The Woodward Project — A New Model for Detroit

Andrew Basile, writer of the infamous Detroit sprawl letter, shared this video he has been working on with us. It outlines how car culture destroyed Detroit and how the Woodward Corridor presents an opportunity for revitalization.

What an inspiring guy. Kudos to Mr. Basile for fighting the good fight and not “silently surrendering,” like so many other businesses.

Detroit’s Woodward Avenue:

Before:                                                                                    After:

-AS

23 Comments

Filed under Brain Drain, Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, Public Transportation, sprawl

23 responses to “The Woodward Project — A New Model for Detroit

  1. Very, very good. I don’t personally know the area well enough to have detailed thoughts. It brings home that many of the wealthier area’s aroud Detroit one hears about, Ferndale, Royal Oak are actually lined up and could be connected and designed around a cohesive infrastructure.

    I also like that the video shows how change can happen gradually across the area through better local pro urban design.Massive funds for the transit link might not come right away. The key thing is to build in a way that will allow transit to work.

    Honestly, I have not been a huge fan or supporter of some of the nationwide transit proposals on the table–because they talk about transit alone and not transit oriented design.

  2. Ooops, I do have one big problem with the video in that it pitches urbanism as something for the young, hip. technically savy professional class. Good, design will help across the board in letting a greater number of people easily get around and participate in society. Nobody will likely benefit as much as the working poor and those without cars.

    I can sort of understand that the makers felt they had to sell it that way.

    If one thinks of a city as a giant organic pile of unique leggo blocks–the best city/region is the one that allows the greatest number of blocks to be available to make and remake things. If people can’t get around, they can’t easily interact and use their talents.

  3. Detroit

    I feel like I would like Mr. Basile a lot. I feel like I would agree with him about a great deal. Unfortunately, however, he is wrong about what destroyed Detroit. Suburbanization did not happen simply because of some futurist planners driven by some powerful automobile cabal.

    Look into the history of the Detroit subways. Detroit nearly built a comprehensive subway system TWICE in the early twentieth century. The major auto companies supported each both of these initiatives. In the end the general population voted the subways down because they did not want a 1 percent income tax (See “Downtown” by Robert Fogelson). Would they have voted down Subways in a world absent of the automobile? No. But it wasn’t the Ford, GM, etc pulling the strings…

    There is no doubt that modernist “urban renewal” harmed Detroit a great deal. It destroyed many vibrant neighborhoods and replaced them with worthless developments that would ultimately fail catastrophically (See Lafayette Towers, West Town Industrial, the Freeways…) (See Jane Jacobs)… But this Modernist Urban POV was how planners used to think about cities. They were wrong. Dead wrong. and as JJ points out, it never really made any sense. The “Futurama” of the Worlds Fair simply fits into that general dumb perception of “how cities should function.”

    But it is absolutely incorrect to assert that some conspiracy to sell cars destroyed Detroit. We want so badly to have somebody to blame, but it was our own stupidity and racism. We (well, at least our Grand Parents) are to blame!

  4. Detroit

    PS – Sorry for how negative that comment sounds! I absolutely love this blog!

  5. Detroit is closer to being right. Suburban design started to happen by the early 1900’s although these were more streetcar type suburbs.

    Moreover, thinking/dreaming about the evils of cities and plans to remake them date from even earlier.

  6. Detroit,

    With all that being said, what do you think about the concept in the video. Seems from a distance to be logical.

  7. schmange

    My understanding was that there was a conspiracy by the auto companies. They bought the streetcar lines and tore them out.

  8. Aussie Nick

    I am from Melbourne Australia.I visited your city in August 2010.Our friends,who are residents of Detroit, were very apologetic and embarassed to show us around the city centre.
    I was surprised to discover that it was impossible to travel to the Detroit city centre by public transport.One could only travel there by car,I was told.
    When I arrived there and was shown around Greek town ,the casino area and the new riverside gardens near the GM bulding, I felt that your city had loads of potential and charisma. There seemed to be a stange quietness around the city centre compared to the city that I am from.
    It was clear to me that this had once been a great city now down on its luck.
    My view is that there is too much reliance on the motor car in Detroit.The city centre lacked an important vibration that was only too clearly evident in Michigan avenue Chicago and Collins street Melbourne.
    I think the attempt by GM to resore the riverside area to a pristine environmetal condition is to be applauded.
    I would agree with all of the suggestions in the video clip herein.
    Regards and good luck with the renewal.

  9. Sarah Hartley

    Very good! I work in Toledo and there is no mass transit or good transportation even to schools. The inner city is inhabited by poor people and most have no cars. There ARE more entertainment venues in the inner city but few of these poorer people can afford to frequent them. What we need are jobs downtown and revitalization of the vacant buildings for better living. Lack of transportation has them stuck there. Now, we can make the inner city a better place for to live and work. But the city is broke. The broker we get the more the buildings decay and the more businesses leave. It is overwhelming.

  10. @Angie

    “My understanding was that there was a conspiracy by the auto companies. They bought the streetcar lines and tore them out.”

    The ideas that allowed for the destruction of street cars–long precede the car era.. The automakers may have played up these attitudes but thet did not create them.

    From the Le Corbusier, Wikipedia entry.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Corbusier

    “In 1922, he presented his scheme for a “Contemporary City” for three million inhabitants (Ville Contemporaine). The centerpiece of this plan was the group of sixty-story, cruciform skyscrapers; steel-framed office buildings encased in huge curtain walls of glass. These skyscrapers were set within large, rectangular park-like green spaces. At the center was a huge transportation hub, that on different levels included depots for buses and trains, as well as highway intersections, and at the top, an airport. He had the fanciful notion that commercial airliners would land between the huge skyscrapers. Le Corbusier segregated pedestrian circulation paths from the roadways and glorified the use of the automobile as a means of transportation. As one moved out from the central skyscrapers, smaller low-story, zigzag apartment blocks (set far back from the street amid green space), housed the inhabitants. Le Corbusier hoped that politically-minded industrialists in France would lead the way with their efficient Taylorist and Fordist strategies adopted from American industrial models to reorganize society. As Norma Evenson has put it, “the proposed city appeared to some an audacious and compelling vision of a brave new world, and to others a frigid megalomaniacally scaled negation of the familiar urban ambient.”

    Don’t have time, but I could go back much further. The whole creation and design of Oakland (most of Pitt and Carnegie Tech built around 1910) in Pittsburgh, was intended to create an “Acropolis” above the dense, industrial, dirty city of Pittsburgh for kids to learn.

    The whole class structure of Pittsburgh moved from the mill workers who lived next to the mills-up (The Strip-Lawrenceville)up to middle management who lived higher (Friendship, Shadyside, Highland Park) to the really wealthy who lived far away (Squirrel Hill,Point Breeze, Sewickley.)

  11. John S.

    Sarah,

    Someone needs to start a blog on Toledo. There’s not much out there. The city needs a voice and presence on the web.

  12. schmange

    There are a few popular blogs in Toledo, notably Glass City Jungle. There’s also Swamp Bubbles, which is a racist embarrassment to the city.

  13. Still would like to here from more people about the specifics in the video. Do you think there is the core of density-street design to build around?

    Also, what do people think about the Woodward Corridor brand, which obviously aims to connect the Detroit, seen as black and outlying areas seen as white?

    What I liked was that it’s a concept that can be built around gradually.

  14. Liz Rohan

    John–This is off the topic of the built environment to some extent, but here are links to some stories about the “creative class”/a.k.a. young people moving to Detroit for opportunities, and also entrepreneurial activity in the city, and this is the trend I alluded to in my last post. There are problems in Detroit to be sure, but there are people thinking about the city’s assets in positive ways.

    http://www.modeldmedia.com/features/AA2Detroit16408.aspx

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/us/10startup.html?adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1300287777-AUxX3vyS6vD6Sz8v76tcLQ

  15. Brendan

    I really enjoyed this video. The Woodward Corridor is a great asset to build around. Light rail would be awesome. When is this really going to happen?

    My problem is places like Royal Oak, while walkable, have in their own way totally given themselves over to the car. The downtown is all concrete and roads, parking lots and parking structures. The part of Main Street that goes through downtown is four lanes. I don’t understand why they don’t widen the sidewalks and narrow the road to one lane of traffic each way. I mean Woodward is only a few block away, It would also be nice if there was a park, or some outdoor space, easily accessible from the downtown.

    Ferndale was at least smart enough to put in street parking and narrow 9 mile west of woodward a few years ago, which has slowed traffic and made it much more pedestrian friendly.

    The problems of “suburbanization” are widespread in Detroit. It just goes on and on. A lot of people have become zombies in this environment and don’t even see any other way. It runs all the way from the county executives to the city councils. It’s these people we need to reach and I’m glad there are forums like this to express our views.

  16. Detroit

    @John Morris. I am uncertain. I like his optimism. I like his looking at the Woodward corridor as Detroit’s best hope (it really is). As he points out, we need more than rail. We need density and we need to get rid of these arbitrary boundaries. Unfortunately, however, what Detroit REALLY needs is a cultural change. It’s very likely not going to happen. The “arbitrary” boundaries between Detroit, Ferndale, Royal Oak, etc are very real. These boundaries create enormous problems.

    It’s a tough problem. Detroit needs its suburban youth to WANT to move to an urban place and be brave enough (or have some opportunities) to go to Detroit instead of copping out (as I did) and going to an already successful city. But it’s not a very attractive move to make until others start to make it. It’s a bit of game theory (so maybe this is a stretch). But I want to live in a vibrant Detroit, but moved because nobody else will move there… You see where this is going.

    Will M1 rail attract people and density around Woodward? My guess would be no. There is no system built around it. You would still have to rely on your car to get places off of that one street (there are the buses, but they are not good). M1 would likely help people get to Tigers/Redwings/Lions games a bit more conveniently… but even this benefit is weak as it’s not that hard to get to these places in the first place…

    As for the street cars conspiracy: I do believe this is true, but as John points out this is just part of a broader problem, a broader misconception. To point to Le Corbesiar is EXACTLY right. Futurama was completely based off of his ideas (did he help design it?).

    Here’s an article that goes over some pros and cons of the Woodward Corridor: http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2010/02/08/detroit-stakes-its-hopes-for-renaissance-on-transit-but-it-has-bigger-hurdles-ahead/

  17. Antiurban attitudes and planning long precede even Le Corbusier. I think Jane Jacobs said in Death and Life that single use zoning and other anti urban ideas would have required the invention of the car–even if it didn’t exist yet.

    We should be somewhat understanding that the 19th century city was filled with smoke, raw sewage and disease. The great tragedy is that at the very moment, we learned to fix many of these problems, we turned away from the very concept of cities.

    I will click the link, but my guess is that Basile’s plan is reasonable. First, I don’t have direct knowledge, but i think that some of the places along the route already have a degree of town/urbanism. This can be built upon and the existance of the line will help. It doesn’t take a vast amount of density to allow for shopping areas and local conveniences to build.

    Second, there is a degree of interest for this type of planning. It seems popular in Ann Arbor, and there is a trend towards it for the obvious reasons-fuel prices, demographics etc…It may not at this point be for everyone, but demand exists.

    My guess is that expecting everyone to move back to Detroit is unrealistic–and many of these suburbs are not new. What is needed is a synergystic relationship to build between the city and surrounding area. Transit oriented development means that the city will then have to dedicate less land and money for parking dead space.

  18. Brendan

    Brendan said:
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    I really enjoyed this video. The Woodward Corridor is a great asset to build around. Light rail would be awesome. When is this really going to happen?

    My problem is places like Royal Oak, while walkable, have in their own way totally given themselves over to the car. The downtown is all concrete and roads, parking lots and parking structures. The part of Main Street that goes through downtown is four lanes. I don’t understand why they don’t widen the sidewalks and narrow the road to one lane of traffic each way. I mean Woodward is only a few block away, It would also be nice if there was a park, or some outdoor space, easily accessible from the downtown.

    Ferndale was at least smart enough to put in street parking and narrow 9 mile west of woodward a few years ago, which has slowed traffic and made it much more pedestrian friendly.

    The problems of “suburbanization” are widespread in Detroit. It just goes on and on. A lot of people have become zombies in this environment and don’t even see any other way. It runs all the way from the county executives to the city councils. It’s these people we need to reach and I’m glad there are forums like this to express our views.

  19. Well that’s it. This should be just one part of a total look at design.

    As I’ve said on here before-transit investments are only one part of this. Personally, the redesign away from carsds has to start first. It isn’t that hard, to come up with a decent level of walkability and density which makes most trips local.

    I’m not a big fan of making transit investments until and before this rethinking is done.

    Also, I think it’s a big mistake to think one even has to build out the whole line at once. Perhaps, one could start with shuttle bus routes just connecting parts of the line.

  20. Detroit

    “We should be somewhat understanding that the 19th century city was filled with smoke, raw sewage and disease. The great tragedy is that at the very moment, we learned to fix many of these problems, we turned away from the very concept of cities.”

    Well said, John. I lose sight of this way too often.

  21. Yes Detroit, this is a very big factor in attitudes.

    This is why, I think the world has pretty much broken down between old manufacturing cities, where these opinions were very strong and cities like NY and Chicago, in which were primary trade and cultural centers. (Though before refrigeration, packaging and modern transport all cities had lots of manufacturing.)

    IMHO, the large city which exists mainly as a manufacturing city is obsolete. It’s the trading,collaboration and by extension the innovation function that is primary.

    This isn’t to say at all that manufacturing in cities is dead, just that it will be much more dense integrated groupings of light manufaturing mixed with research, services, residential.

    I must admit that this does suggest that Cleveland might be a smaller city since it’s function related very much to the shipping costs of heavy goods.From a distance, my guess is the Cleveland axis may shift somewhat towards the Akron area.

  22. My thinking there is not too well informed. I’m not an expert on Clevealand. Basically the main I80 east west highway goes through Akron which is a big advantage. (Has anyone thought of using that right of way for high speed rail to NYC?)

    Two other factors make me think this. Cleveland winters and lake effect snow are a real issue. Akron and points south seem to have less of that.

    I also, see many of Cleveland’s “investments”, to be of sacrifices on the backs of city taxpayers on behalf for things of regional value. Why not move out of town and get the benefits without paying these costs.

  23. detroitmover

    I cant think of another city thats more ripe for mass transit than Detroit. Where else can so many destinations be reached by just one train line?

    10,000 Hoe Down country music festival goers suddenly having direct access to the Detroit Historical Museum

    6 DMC doctors suddenly have access to Fishbones in greektown for lunch.

    500 tourists from Montreal docking at the new Port Authority at the foot of the Ren Cen, now can take a direct train to the Detroit Institute of Arts.

    A family of 6 leaving The Fox Theater after a show can now venture off(car free) to the Detroit Science Center.

    Wayne State University students can now catch a train downtown to a tail gate party outside of Ford Field.

    THE LIST GOES ON AND ON AN ON…!!!!!!! WE HATE THE IDEA OF PAYING FOR ONE PARKING LOT OR PARKING STRUCTURE TO THE NEXT.

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