At the end of June of this year, I had the pleasure of being a part of a 2-day tour of Detroit, put on by Spacing Magazine. The intention of the trip was to explore Detroit (the good and the bad) and dispel some of the myths surrounding the city.
My impression is that Detroit is not only a dystopian wasteland about to implode but a civic opportunity, a chance for a new future if things are done right. While the city may be in crisis, this is still a 5 million person metro area with 5 million opportunities.
After a longer than expected wait at the border, our first stop was the Eastern Farmers Market. Opened in the mid-1850’s, it’s the largest public market in the United States and has been listed as a historic site since the 1970’s. Since we only had about 30 minutes here as we were behind schedule, most of us only had the time to get a bit of food and stroll a few aisles. I would have liked to get a chance to explore a few of the less obvious parts of this spot.
We then took a short walk over to see one of the many plots of land that are being transformed into Urban Farms. We visited the Detroit Market Garden and we were given an extensive look into their passion for turning underused land in the heart of the city into useful and productive lots that will help to transform Detroit. This project is being run by Greening of Detroit.
Our hotel was in the GM Renaissance Center which someone described as “being in the belly of the beast”. When it was built in was intended to revitalize the downtown core but had the exact opposite effect. As a multi-tower complex it in fact isolated everyone inside from downtown as it acts a self contained grandiose homage to General Motors.
After a shot stop to drop of our things in the hotel, we were then joined by Mark Nickita, President, Archive D.S., Architects & Urbanists. He took us on an extensive tour of downtown Detroit to show us some of architecture built at the height of Detroit’s glory. He then demonstrated some examples of mistakes made and explained the vision of some of the entrepreneurs and industry leaders for the future of downtown.
Underused downtown spaces that are about to be reclaimed.
Near the end of the tour, there was a bit of confusion among some of my fellow travellers. They were wondering and concerned why there was hundreds of millions of dollars being invested to revitalize downtown Detroit while thousands of citizens were having their water cut off. Clearly some type of Urban Renewal Plan is needed that takes into account the needs of the poor and disenfranchised as much as the corporate and suburban interests. If Detroit is ever to be healthy again, this clearly needs to happen.