I moved to Detroit in October, looking to add my efforts to generations' whose entrepreneurship has forged outbound-ways to private and public wealth. I've spent the last couple of weeks learning the lay of the land. And for me, that means connecting an increasingly wiggly line between where I've taken up temporarily with my aunt in Grosse Pointe Park, and points west--from Novi to Midtown and Corktown and Downtown. By bike, everything is far in gray drizzle, but it seems even farther because of the contrasting terrains I cross. From the heartbreaking hollows on either side of East Jefferson upon crossing Alter Road, to the cautiously-rooted estate homes of Indian Village and the newer waterfront-drawn lofts of Rivertown, I see plenty of signs of hope in the evidence of urban ecological succession. This time of year, fire vines have wound their siena tendrils around brick homes earlier burnt or capsized by the slash and burn of economic cycles. But the proximity of these ruins to a reviving core, my legs remind me, shortens the days until they too are pulled into what downtown tech firms, a thriving arts community, and forward-thinking citymakers see as worth making in Motown.
An article in this morning's Detroit News ran with the above photo and headline, framing a new, 30,000 square-foot parking structure with street level retail, as a vote of confidence in downtown's revitalization. It isn't hyperbolic to say that its Developer Dan Gilbert has an appetite for rustbelt transformation, and is currently setting the banquet table in downtown Detroit. As Detroit's second largest landowner, his family of companies, from Bedrock Real Estate Services to Quicken Loans and several other midwest US-based investment companies, is putting their money where their mouths are. Gilbert's companies employ thousands of Detroiters, and whether construction or tech, are re-making this old city. Needless to say, the city's public-private economic development corporation, has put their support squarely behind Gilbert.
But this particular plan lacks hindsight and as such, future-forward vision for the Detroit it will bring about. For instance: Where is the parking study that demonstrates need for a new parking structure?
The first rule in infrastructure construction is: If you build it they will come.
It would be nice to see Gilbert and Co coaxing a future Detroit made wiser by the past that hollowed it out, once people realized their cars preferred suburban, low density places. As empty as they appear now, if DEGC continues to support the construction of new car parking like this one, downtown streets will become choked and unpleasant--precisely the conditions that entrepreneurs and start-ups hate. Why? because inventive people like taking walks and breathing clean air. And because car windshields block the happy serendipity of safe, productive collisions with strangers, where new ideas hatch. And because dependency on cars makes us fatter, sicker, less creative and smart, and those traits can define a population. And, for Gilbert's and DEGC's retail desires, simply put, people spend more money when they don't have to park first.
I'm only a few weeks old here but I do have a great great great something or other named Dequindre. I suggest that Gilbert invest matching funds for a privately-managed city bike share, a privately-owned streetcar on Jefferson and Michigan, and that he team up with Matty Moroun and hire a top-notch bike/ped planner to replace a lane of car traffic on the Ambassador with world class, 2-way bike and ped lanes. After that, let's see where the feet and pedals are pushing and pulling downtown...Downtown definitely needs more destinations, but if people think they can come only in cars, these destinations will go the way of a quick past.
be the city you wish to see. ask me how!