A Capital Improvement and Revitalization Idea for Detroit

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You may have heard that Detroit is in the midst of a modest but enduring revival in and around its downtown. Residents and businesses are returning to the city, filling long-vacant skyscrapers, prompting new commercial development and revitalizing adjacent old neighborhoods. As a former Detroiter I'm excited to see the turnaround. After so many false starts, Detroit's post-bankruptcy rebound seems very real.  read more »

Homesteading Detroit


I was in Detroit recently for the Congress for New Urbanism, the Strong Towns gathering, and a Small Developers Workshop. I used Airbnb instead of the corporate hotel option while in town.  read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: Detroit


Probably no city in the high income world evokes impressions of urban decline more than Detroit --- and for good reason. The core city of Detroit has lost more of its population than any developed world city of more than 500,000 since 1950. The city's population peaked at 1,850,000 residents in 1950 and at its decline rate since 2010 could drop below 650,000 residents by 2020 census.  read more »

When Detroit Stood Tall and Shaped the World


My recent post about how urban planning decisions helped lead to the Motown sound in Detroit was inspired by David Maraniss’ new book Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story.

The book takes a deep dive into Detroit 1963, a city that was, although in some ways already in decline, in others near its zenith.

It’s a great read, in particularly for the depth of characterization. Too often Detroit writing is a story of heroes, villains, and victims. Maraniss rejects that approach and provides mostly nuanced portrayals of Detroiters that allows them to be the actual real, red-blooded human beings that they are.  read more »

How Urban Planning Made Motown Records Possible


I’m reading Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story by David Maraniss, a book I plan to review for City Journal. But I want to highlight something briefly that really caught my eye about Motown Records. It’s no secret Detroit punches above its weight in musical influence, and the Motown sound was clearly a big part of that. Maraniss asks “Why Detroit? What gave this city its unmatched creative melody?” He lays out his theory of the case with regards to Motown Records.  read more »

The New, Improved? Rust Belt

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There is no longer a Rust Belt. It melted into air. The decline of manufacturing, the vacancy of the immense, industrial structures that once defined the productive capacities and vibrant lives of so many pockmarked towns, the dwindling of social capital—all the prognosticators writing the obituaries for these dead geographies were right.

How long were rust belt cities going to be able to, as author Robert Putnam would phrase it, “bowl alone?" It turns out not very long.  read more »

The Three Generations of Black Mayors in America


A select group of cities elected black mayors during the brief and tumultuous Black Power Era, seeking to implement an activist social justice platform.  These cities – notably Cleveland, Gary, Newark and Detroit among large cities — became stigmatized in a way that few have been able to recover from.   A negative narrative was developed about most of them that stuck, despite considerable efforts to dispel them.  Cities that elected “first black mayors” after the Black Power Era, during a period of relative calm, were able to adapt as the political skill set grew in the  read more »

The Uniqueness of Detroit’s Housing Stock


Last week, as part of my series on planning reasons behind Detroit’s decline, part 2 of the nine-part series was about the city’s poor housing stock.  I started to play with some numbers to see if there was any validity to my opinions about the city’s housing, and I found some very intriguing things.  Detroit’s housing stock is definitely unique among its Midwestern and Rust Belt peer cities, and perhaps among cities nationwide.  Let’s examine.  read more »

Detroit: A Chip off the Old Bulb


Seven months after the announcement, it still seems like the largest municipal bankruptcy filing (at least up to this point) is the stuff of legend—the culminating event, after successive blunders.  The apex.  Or the nadir. No doubt those of us living here are guilty of a degree of chauvinism as we experience how it plays out firsthand, but it’s easy for anyone with even moderate media curiosity to see how much the city has hogged the headlines.  It may be for all the wrong reasons, but Detroit is prominent once again.  read more »

The Ugly City Beautiful: A Policy Analysis


When it comes to the future, Detroit and San Francisco act as poles in the continuum of American consciousness. Detroit is dead and will continue dying. San Francisco is the region sipping heartily from the fountain of youth. Such trajectories, according to experts, will go on indefinitely.

Harvard economist Ed Glaeser has a grim outlook for the Rust Belt. “[P]eople and firms are leaving Buffalo for the Sunbelt because the Sunbelt is a warmer, more pleasant, and more productive area to live,” he writes in City Journal.

Glaeser echoes this sentiment in a recent interview with International Business Times, saying “[s]mart people want to be around other smart people”, and the Rust Belt has a long slog ahead given that “post-industrial city migration is dominated by people moving to warmer climes”.

But is this true?  read more »