Opportunities for Redefining an American City
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Wayne State University Press
Series: Painted Turtle
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph
Cities such as Detroit, Michigan; Youngstown or Cleveland, Ohio; and Muncie, Indiana, once were the backbone that sustained the middle class and helped make America one of the most prosperous nations the world has ever known. In recent decades, though, these cities have fallen on hard times. Economic and social factors have drained many of these cities of residents and businesses. ...
Of the countless books written about Detroit, many chronicle the city’s colorful rise: Cadillac and Chief Pontiac and Judge Woodward, Henry Ford and the Model T, Walter Reuther and the American labor movement, the Arsenal of Democracy and Motown music. Many other books dissect Detroit’s fall from grace—that half-century (and counting) of riots and redlining, white flight and suburban ...
1. Shrinking Cities
People who live in Detroit and Buffalo and Youngstown share a common understanding of what it means to inhabit a shrinking city. They’ve come to define shrinkage as a post–World War II problem centered on the Great Lakes industrial region. In that time and place, they have seen once-great cities depopulated rapidly as auto factories and steel mills shut down and new bedroom communities lured away residents. ...
2. Detroit Today
To understand Detroit today, its uniqueness and its special challenges, it helps first to visit a city like Philadelphia. During the summer of 2009, as I was writing this book, I toured many of Philadelphia’s distressed districts with a guide named Bob Grossmann. Bob runs the vacant land restoration programs for Philadelphia Green, which is the city’s nonprofit tree-planting and community ...
3. Potential and Problems in Urban Agriculture
If your image of a farm is something out of Iowa, endless rows of corn harvested by a Megalosaurus-sized combine, you need to visit the Norris Square district of Philadelphia and meet a woman named Iris Brown. Iris (pronounced Ir-ez) tends a garden known as Las Parcelas, which is Spanish for “The Parcels.” Better than any other community garden in America, Iris Brown’s blooming patch of land demonstrates how growing food inside a city can work the urban equivalent of a miracle.1 ...
4. Road Diets and Roundabouts
A lot of dates have proved pivotal in Detroit’s history. Cadillac arrived in 1701, and the city burned to ashes in 1805. Henry Ford offered five dollars a day to workers in 1914. The racial explosions of 1967 devastated the city and shredded its self-image as a peaceful haven where blacks and whites lived in harmony. But to explain where Detroit is today, no date looms as more important than 1939. ...
5. Healing a Wounded Landscape
Back in the mid-1990s, landscape architect Joan Nassauer accepted an invitation to see if she could help an ailing shopping center in St. Paul, Minnesota. At the time, Nassauer ran a design lab at the University of Minnesota; her interest, then and now, is restoring a more natural ecology to urban spaces. Perhaps when the local leaders invited her to take a look, ...
6. Filling the Vacancy
Daylighting streams and reforming our roads offer just two approaches to revitalizing a distressed city. But we’ll need to use multiple strategies to find productive and environmentally clean uses for Detroit’s vacant urban landscape. In this chapter, we look at several more approaches to vacancy, from rescuing vacant lots to filling the space with forestry, artwork, and wildlife habitat. ...
7. Revving the Urban Economic Engine
Along the Delaware River in Philadelphia, the Workshop of the World district used to manufacture scores of products. Back in the mid-twentieth century, most industrialized cities had similar districts. Then, jobs were plentiful and the economy churned out miracles of growth decade after decade. Now that the urban workshop era has passed into history, and jobs have been dispersed around the globe, cities ...
8. The Best Idea Detroit’s Never Tried
I first met Dan Kildee at a Starbucks coffee shop midway between Detroit and his hometown of Flint, Michigan. While writing stories for the Detroit Free Press, I had been hearing his name from more and more people who described him as the most important innovator in the urban redevelopment field. His job as the elected treasurer of Genesee County (the county with Flint at its center) seemed a fairly modest perch from which ...
9. Who Governs?
As cities plan to creatively downsize—to move the few remaining residents out of blighted areas into more densely populated, economically healthy districts—a critical question emerges: Who decides? The answer that Youngstown, Ohio, supplied was simple. Everyone gets to be in on the planning, particularly the people most touched by changes. Moving out of a distressed district must ...
Conclusion: The Way Forward
An old joke holds that when in doubt, predict the trend will continue. Detroiters better hope that doesn’t come to pass. The current trend in Detroit, in the depths of its calamity, portends only more abandonment, bankruptcy of city services, and economic distress. A city where one in three people is out of work and one in two is functionally illiterate has passed the tipping point and is ...