Detroit, Michigan is at a crossroads of urban development. I’ve covered the many urban planning controversies being discussed in the area: development and gentrification in Midtown and Downtown, transit problems, and increased bicycle use among them. If you’re interested in following a case study of urban ills and opportunity in the new American context, Detroit is your city. As the city decides whether to move forward with the implementation of master plans like the Detroit Future City Framework, decisions need to be made regarding history, demographic shifts, and economic development.
One place where we are continually seeing the decision to depart from this history is in transportation issues. The “Motor City” rose to worldwide prominence for its starring role in American automobile manufacturing and its highway expansion and suburbanization are legendary. However, the major developments that architects and engineers in Detroit are grappling with are tending toward a reversal of these auto-centric feats.
The latest news out of Detroit is that the City and the Michigan Department of Transportation have commissioned a study into the merits of turning I-375, a short stretch of freeway in downtown Detroit, into a pedestrian-friendly surface road. This proposal comes with tensions and passions concerning the history of the highway and the contemporary interests of commuting downtown employees. Built during the 1960s, I-375, and I-75, in downtown Detroit ran through one of the City’s most thriving black neighborhoods, known as Black Bottom. Returning this piece of highway to a surface road could have some symbolic meaning, reversing the negative history attached to it. However, today’s downtown employees are hesitant to support the idea because it will lengthen their commutes. Considering the history of urban renewal and suburbanization attached to highway building in major American cities, the trend of returning highways to surface roads carries significant symbolism for justice and development. Proponents of the change are looking forward to future development in downtown and are commenting on the priority shifts going on for Detroiters, old-time locals and newcomers alike.
How do planners find the optimal balance between new ideals, history, and preference?
Credits: Image by Meg Mulhall and linked to source. Data linked to sources.