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Finding a Balance in the Big City

A few quick hits before what promises to be a great fall weekend in these parts:

* The Washington Post takes a long look at Detroit through the eyes of its residents: elderly, musicians, artists,  families. Great photos accompany this piece, both beautiful and tragic. And that is why I like it; it seems like one of the most balanced out there.

In this city, it is easy to see the ruins. But, if you look closer ... you will also find residents who are taking action where others wallow, who are beautifying what others destroyed. If the economic downturn has deepened the dark aspects of life here, we discovered, it has also brightened the good.

* Reason TV via YouTube takes on the M-1 project. All in all, the video gives another (snarky) side to the story. Well, interesting how this reporting stuff seems to be getting Detroit's drift all of a sudden. Anyway, watch and let me know what you think.

In a town lacking essential services, what do local leaders and federal politicians have in mind for helping the city? What's needed to hoist Detroit back to its 1950 heyday, when it was America's fourth largest city, with more than double its current population? Why, light rail, of course!

* Check out Channel 7's piece on the big "Transforming Detroit" tour that took place this week. This was a special three-day event for in-town and out-of-town reporters to learn more about the city, good, bad and otherwise. We'll be hearing more about this event next week via a friend of mine who attended. He's in the video -- see if you can guess who it is!

On a related note, check out this essay over at MLive by the Unmasked Man from Dyspathy, Jeff T. Wattrick. (Nice to see your face, fella, and congrats on the job! Who is going to write your drinking game?) The title alone is worth reading...but it actually is an astute, well-reasoned look at why Detroit's problems will remain problems for the near term.

Detroit should stop checking the Q rating ever other day and stick to brass tacks. It doesn't matter right now if a New York reporter doesn't care about Slow's. Nor does it even matter if the Archie Bunker in Shelby Township needs to explain that Detroit is a worthless pit every time the subject comes up. Because he will, no matter what you do or say. And the best way journalists can help that process is to stop wringing-hands about positivity and just report the truth. Good, bad, or indifferent.

* Wildly interesting and cool piece over at The New York Times via Placement about an area in Lafayette Park that had the trifecta of design greatness on board: Ludwig Hilbersheimer as urban planner, Alfred Caldwell as landscape designer and Mies van der Rohe as architect.

During our research, we were struck by the casual attitude that many residents have toward the architecture. Then again, Detroit has an abundance of beautiful housing options: one can live in a huge Victorian mansion, a beautiful arts and crafts house or a cavernous loft-conversion space in a former factory. Living in a townhouse built by a renowned architect isn't as noteworthy as one might think. At the same time, such nonchalance is a mark of success: the homes are great because they work, not because they come affixed with a famous name.

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  • 1

    LeDuff, where have you been? Absolutely FANTASTIC!
    Marie is simply another dufus woman ready to decide for us who doesn't know dookie. Too many of them who think that gender entitlement is all.

    My background is in Engineering, Art, Architectue, and Urban Design and City Planning, and Architectural Restoration. If she really had a background in planning she would have read Jane Jacobs and know about transportation planners. She hasn't and she doesn't. No other profession stands so ready to do the public.

    But there are some women who do know what they are doing and saying so I choose to worship THEM.

    The true accounting is that this sort of thing reveals what utterly stupid politicians we have... ungodly stupid. The population curves do not support the need for this at all... and it is so amazing how many in the public have no grasp of the situation at all. E's in Demographics.

    This initiative is not Data Driven at all it is simply a grotesque flight of profligate fantasy.

    The monies are needed elsewhere. And if anything disgusts me about Obama and the Democratic Party, this is the ringer.

    This & the wild squanderings of Robert Bobb are enough to make a sane, intelligent person scream or get exceedingly sarchastic.

    We are in deeper trouble than anyone is willing to recognize... that's called Denial and Ignorance. And the wild ways that we are taking are as frightening as any horror movie that my teenage daughter watches.

    That this HUGE boondoggle has taken flight indicates how many absolute birdbrains are out there.

    And finally something about Lafayette Park! After all my pleading. Yes, that is me complaining about inappropriate repairs because my Architectural Historic Restoration background surfaces. I actually did work on the restoration of America's most important room.

    Lafayette Park is magnificent and it displays the fact that Excellent design by real Masters in Architecture is both timeless and priceless.

    The fact that Indian Village and Boston Edison and the other areas built up in the 20's and 30's were designed by Architects shows that the lasting value is evident. Professionals DO make a difference.

    That the Republicans have set about to destroy Architecture and Architects is evident and repulsive.


  • 2

    I gave a lecture on the History of Lafayette Park at a local University and pointed out a critical difference between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies who Frank had the temerity to call his son as he introduced Mies to the Chicago Architects.

    Frank Lloyd Wright was a romantic and loved oriental Architecture and Art. He had a great collection, but if you visit his House and Studio in Oak Park you will see only one piece of Art... a photograph of the Tibetan Potala. Woo, is that ever a great building!

    Frank was inspired by the heavy masonry Architecture of Tibet and China and it was brooding and mystical.

    Mies was inspired by Japanese Architecture and the Imperial palace with its regular post and beam architecture with the black posts expressed.

    So if you look at the Imperial Palace you will see how Mies carried that inspiration forth.

    I suppose that to some it is a sacrilege that middle class Americans can live in structures inspired by the Imperial palace, the home of the living Deity.

    Yet the place is one of the most beautiful residential areas in the City if not the State and areas larger.

    We are often visited by young Architectural students from around the world and they are typically inspied.

    I recently gave a tour to the dossants of Architecural Foundation of Chicago and they were amazed at how livable this is.

    So Karen if you ever want a tour, it's available.


  • 3

    I lived in Lafayette Towers from the mid to late '70's. Lafayette Park was a great place to live but even then somewhat isolated. Few are aware that twins of the Lafayette Towers are in Newark, NJ.

    After living & working in NYC for some 20 years, now returned to the Detroit metro area, the Woodward light rail is a huge mistake. What grew organically up Woodward, with residential and commercial lots designed to take advantage, was the street car system, with local and express cars, dismantled underhandly by GM in the '50's. That's what should be rebuilt. There already is a light rail right-of-way about a half mile to the east, paralleling Woodward, that connects downtown to Royal Oak, Birmingham, Pontiac and Flint. The lots paralleling Woodward up to McNichols were designed for residents to walk to and from Woodward, with its street car system. For awhile I lived in Highland Park, walking 3 blocks to take the Woodward bus on my corner, thence to my downtown office. Since the stops are only every half mile or more, the light rail will require residents to drive to Woodward, park and then board the train. Once in one's car why wouldn't one proceed to one's destination, ignoring the light rail? My guess is that this new system will limp along for a couple of decades with massive subsidies, only to be torn out to save money and clear Woodward to be a wide boulevard again.

    One aspect of rebuilding Detroit is often overlooked and inherent in the Lafayette Park residences. In the last 50 years Americans have grown accustomed to much larger homes. 1,200 sq ft homes in the '50's were perfectly fine to raise a family in are now considered only just adequate space for a starter home. Much of Detroit's housing stock is 850 to 1,500 sq ft wood frame homes. Even if those were in great shape, with solid, safe neighborhoods, most of today's home buyers would look elsewhere for significantly larger homes with many extras. Suburban townhomes of 1,500 to 2,200 sq ft are now starter homes, with common single family residents of 2,800 sq ft & up. Consequently the vast majority of Detroit's housing stock must be replaced with larger homes in order to attract residents back into the city. We need to look at what people's lifestyles are today, in this midwest tri-state & southern Ontario region, adjusting Detroit to accommidate, rather than some European urban glossy picture academic fantasy.

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