Saturday, January 3, 2009

Detroit - Part III (Downtown)

The entire metro area is focused on downtown Detroit as a place of work. Downtown is an office district--approximately one square mile--framed by highways. Towering buildings casually mix with single story store fronts amongst a street layout inspired by L'Enfant's Washington DC-style radiating hexagonal spokes. A park lies at the "hub" of each collection of spokes. This hub and spoke plan didn't make it farther than the downtown limits and there are only two hub parks.A recent renewal of the central hub park, Campus Marius, created ice skating that draws crowds throughout the winter and late into the night.

It is a dense place with roads that seem to be just the right width. They carry traffic from the suburbs and quasi-suburbs to the scores of parking garages located throughout the district.These parking garages are some of the prettiest I've ever seen, and while that isn't saying much, it is a good indication of which sorts of business ventures are money makers in the City on Wheels.

Buses ran frequently and seemed heavily used even on a Saturday. The only other public transit is the "People Mover" which I have included a picture of below.It circles the perimeter of the downtown area at a snails pace and I suspect the only groups of people use it are grandparents and their young grandchildren who can enjoy an amusement park ride together.

Many of the street level businesses are chains and in fact, many Detroiters brag of the Jimmy John's and Quizno's that dot downtown since they are a vast improvement over vacant storefronts. With more people beginning to take up residency in the area though, many local shops have begun to sprout up including the Urban Bean Co. shown below which sits next to a once-a-week speakeasy and across the street from a local strip club.As soon as this district can draw a more reasonable balance between commercial and residential use, it will become a vibrant and thriving place. It does face issues though, many buildings--new and old--were not designed with pedestrians in mind, the block shown below doesn't seems too appealing for those walking by...Places like this will need a retrofit so that they can contribute to the liveliness of the place, instead of acting as dead zones.

Enough of downtown for now, next on to the quasi-suburbs.

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