More Updates

Spirit of Detroit

Spirit of Detroit

Still lots of good stuff to comment on since I was out of town…

What’s goin’ on in the D? Aaron Renn has a great post on the current state of Detroit.  If you haven’t been out in the neighborhoods, it’s hard to emphasize how open and desolate it is.  During my time in graduate school at the University of Michigan, I had multiple opportunities to spend time in Detroit.  Mr. Renn gives a fair assessment of the major problems facing the city, but also the unusual opportunities stemming from those problems.

In most cities, municipal government can’t stop drug dealing and violence, but it can keep people with creative ideas out. Not in Detroit. In Detroit, if you want to do something, you just go do it. Maybe someone will eventually get around to shutting you down, or maybe not. It’s a sort of anarchy in a good way as well as a bad one. Perhaps that overstates the case. You can’t do anything, but it is certainly easier to make things happen there than in most places because of the hand of government weighs less heavily.

What’s more, the fact that government is so weak has provoked some amazing reactions from the people who live there. In Chicago, every day there is some protest at City Hall by a group from some area of the city demanding something. Not in Detroit. The people in Detroit know that they are on their own and if they want something done they have to do it themselves. Nobody from the city is coming to help them. And they’ve found some very creative ways to deal with the challenges the result.

As the focus on agriculture and even hunting show, in Detroit people are almost literally hearkening back to the formative days of the Midwest frontier, when pioneer settlers faced horrible conditions, tough odds, and often severe deprivation, but nevertheless built the foundation of the Midwest we know, and the culture that powered the industrial age. No doubt in the 19th century many of those sitting secure in their eastern citadels thought these homesteaders, hustlers, and fortune seekers crazy for leaving the comforts of civilization to head to places like Iowa and Chicago. But some saw the possibilities of what could be and heeded the call to “Go West, young man.” We’ve come full circle.

Nature abhors a vacuum.  Even with Michigan’s crappy economy, prices in Detroit are so low that there’s opportunity for small scale revitalization.  Nothing large-scale is going to happen without larger changes in the economy, but some of the anecdotal stories are amazing.

If anyone needed convincing of the capacity of mass transit, consider this thought experiment about what Manhattan would look like without a subway:

Just to get warmed up, chew on this — from 8:00AM to 8:59 AM on an average Fall day in 2007 the NYC Subway carried 388,802 passengers into the CBD on 370 trains over 22 tracks. In other words, a train carrying 1,050 people crossed into the CBD every 6 seconds. Breathtaking if you ask me.

Over this same period, the average number of passengers in a vehicle crossing any of the East River crossings was 1.20. This means that, lacking the subway, we would need to move 324,000 additional vehicles into the CBD (never mind where they would all park).

Of course, at 325 square feet per parking space, all these cars would need over 3.8 square miles of space to park, about 3 times the size of Central Park. At that point, who would want to go to Manhattan anyway?

Cap’n Transit doesn’t want to take your car away. Just in case this popular line of anti-transit rhetoric comes up again, the Cap’n makes it crystal clear:

No, I don’t want to take your car away. I just want there to be some reasonable transit around for me to take when I’m old, and for my kid to use. I don’t want you to kill the hope of a sustainable rail transit system because you spent all my tax money on your stupid highway widening and airport runways. Can you please think about sustainability before it’s too late and we’ve wasted everything we’ve got?


  • Twin City Streets for People has a nice post on the Three D’s – Density, Diversity, and Design.  The author makes the case for focusing on design as the primary component of TODs rather than density – not because density isn’t important, but because it can be a lightning rod for opposition.  Emphasizing design allows to deflate concerns that conflate density with height, crime, and all the other usual fallacies.
  • Dr. Gridlock notes that people are losing trust in Metro.
  • Matt Yglesias draws attention to US demographic changes and how they favor urban living – also noting the potential for such gains to start positive feedback loops within urban communities and economies:

In particular, even if you assume no shift in underlying preferences regarding cities versus suburbs, and no pro-urbanism policy shifts, then the declining proportion of the population made up of families with children still implies a large shift back in the direction of urban infill.

Judged realistically, this should also open up possibilities for virtuous circles. Some people prefer to be surrounded by a lot of space, and others prefer the amenities associated with a denser urban environment, but nobody likes to live in a block with a vacant lot or around the corner from a broken-down shell of a former building. More people shifting into walkable urban neighborhoods allows those neighborhoods to capture more of what’s appealing about walkable urbanism.


3 Responses to “More Updates”

  1. J.D. Hammond Says:

    I want to make a “so cold in the D” reference, but I’m not sure where it’s going to fit.

    Incidentally, one of the automatically-generated links was to a post about monorail, so I commented on that.

  2. Space on our streets « city block Says:

    […] areas.  Looking back at the hypothetical Frumination post on NYC without the subway (mentioned here), the point becomes more clear.  Under the assumption that each train is carrying over 1,000 […]

  3. Suburban Regulation « city block Says:

    […] speaking of what makes great urban places, we talk about Density, Diversity, and Design.   In evaluating whether a place is ’suburban’ or not (or more accurately, what kind […]

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