Detroit: 2016

Now a year removed from bankruptcy, Detroit is moving on and building the strongest momentum that the city has had since its precipitous decline began, more promising than any other flash of hope that came and went in the past. You can’t come to Detroit today and not see that this is the Comeback City; It’s happening.

Click here for the photo tour from my 2015 trip.

m-1-rail-route-mapSomehow, I seem to be making a personal tradition of making an annual Detroit trip during the winter. I also somehow always luck out and get a weekend that is “relatively” warm, so I’ve really lucked out (2015’s trip was in the 30s, but wedged between two Polar Vortex weeks; 2016’s trip had temps in the 50s). All of this said, and even in the “Comeback City,” there really isn’t all THAT much change in 1 year. A few new scaffolds covering some buildings, such as the Griswold Bldg on Michigan Ave that’s now pretty far along. The booming M1 Corridor isn’t all that unchanged – it’s mostly the same building projects still underway, and the light rail is still under construction, although the street is a little bit more passable.

The one area where there has been a lot of change is the new Redwings Arena. One of the grandiose old hotels are gone, yet the other (two twin hotel towers) still stands, and the arena totally dwarfs everything in the southern end of Midtown. Across Woodward, the western-most block of Brush Park is seeing a lot of new development. Huge projects going up between Woodward and John R.

As always, you gotta start at the Market, especially if it’s a Saturday and the weather is sublime. This area was previously artfully gang-tagged all over, which is now giving way to an actual public art initiative called Murals in the Market. There is a map of murals on their website, but several are new in just the last year, such as the really awesome googly eyes. There are more pics inside the market in my 2015 pics, as this time I mostly explored the surrounding market district, where several distilleries and breweries have given way to cold storage and meat market businesses. The Eastern Market is as old school as it gets.

Murals in the Market

The Eastern Market is just east, across I-75, from Brush Park and Midtown Detroit. The two areas, arguably Detroit’s most active on a nice weekend day, are still pretty disconnected. Of course, Brush Park still has a ways to go toward regaining its lost luster. The M1 Rail project is chugging along, making Woodward Avenue a little more passable than before, and it all looks great. The new Red Wings Arena is also topped out.

Midtown & M1 Rail

 

Confession time: I LOVE the Detroit People Mover. I wanted to hate it so badly. It’s everyone’s favorite kind of rail project to pick on. It’s a monorail, it doesn’t connect to the street level, you need quarters to ride it, and it only does a 3-mile loop around downtown. I always tried using it as an example of a bad rail project. But it isn’t. The Detroit People Mover somehow works. Every single time I’ve seen it, it’s packed full of people. You have to literally squeeze onto it. It could be sped up – it doesn’t need to stop at every station for a full minute or two – but the best thing about it is the headways. With 5 trains simultaneously making the 3-mile clockwise loop around downtown, a train comes every 3-4 minutes. It’s really awesome.

Downtown Detroit is also really awesome. Similarly, I really wanted to hate the Renaissance Center. It’s the most typical fortress city urban renewal project you’ve ever seen. Did I mention that it’s massing is ugly and intimidating? But it’s also really cool, and I finally made it to the Coach Insignia bar up on the 73rd Floor, which makes the Renaissance Center alright with me. Next time you’re in town, you’ve got to go. Go get a drink (not badly priced at all) and watch the sunset. If you hate fortress corporate towers like me, it will still make you fall in love with the Ren Cen.

People Mover & A View From the Top

Corktown is probably my favorite little pocket of Detroit. The main reason for this is probably Slow’s BarBQ. Easily the best BBQ joint I’ve ever been to outside of KC, and I would know bc I’m kind of a foodie tourist.

West is (was) Best

And lastly, I finally made it to the Heidelberg Project, which is truly the weirdest thing I have ever seen. In fact, that is all I have to say about it. Enjoy.

Departure From Reality

Until next time, Motor City!

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Detroit: 2015

I spent my birthday last year in Detroit, which may seem like a strange place to celebrate one’s birthday, but I really dig Detroit, and it also coincided with the Detroit Auto Show and a Red Wings Game. Didn’t actually make it into Joe Louis Arena for the game because there were too many brewpubs to try! Priorities, you know.

I wanted to put up these year-old pics from Detroit because I am going back this weekend, with a group from Ohio State’s MCRP program. We have a “City Trip” series each semester that is really the highlight of our student programming, and in the past have done Cleveland, Louisville, and Pittsburgh. Since posting these will also help me clear up space on my phone for new pics, those will surely be forthcoming. It’s kind of what I do. 🙂

Bearings

Detroit is really undergoing a nascent renaissance as it moves on from bankruptcy, which by the way may end up being one of the better things to happen to Detroit. While the slate has been wiped clean at City Hall, the actual city itself and the neighborhoods that comprise it are anything but a “clean slate.” That’s actually one relatively common misnomer about Detroit that gets under my skin when bandied about by fellow planners. Detroit’s communities are still extant, and while it’s true that many block groups have been essentially erased from existence, a lot of community fabric and community stakeholders still remain. For instance, southwest Detroit (Mexicantown) is still pretty densely populated.

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As far as gentrification goes, it goes without saying that Downtown and Midtown are relatively stable. And while the city is only 138 square miles, somehow it seems substantially larger. The sheer magnitude of Detroit is lost on many people – it’s 138 square miles of densely packed neighborhoods. The “gentrified” Downtown and Midtown core, now pushing northward into New Center, is such a thin slice of this huge city, but it’s still a more significant urban core than most cities have.

The hardest hit parts of Detroit are east and northeast Detroit, the Grand River Avenue / I-96 corridor, and south Detroit. Historically, south Detroit was the rougher part of town, whereas today it’s probably not quite as challenged as other parts due to stable affordable housing in Mexicantown. Better parts exist along the eastern riverfront (Jefferson Avenue corridor) and in the NW tip of the city, north of Grand River Avenue.

I feel guilty doing this, but this photo tour will focus exclusively on Downtown, Midtown, and the Corktown and Eastern Market areas that branch off of Woodward in opposite directions. That said, within this corridor, there is more than enough to satisfy the pickiest cultural tourist – world-class architecture, museums, food, public spaces, event venues, and all linked by decent transit that will soon become world-class transit (once the M1 Rail opens).

Photo Tour

Corktown is becoming a hotspot of Detroit’s foodie scene, and also features some loft housing. The neighborhood, just west of downtown along Michigan Avenue, is anchored by the incomparable Michigan Central Station, which is getting rehabbed!

 

The Eastern Market is Detroit’s public market. Every self-respecting Rust Belt city must have one of these. The Eastern Market is different in that it’s a larger complex, less oriented toward tourists, and more oriented toward wholesale clients. It’s surrounded by a district that features more touristy “general stores” and some of the coolest graffiti I’ve seen this side of Brooklyn.

 

Downtown Detroit is alive and well. Its sidewalks must go through an emotional rollercoaster – yes, sometimes totally empty – but other times, full of nightlife even on frigid weekend late nights, or full of downtown residents jogging or walking dogs, people going to work, or brunch, and the strangest phenomena observed was a legitimate Sunday mid-day “rush hour” when the grandiose Art Deco skyscrapers open their doors for architectural tours. You will literally see the sidewalks packed with hispters and families alike, taking photos and taking in the vibe of the irreplaceable Art Deco architecture.

 

Midtown Detroit is the new economic engine of Southeast Michigan; the true embodiment of an “eds and meds” district, which you read more about on Midtown Detroit Inc’s website. This economic engine is different from Downtown in that it is fully leased and developers can not keep up with demand. It’s also different than office tower clusters in Troy, or Southfield, in that it is walkable and transit-accessible. This economic engine is different from Royal Oak or Birmingham, awesome as those are, in that it is actually in the City of Detroit where economic development is needed most.

 

Lastly, some of the city’s most beautiful and enduring spaces are along the eastern waterfront, where the Detroit River opens into Lake St. Clair. The Detroit River is the only point where you can cross south into Canada, and in the middle of it, is Belle Isle. East of there, you see cool landmarks along the lake such as the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club.