Discuss Detroit Archives - January 2008 How to dullify downtown Previous Next
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Parkguy
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Username: Parkguy

Post Number: 164
Registered: 04-2007
Posted on Sunday, December 09, 2007 - 8:00 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

After years of (on and off) searching, I finally got a copy of William Whyte's City:Rediscovering the Center. It is a classic first published in 1988. He has a chapter on "How to Dullify Downtown," with a checklist of eight questions. The more "yes" answers to each, "the more likely the city is to be one that has lost its ego, its sense and pride of place, its awareness of where it has come from and where it it going." Here's the list:

1. Was much of downtown successfully razed under urban renewal?
2. Is at least half of downtown devoted to parking?
3. Have municipal and county offices been relocated to a campus?
4. Have streets been de-mapped for superblock development?
5. Have the developments included an enclosed shopping mall?
6. Have they been linked together with skyways?
7. Have they been linked together with underground concourses?
8. Is an automated people-mover system being planned?

"On the one hand there are cities that are tightening up their downtown, reinforcing the role of the street, and in general reasserting the dominance of the center. But a growing number are going in the opposite direction. They are loosening up the structure; gearing it more to the car; taking the pedestrian off the street, and retailing, too. They are doing almost everything, indeed, to eliminate the structured advantages of the center they inherited."

How did Detroit score in the past, and how is it doing as it tries to rebuild downtown? I give strong "yes" answers to five questions when looking back historically.
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Charlottepaul
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Username: Charlottepaul

Post Number: 2111
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Sunday, December 09, 2007 - 8:07 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Could be worse. It could be Charlotte NC.
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Mackinaw
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Username: Mackinaw

Post Number: 4130
Registered: 02-2005
Posted on Sunday, December 09, 2007 - 9:02 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Detroit has mostly yes answers, but we still have a lot of good things from the past remaining, and we always have the opportunity to rebuild.
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Detroitrise
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Username: Detroitrise

Post Number: 1030
Registered: 09-2007
Posted on Sunday, December 09, 2007 - 9:32 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Yeah, the first 2, #6 and #8 are definite. The other ones are questionable for Detroit depending on who you ask.
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Detroithabitater
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Username: Detroithabitater

Post Number: 78
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Sunday, December 09, 2007 - 10:39 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

we've had some "#4" around MacNamara, Motor City and MGM...I hope that trend doesn't continue.

I don't think our #6 offenses are as bad as Houston or Minneapolis.
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Greatlakes
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Username: Greatlakes

Post Number: 92
Registered: 07-2007
Posted on Sunday, December 09, 2007 - 11:38 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

To be fair, it gets a bit cold in Minneapolis...
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Detroitrise
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Username: Detroitrise

Post Number: 1032
Registered: 09-2007
Posted on Sunday, December 09, 2007 - 11:51 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

^^^Contradiction, no?
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Scottr
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Username: Scottr

Post Number: 845
Registered: 07-2006
Posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 - 12:26 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Parkguy, I'll have to look for that one myself. I'm in the midst of reading Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, published in 1961.

She comes to similar conclusions, and although I don't buy into all of her theories completely, I must say it's been an eye-opening read. It almost seems as if Detroit was destined for failure, because nearly everything she names as a problem, Detroit could be a textbook example of, despite only naming the city itself a couple of times.

Of course, this book was written well before Detroit's decline, but much of what she decries was enacted at or around the time of her writing, and time has shown that she was, for the most part, correct. The scariest part, however, is how many of these policies are still commonplace today.
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Detroithabitater
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Username: Detroithabitater

Post Number: 80
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 - 1:16 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

"To be fair, it gets a bit cold in Minneapolis..."

And I agree. I don't think that is such a bad way to "dullify downtown". I lived in Toronto for a while and really enjoyed the underground PATH and saw it adding and not taking away from the environment.
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Detroitrise
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Username: Detroitrise

Post Number: 1034
Registered: 09-2007
Posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 - 1:30 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I agree Detroithabitater. The difference between Detroit's cold and Chicago's or Minneapolis' cold is vibrant life.
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Parkguy
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Username: Parkguy

Post Number: 167
Registered: 04-2007
Posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 - 6:41 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Scott--
I read Jacob's book four or five years ago (a gift from my wife: "I figured you like this kind of stuff...") and you are right-- it was an eye-opener. It stands as a real classic, with the most insightful analysis of what makes a city work you'll find anywhere.

Whyte wrote Organization Man, which was a best-seller. His book City is based on film analysis of street use patterns, and makes great points. I need to get some feedback at some point about the things he says about specific buildings and parks. He points out that Bryant Park had been a drug market, but new (1980's new) changes seemed to be cleaning it up. And look at Bryant Park now. He also has another data analysis about why and when big corporations move to the suburbs. I'll post something about that in another thread.
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Dabirch
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Username: Dabirch

Post Number: 2490
Registered: 06-2004
Posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 - 7:41 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

quote:

Detroitrise
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Username: Detroitrise

Post Number: 1034
Registered: 09-2007
Posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 - 1:30 am:

------------------------------ ------------------------------ --------------------
I agree Detroithabitater. The difference between Detroit's cold and Chicago's or Minneapolis' cold is vibrant life.



I ... actually ... agree...with ... you...
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Detroitplanner
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Username: Detroitplanner

Post Number: 1473
Registered: 04-2006
Posted on Monday, December 10, 2007 - 9:57 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

The chief problem with alternative grade indoor walkways are that if given the chance, folks will take those instead of the street. This takes much of the retail and moves it from the street, deadening the street life. In Toronto, I've not seen this to make much of a difference. I've only been to the Twin Cities when it was close to zero and windy and was dammed glad that you could walk indoors, so I can't comment much about that (except for the fact that the Saks Downtown is wide open when it is closed, without any guards in sight!)
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Deandub11
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Username: Deandub11

Post Number: 199
Registered: 05-2006
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2008 - 7:32 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Hey Charlotte why do you say it could be downtown charlotte? Whats the deal with Charlotte anyway? Thats all I hear about, Charlotte this, Charlotte that, I'm moving to North Carolina blahblahblah. I have no frame of reference whatsoever.
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Ericdetfan
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Username: Ericdetfan

Post Number: 245
Registered: 02-2007
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2008 - 8:39 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

its warm in NC, thats why..
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Citylover
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Username: Citylover

Post Number: 2832
Registered: 07-2004
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2008 - 10:22 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Why is it that none of these studies or analyzations ever mention crime? Putting Detroit aside and taking any typical city I guarantee that if there is a crime problem the city will suffer greatly. So add another question: Has the city allowed crime to dominate things.
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Umtim
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Username: Umtim

Post Number: 7
Registered: 12-2007
Posted on Friday, January 11, 2008 - 11:14 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

It's about making the city dull.
Crime does no such thing; makes it exciting.
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Dougw
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Username: Dougw

Post Number: 2033
Registered: 11-2003
Posted on Saturday, January 12, 2008 - 12:03 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

LOL @ umtim
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Citylover
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Username: Citylover

Post Number: 2833
Registered: 07-2004
Posted on Saturday, January 12, 2008 - 12:09 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Yeah....nothing like being a buffoon for the amusement of others........
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Novine
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Username: Novine

Post Number: 336
Registered: 07-2007
Posted on Saturday, January 12, 2008 - 12:14 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

To the parking issue, one of the new urbanist types argued that we should have a property tax system that rewards those who build and punishes those who use the land for surface lots or vacant for land speculation. I think Pittsburgh was a city that had some variation on this idea. Anyone familiar with that concept and is that something Detroit should consider (knowing that there are legal issues with that concept). Seems like at least downtown, having surface lots is about as anti-urban as you can be.
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Professorscott
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Username: Professorscott

Post Number: 1046
Registered: 12-2006
Posted on Saturday, January 12, 2008 - 1:54 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Crime is a result of dead streets in a CBD. In neighborhoods it is more complicated. Criminals like to perform their tasks without a lot of pesky witnesses; in Detroit this is easy because in much of the City nobody is ever out on the street.

For a contrasting example, look at the sidewalk behind the City-County Building (which, thankfully, is not in a so-called "campus"), which is where dozens of people are always standing outside waiting for buses on Larned Street just east of Woodward. Nobody ever commits a crime there because there would be too many witnesses. Maybe "nobody ever" is too strong, but I wait for a bus there every day and have never seen anything happen.

I think the "automated people mover" is a silly item on that list. Only a couple cities ever implemented such a thing, so you can hardly base a trend on it. Surface parking and superblocks are the real city-killers IMVHO.
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Charlottepaul
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Username: Charlottepaul

Post Number: 2218
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Saturday, January 12, 2008 - 4:20 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Well Deandub11, aside from the economy, I don't really know that Charlotte has all of that much going for it. There are certainly many many things that I miss about Detroit. Unfortunately, the state of the economy is usually what causes someone to move (not the weather for example).

1 & 3. Most of downtown ('uptown') Charlotte was razed in urban renewal leading to large almost suburban government buildings on super blocks. Fortunately, most of those are off to a corner of the downtown.
2. Parking--yes people need it in this country, so it will be somewhere. I do give Charlotte credit for trying its best to at least have parking decks at the malls and not sprawling out, but definitely in the downtown there are blank blocks of surface parking while the next block will have a brand new 30 story high rise. The city is growing, so I guess it is what it is, however, it has taken some getting used to.
4. As I mentioned above, the government area was created on superblocks (on the site of a razed middle class African American community). Now the city has realized its mistake and is attempting to re-divide up those blocks as much as possible with mixed-use development. On the other hand, for some unknown reason to me, they still do enjoy removing one-way streets downtown and then creating two-streets at the next block--really weird.
5. Fortunately, downtown does not yet have an enclosed shopping mall, but people are clamoring for something like that. To be quite honest, I am working on a design for it right now (arrrrrgh, I sometimes hate doing what I know is a bad idea).
6. Charlotte is supposedly trying to not allow anymore 'gerbil tubes' to be built, but people really love their enclosed over street malls, so we'll see. There are quite a few of them here--think Minneapolis or Cincinnati...
8. This is the best move that Charlotte has going for it: the city has extensive transit, is constantly investing in it, and people here use it and enjoy paying taxes for it!
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Thegryphon
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Username: Thegryphon

Post Number: 20
Registered: 11-2007
Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2008 - 7:14 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Could the city enact an incentive to have all development in the city-proper to have a certain amount of underground or parking garage style facilities? Parking in such a manner is about 5x more expensive, and I don't know if the city treasury can afford to offset such costs... Perhaps a HUD grant or something? I understand development and financially sensible development at that is important to Detroit, but at the expensive of the urban soul? As for "super-blocks" I am not sure what their issue is, all cities have large buildings encompassing a square (is the Empire State Building a "super-block" ?). Imagine the economic impact if the Pistons built a stadium on the Gratiot & 375. Is that a detrimental "super-block"?
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Charlottepaul
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Username: Charlottepaul

Post Number: 2221
Registered: 10-2006
Posted on Sunday, January 13, 2008 - 7:54 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Yeah; Comerica Park and Ford Field should probably be considered super blocks as would obviously be the Ren Cen. Any development that combines blocks is a super block (also the MGM Grand as well) whereas a building that consumes the whole block would probably not be considered one.

Underground parking is closer to 10 times the cost of above ground.
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Novine
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Username: Novine

Post Number: 338
Registered: 07-2007
Posted on Monday, January 14, 2008 - 11:26 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

I would suspect the impact of superblocks depends on their context. Isn't Ford Field bounded on two sides by freeways? So the impact isn't as great as another location.
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Professorscott
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Username: Professorscott

Post Number: 1054
Registered: 12-2006
Posted on Monday, January 14, 2008 - 11:34 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

Superblocks are a problem but some are worse than others. Any baseball or football stadium in a downtown area, for instance, has pretty much got to be a superblock. To me the worse thing is when you take a downtown urban setting and modify it so it doesn't look or feel downtown: surface parking, big setbacks, lack of sidewalk pedestrian access.

You can tell a bad superblock from a less-bad one by the pedestrian traffic. Comerica park, lots of people walking a few to several blocks and being part of the urban street life before or after a game. Renaissance Center, not so much.

Underground parking is either more or less expensive than surface parking depending on exactly one parameter: the cost per square foot of land. To build underground parking is vastly more expensive, but in thriving downtown centers like New York and Chicago, real estate is so precious as to wipe out the development cost difference. In Detroit, we aren't there yet, but I think we're trending positive.
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Dalangdon
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Username: Dalangdon

Post Number: 152
Registered: 03-2006
Posted on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - 12:30 am: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

My gosh, put all those points together (except for the one about transit) and you've got downtown Omaha.

(they don't do transit there. That's the only reason they haven't done a people mover)

But to Omaha's credit, they work very hard to keep the whole town dull, not just the downtown. They're in the midst of tearing down a historic railroad building under the delusion that someone is actually going to build a 32 story condo tower there. It is certain to become another parking garage, just like the Omaha Theatre and the Fontenelle Hotel sites did.

Can you tell I've been exiled there for business about 100 times too many? :-)
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Warrenite84
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Username: Warrenite84

Post Number: 212
Registered: 01-2007
Posted on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - 10:38 pm: Edit PostDelete PostMove Post (Moderator/Admin Only)

If and when the FBI move to their new campus, I'd like to see 1st St. and Howard opened up again. That would be a positive development.

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