March 29 2012

The Story of Demolition City: Detroit, Michigan

Packard Plant, Detroit, MI set for demolition 2012

In February 2012, I wrote a post called Assessing the Damage: Preserving Detroit, Michigan’s Historical Places, describing the delicate balance between restoration and demolition. Incorporating preservation efforts into Detroit Michigan’s priorities is vital, but there will always be the reality of budget cuts, insufficient public services, community needs, and generally, too little, too late.

Detroit has experienced a great deal of abandonment over the last 60 years, which has led to neglect and eventually demolition. Without consistent maintenance and security, the buildings fall victim to vandalism and arson, leaving the interior architecture exposed to the elements. Traversed by urban explorers, tagged by graffiti artists, inhabited by undesirables, the buildings have no defense, except collapse.

While restoration of abandoned factories, warehouses, and institutional buildings is sustainable, it is a costly undertaking which requires significant structural engineering. Urban planners have numerous considerations to make during master plan revision. While demolition can also be costly, the benefits of knocking down what has essentially deteriorated into an eyesore greatly out-weigh the costs.

Recently, Detroit has announced their intentions to demolish the Packard Plant and Brewster-Douglass public housing project, which has social media all a-Twitter.

Designed by prominent Michigan architect, Albert Kahn, in 1903, the Packard Plant was once one of the largest automotive manufacturing plants in the world. Detroiters have mixed feelings about the news. Another piece of Motor City history lost, though regrettably, it’s been past saving for some time.

Brewster-Douglass Project, Detroit, MI set for demolition 2012

The Brewster Projects and Fredrick Douglass Apartments were completed between 1935 and 1955; established by the Detroit Housing Commission to accommodate the “working poor.” A mix of low and high-rise buildings, the complex envelops 15 city blocks. Safety has become a major concern, and the city looks to develop the property as a mixed-use, affordable housing, urban-style development.

Hopefully, preservation efforts will encourage the city to recognize revitalization opportunities sooner. In the meantime, perhaps these demolitions will give way to desirable urban design projects aimed at improving the city’s connectivity.

How do other cities navigate the space between revitalization and new development?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Alexandria Stankovich

Alexandria Stankovich graduated from The University of Michigan with a B.S. in Architecture. In order to gain an authentic understanding of the urban context through the lens of education, she became a Denver, Colorado corps member with Teach for America, teaching elementary Special Education. Returning to metro-Detroit, Michigan, Alexandria writes about the innovative design projects and urban programs taking place in the Motor City. Fueled by her passions for the triple bottom line - environment, economy, and social equity – Alexandria is now working on her Masters in Urban & Regional Planning. She is specializing in Physical Planning and Real Estate Development.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, March 29th, 2012 at 5:25 pm and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, History/Preservation, Land Use, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to “The Story of Demolition City: Detroit, Michigan”

  1. Gerald Dicen Says:

    This is sad, that aesthetics and historical architectural designs have to end in some places in Detroit. What is even better is the fact that the demolition has to be made for the sake of the people who were the major factor of the damage. The clear reason why the government (or whoever is responsible for the preservation of the architectural gems) did not see this coming is because there was not enough value given to them. Had it been otherwise, we could have stopped time from directing us to appreciate what we once had. Finally, in the present era, we could have witnessed exquisite historical structures stand together with the technological advancements in the urban.

  2. Gerald Dicen Says:

    *worse rather than better

  3. Alexandria Stankovich Says:

    Dear Gerald,
    Thank you for sharing your insights. It’s true, Detroit has lost many architectural gems because they have not been prioritized. Many people do not realize that preservation and adaptive reuse of existing structure is more sustainable and more economical than building new. I fear for the future of the Depot and the old Wayne County Building, but Preservation Wayne has been working on a survey of Detroit historical sites. You can read more on that topic in my early post from Feb 2, 2012 “Assessing the Damage”

    Unfortunately, we recently lost our historic preservation tax credit in the state of Michigan, but it has been replaced with a similar tax incentive program. We cannot live in the past, Detroit was never a perfect, but the quality of construction and attention to architectural detail cannot be ignored and should be saved.

    Thank you for reading,
    The GRID Blogger

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