Monday, May 27, 2013

Motor City Madness I
Hello Everyone:

First, we broke 500.  Hurray.  Thank you so much for your continued support of this blog.  I love presenting you with topics on architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design.  Can we do 1000?  Let's.  Second to all my American readers, Happy Memorial Day.  Today is the day we honor our fallen service personal past and present.  If you see a service man or woman, go over to them, shake their hand and thank them for making it possible for you to live in the home of the free.

Today, I'd like to start talking about a city that pops up on my radar every now and then, Detroit, Michigan.  Detroit is an interesting case study for urban planning because it is a city that's shrunk.  Really.  Cities are not static.  They expand and contract with the ebb and flow.  Detroit is not exception to this rule.  In this case, the contraction was caused by urban riots in the sixties and the automobile industry leaving the city.  Detroit has been suffering for a very long time.  However, plans are in the works to bring the city back and make it the grand dame of the Great Lakes it once was.  One thought is more gentrification.  Oh I can hear some of you screaming not another Andreas Duany project.  Let's hope that Mr. Duany doesn't get involved in re-planning Detroit and turn it into another Seaside.  In this case, George Jackson Jr., the leader of the economic development office in Detroit is leading the charge.

Mr. Jackson recently spoke at a forum on Detroit's future where he advocated more gentrification.  Why, you ask?  According to Mr. Jackson, it means a larger tax base.  In a very offhanded manner, he chalked up the need for more gentrification as simple a cost of progress.  That sounds like a very callous attitude.  Further, in a rather inarticulate fashion Mr. Jackson state, "We can't just be a poor city and prosper."  Granted the city has been in dire straits for who knows how long.  Essential services have been cut, there swarths of empty foreclosed homes blighting the suburban landscape, the downtown area is in bad need of redevelopment, the public schools are among the lowest performing schools in the nation.  I'm not so sure that gentrification is the only solution.

These comments coincided with the evictions of hundreds of low-income residents and seniors from  at least four large apartment buildings, three of which have been purchased by an undisclosed company.  This company, in turn, sent eviction notices to the residents of the Henry Street apartments in the Cass Corridor.  Also, it is widely believed that Mike Ilitch, the owner of the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, is targeting the area for a new arena and entertainment district, a la L.A. Live.  In the Capitol Park district downtown, earlier in May, senior living in rent-subsidized housing were told the had one year to vacate because the property was going to be converted into upscale housing.  Alright, so let's say plans for a "Detroit Live" and more upscale housing are implemented and everything goes accordingly, just exactly how are developers and planners going to get people to come to a dubious part of the city?

Gentrification is a difficult subject for many Detroit residents.  In the forties and fifties, many of the African-American residents were forced out of their homes in the name of economic development and communities were leveled.  This is reminiscent of what happened the residents of Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles when Dodger Stadium was in the process of being built.  I couldn't help notice the coincidence that, in Chavez Ravine, the residents were Latino.  Interesting how plans in the name of economic development always seem to target people of color.  During the forum, Mr. Jackson stated that gentrification needs to be done "as humanistically as possible," while maintaining that the city has plenty of low-income housing options.  Really?  Does mean the shelters and housing projects that haven't been closed to the shrinking tax base?  He continued, "We have more affordable housing than any city in America...It's not like we don't have options."  Further, Mr. Jackson declared his preference for dealing with gentrification than having to deal with empty lots that no one wants to develop.  Let me see if I get this wrong, Mr. Jackson would rather deal issues and costs of leveling communities, evicting low-income residents, the planning and development of multi-billion dollar projects that may or may not pan out than empty lots that can be bought and developed more cost effectively?  Pretzel logic.  According to Mr. Jackson, one of the biggest problems is not having the tax base to support the services the city needs.  I have a suggestion, if learned to manage your services more efficiently, you would be able to provide the things Detroiters need.

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