures of...gasp...light rail! What a concept! There was curbside parking on all the major thoroughfares which was all but eliminated by the "progressive" traffic engineers of the 50's and 60's. With curbside parking, light rail (then known as streetcars), and wide sidewalks there was actually a thriving retail presence. The point is that we almoost had it right and then managed to second guess ourselves and mostly do everything to all but insure that it would be destroyed. I don't think we nee "new" thinking so much as we need to look back at what worked back in the day and humbly admit that we didn't know better.
    One example is the recently renovated Washington Boulevard downtown. Hamilton-Anderson pretty much removed all the oppressive "cars first' crap and rebuilt the street in its original form and it has now has the poteential for providing a setting for new businesses to locate and prosper. In fact, that has already begun to happen. It's not rocket provide an attractive street, curbside parking, wide sidewalks, public amenities like benches, tress for shade, newspaper kiosks, etc. and people will come. When people want to be in a place so do retailers, restaraunts, and businesses. Any plan to re-imagine Detroit has to start with the public realm...the streets and public places around which the rest will develope.
    The New Urbanist planners....despite their rather arrogant attitudes and dogmatic approach to planning....have rightly acknowledged that the planners of the past had it mostly right. New Urbanism isn't "new" at all, but rasther a recognition that we had a pretty good thing going once and then we screwed it up by catering to cars and ognoring the human scale.
    I suspect that this is what Gallagher's book will focus on, at least I hope it does and will focus the discussion where it belongs.

  • 15

    I attended the Detroit Works event last night from my perspective as a outsider( Black Suburbanite) I at mixed reactions ..I was impressed with the volume of the turnout...

    It was tragic that people were not treated with respect but I think that can be fixed by next meeting..

    There was a range of emotion present as well as generational themes present..

    I left the meeting as a Black suburbanite angry that American cities are suffering in the richest nation on the planet...I simply refuse to accept this reality...I will assist in changing this reality..

    • 15.1

      OK, Thrasher, napper1,...I apologize. The uncovering od pold streams, wetlands, etc., probably COULD Revolutionize the NEW GREEN thinking going on. After all, most of MI. from Toledo north to Saginaw, and West t the Grand River, was indeed, swampy and bog like, fed by many decent sized rivers and creeks. You guys may be on to something...ALA Hines Drive in western Wayne County, etc.,. Again, I apologize.

  • 16

    I attended the meeting at Greater Grace, and I thought it was productive, despite the handful of hecklers/gripers and folk who are convinced that Mr. Bing is simply the latest of a series of "plants"; having some of the breakout groups in the main church sanctuary was awkward, trying to speak up but sometimes getting drowned out by something intense in another group.. The breakout group I was in handled things fairly smoothly. Still, despite the hiccups, I'm encouraged to keep participating. People have to make the choice to be engaged or not engaged. Using these meetings as just an opportunity to vent in the negative is not constructive. People have to bring some genuine ideas on how to improve neighborhood conditions, attract reinvestment. Going off into the typical Detroit-Conspiracy Proselytizing ("THEY want to take over X, Y, Z, funded by Lansing meddlers, and/or a quasi-anonymous cabal of Suburbanites", etc.) will accomplish nothing, because it assumes the worst has already happened and it assumes the will of the people means nothing.. The career gripers need to step aside; let people who are willing to put real effort and action into making this revisioning of the city happen lead the initiative.. it's not going to get fixed overnight or even by this time next year..

  • 17


    To program and design something properly it takes conversations, thought and documentation time.

    Not one week like the "New" downsized King.


    • 17.1

      Good ideas are not necessarliy a function of time. We've had 50 years of steady decline with countless thousands of ideas thrown out there without much success. I've always felt that Detroit suffered "paralysis by analysis" by spending so much time trying to document and staistically justify the simplest of ideas that nothing gets done.
      One of America's great philosophers, Yogi Berra, once said that " can see a lot just by observing...". Sometimes just watching how people react to a "good" space or don't reacr to a "bad" space can tell you more than all the studies and staistics about what direction to take.
      The late New York City Planning Commissioner, William White wrote a definitive book on the subject of planning for people called simply "City". He and students from NYU and Columbia spent hours watching and recording what makes a good place and why people are drawn to one space and not another. It was all about the public realm, thaat is the things that cities themselves can design and are responsible for. White helped to found the Project for Public Places which has a website ( ) that has available numerous articles and publications about the subject and how properly designed streets and public spaces can and do create the kind of places people want to be which, in turn creates places businesses and restaraunts and residents want to be. The info isn't all bogged down in studies and numbers but relies on good old observation and a an acknowledgement of human behavior. It's good stuff....check it out.

  • 18

    I'll buy that in a second. Look at the Ford Fiesta a huge hit in Europe and elsewhere.

    They decide to bring it here and then some dufus character wants to have it studied so they end up ruining a great design. It got bowdlerized and looks like a mini Chrysler Concorde. Ugh! it's hideous now... the result of the study mentality.

    Incidentally a street car system is not a light rail system. Street cars are much less expensive than light rail systems.

    But at this stage of the game putting in a light rail system is as dufus as it gets. There is no destination at 8mile and the housing structures along Woodward are at a low ebb except around Wayne and further south.

    Electric Buses are the way to go. You can change routes virtually instantly if demand shows up differently.
    And you have not wasted all that money in immobile capital improvements that don't work.

    Do you watch TED? Did you see what they did in RIO? Very intelligent and beautiful.


    • 18.1

      True, the housing along Woodward is at a low ebb as you say, but it is useful to look at how that came to be. I contend that the current condition of housing along Woodward anf the entire city for that matter is the result of consious, well-intentioned decision making that had unintended consequences. Lokk at Woodward as an example and the series of decisions....well meaning as they were ....that led eventually to the decay we see today.
      Take Woodward between Grand Blvd. and say Edison. After the war the planners saw a growing trend toward ownership of cars given the new affluence of many working class folks. Remeber that during the pre-war depression few people could afford a car or the gas to run one. Given that we were the Motor City it made perfect sense to conclude that we'd all become motorists so there was no need for we got rid of them. The consequences? More cars on the roads, more "congestion" and the unintended consequence of having to provide more lanes for traffic to move from downtown to the newly emerging suburbs. Since I-75 or the Lodge didn't yet exist Woodward was seen as the major route to the northern other words it became a highway instead of a local thoroughfare.
      OK, so how to accomodate the incresed traffic? The decision was to remove curbside parking and make more travel lanes and turn the former streetcar lines in the center into turn lanes. The unintended consequences? The former buffer between travel lanes and the sidealks in front of the stores that serviced the neighborhoods on either side of Woodward became was removed and the public realm became more hostile. Also, the distance accross to the opposite side of the street was increased by the elimination of the streetcar lanes which previously provided a place of refuge as one crossed the street. In addition the increased speed of the traffic because of the design of the street itself made crossing hazardous at best. When even all that didn't satisfy the traffic planners need to move the most sheet metal at the highest speeds possible, the sidewalks themseves were reduced to a minimum width.
      The unintended consequences? The patronage of retail stores along Woodward began to decline and as places ike Northland became the new est fad in retailing, they slowly but surely began to close and move to the burbs. The result was that previously attractive neighborhoods became less attractive as those services disappeared and were essentially abandoned and left for those folks without the money to afford a car or who for a variety of reasons couldn't move to the burbs. Slowly but surely the homes became rentals or simply suffered a lack of maintenance as people of marginal means came to occupy them. The decline was inevitable and another of the unintended consequences of consious though well meaning decision making.
      We now have the benefit of 20-20 hindsight and can now see clearly what the planners of the day couldn't forsee. We can reverse those bad decisions and a better form...what we had and lost. Let's REDUCE the size and scale of Woodward to that of a local thoroughfare....if you want to go to the burbs take I-75 or the Lodge....that's what they're there for. Let's reinstall curbside parking, widen the sidewalks and do a streetscape design that emphasizes it as a people place. Let's install MORE traffic signals to purposely slow down traffic and make crossing safer and less hostile to other words, force the commuters OFF the street and make it a local thoroughfare again. It's been shown in other places where this as been done that people will return to neighborhoods like this followed by the retail and resteraunts designed to support them. Eventually then it may make sense to re-install a real public transit system when the population can support it.

      I apaologize for the length of this post but it was the only way I could explain how a "reverse engineering" approach might hold the key to a strategy for reinventing the city. Actually, I don't think it's so much about reinventing the city as it is re-discovering what we had and lost.....kind of an Urban Archaeolgy idea....merely uncovering the best of the past and undoing the thinking that lead to unintended consequences. Food for thought.

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NICHOLAS FISHER, expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in a study which found that bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi were present off the coast of California just five months after the nuclear meltdown.