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Old 03-01-2008, 03:08 AM
 
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This is a comment I have heard from various out-of-towners who visit. It's not so much about the pockets of decay as it is about the general layout, sprawl, and appearance of the metro area, combined with its general lack of natural landmarks. Los Angeles, for example, may sprawl terribly, but you can see the mountains from various angles.

A lot of metro Detroit is nothing but low-density housing tracts with little commerce strung together by commercial boulevards that are wide and ugly. There is a general sense of bleakness to a lot of the environment.

What can be done to fix this, and how did things get this way?
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:17 AM
 
Location: Petoskey
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In my travel experience, I would say yes, it is uglier, with the possible exception of Cincinnati.

What can be done? It would take too much effort, time and money with little or no resources to devote to the cleanup. The run down, empty, abandoned buildings would need to be demolished or refurbished...you would have to eliminate a certain population as well (homeless, drug dealers, street "businessmen," etc.).
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Old 03-01-2008, 11:26 AM
 
Location: Grand Rapids Metro
8,884 posts, read 18,969,581 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by natterer View Post
This is a comment I have heard from various out-of-towners who visit. It's not so much about the pockets of decay as it is about the general layout, sprawl, and appearance of the metro area, combined with its general lack of natural landmarks. Los Angeles, for example, may sprawl terribly, but you can see the mountains from various angles.

A lot of metro Detroit is nothing but low-density housing tracts with little commerce strung together by commercial boulevards that are wide and ugly. There is a general sense of bleakness to a lot of the environment.

What can be done to fix this, and how did things get this way?
Mass transit, plain and simple. Look at Chicago. Not only is downtown a beautiful sight to behold, with the skyscrapers rising at breakneck speed, Millennium Park, museums, waterfront, theaters, shops, etc., but there are scores of urban/suburban areas that line the Metra and CTA lines that are exploding with tight-knit new developments, with little shops, condos, parks, you name it. Just when I think Chicago can't get any more beautiful, it just keeps amazing me.

Chicago is not perfect, of course, but it's what Detroit should emulate. And Chicago was not always that way. Even 25 years ago, it was ghetto land as far as the eye could see beyond the Loop. I remember visiting Chicago as a teen in the late 80's, and looking out at the ghettos and projects from the top of the Sears Tower. You wouldn't dream of venturing outside of Michigan Ave back in the 80's. Now, the areas just outside of the loop and the Magnificent Mile are hot properties, all served by mass transit.
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Old 03-01-2008, 11:51 AM
 
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It's just that the way land is used in a lot of the metro area is not very appealing. For example, I recently pulled off the freeway at a random exit around Inkster, to fuel up and get something to eat. Even by the standards of freeway exit commercial clumps, it was quite ugly. The gas station was "next" to a restaurant, but the lots were odd, and there was an irregular area of grass and asphalt between them. Then an apparently vacant tire store. Then an empty lot, followed by another gas station.
The whole arrangement was just plain ugly. But this is how a lot of the metro area looks. You have the divided quasi-highway abutted by standalone stores or complexes, usually with quite a bit of physical space between them. Density is rare. Trying to walk or bike from store to store is suicidal.

If it's all you see, it probably seems normal, but if you travel around to other places, you start to understand just how ugly it really is. I would say that land has been MIS-used in the metro area more than it has been used in any sort of cohesive, intelligent fashion. And now with rising gas prices, many people will simply be screwed.
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Old 03-01-2008, 11:58 AM
 
Location: Grand Rapids Metro
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Originally Posted by natterer View Post
It's just that the way land is used in a lot of the metro area is not very appealing. For example, I recently pulled off the freeway at a random exit around Inkster, to fuel up and get something to eat. Even by the standards of freeway exit commercial clumps, it was quite ugly. The gas station was "next" to a restaurant, but the lots were odd, and there was an irregular area of grass and asphalt between them. Then an apparently vacant tire store. Then an empty lot, followed by another gas station.
The whole arrangement was just plain ugly. But this is how a lot of the metro area looks. You have the divided quasi-highway abutted by standalone stores or complexes, usually with quite a bit of physical space between them. Density is rare. Trying to walk or bike from store to store is suicidal.

If it's all you see, it probably seems normal, but if you travel around to other places, you start to understand just how ugly it really is. I would say that land has been MIS-used in the metro area more than it has been used in any sort of cohesive, intelligent fashion. And now with rising gas prices, many people will simply be screwed.
Well that's the whole problem. You're expecting to see beauty in an auto-centric exurb area, and it just isn't going to happen. It probably was beautiful before the gas stations and other garbage went in, but now it's not.

I travel a lot and you see that kind of ugly "highway interchange clumpiness" everywhere. And it's always the same things: gas station, Wendy's, car wash, Taco Bell, auto repair place that has been there since car's were invented, and a low density commercial park. Friggin ugly.
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Old 03-01-2008, 12:34 PM
 
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Originally Posted by magellan View Post
Well that's the whole problem. You're expecting to see beauty in an auto-centric exurb area, and it just isn't going to happen. It probably was beautiful before the gas stations and other garbage went in, but now it's not.

I travel a lot and you see that kind of ugly "highway interchange clumpiness" everywhere. And it's always the same things: gas station, Wendy's, car wash, Taco Bell, auto repair place that has been there since car's were invented, and a low density commercial park. Friggin ugly.
It's also somewhat relative. Let's put this on a global scale. How many US cities can compete as one of the prettiest cities? Hmm...San Francisco. Yeah, San Diego is nice, Chicago has great modern architecture, Boston has history, and NY is NY, but compared to Barcelona, Milan, Marseille, Edinburgh, Prague, Sydney, Krakow, and even Vienna, Amsterdam, Toronto, Vancouver, Paris, London, Constantinople, Singapore, Copenhagen, and the US is pretty bad for its size and GDP. FWIW, in this context, I don't find metro Detroit worse than average in the US. I can think of as many uglier cities (Houston, Memphis, Toledo, Akron, Atlanta, Fresno, Indy) as I can comparable cities (Sacramento, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis) and prettier cities (SF, SD, Seattle, Portland, Boston, Chicago).

As far as pretty cities go, I once had a colleague from the University of Copenhagen on sabbatical for a year in the US. After visiting every nook and cranny of the country, he said the only US cities that could compete against the nice Euros were Boston, Chicago, San Francisco...period. It's not a surprise that these three attract the most Euro tourists and ex-pats if given a choice. Most would eschew NY, DC, and LA for more than a visit if possible but it's difficult due to their political and economic statures - doesn't make them pretty cities though.

Last edited by Cato the Elder; 03-01-2008 at 12:46 PM..
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Old 03-01-2008, 03:43 PM
 
Location: Grand Rapids Metro
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Originally Posted by Cato the Elder View Post
It's also somewhat relative. Let's put this on a global scale. How many US cities can compete as one of the prettiest cities? Hmm...San Francisco. Yeah, San Diego is nice, Chicago has great modern architecture, Boston has history, and NY is NY, but compared to Barcelona, Milan, Marseille, Edinburgh, Prague, Sydney, Krakow, and even Vienna, Amsterdam, Toronto, Vancouver, Paris, London, Constantinople, Singapore, Copenhagen, and the US is pretty bad for its size and GDP. FWIW, in this context, I don't find metro Detroit worse than average in the US. I can think of as many uglier cities (Houston, Memphis, Toledo, Akron, Atlanta, Fresno, Indy) as I can comparable cities (Sacramento, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis) and prettier cities (SF, SD, Seattle, Portland, Boston, Chicago).

As far as pretty cities go, I once had a colleague from the University of Copenhagen on sabbatical for a year in the US. After visiting every nook and cranny of the country, he said the only US cities that could compete against the nice Euros were Boston, Chicago, San Francisco...period. It's not a surprise that these three attract the most Euro tourists and ex-pats if given a choice. Most would eschew NY, DC, and LA for more than a visit if possible but it's difficult due to their political and economic statures - doesn't make them pretty cities though.
I was in D.C. last August and found it to be pretty nice. We stayed downtown North of the Capital Mall in what was once a pretty sketchy area (near the old convention center that has been torn down), and there was a lot of new things to do, shopping, new museums, etc. The scale of D.C. is perfect for pedestrians, much like a lot of European cities (probably because it was designed by a Frenchman).

But I agree with you. It's hard to compare U.S. cities with the beauty of European cities. In fact, in many European cities, the suburbs are the slums and the middle- and upper-class live in the cities, almost opposite the U.S.. Two Canadian cities I have been to, Toronto and Vancouver, are very nicely laid out.

So no, Detroit metro is not any uglier than other U.S. metro areas. They're almost all ugly.

Keep working on that mass transit though natterer. That would help immensely. I'd even consider buying investment property there, if there was light rail going in.
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Old 03-01-2008, 04:58 PM
 
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It's not just the automobile culture, but the newer-is-better mentality. You go into new construction and it's almost always cheap, cheap, cheap in feel, mediocre in design, and shoddy in construction. But heck, it's new and every gargantuan bedroom has its own bathroom and a walk-in closet the size of an average Manhattan apartment. When you ask an average American, they will say old means dirty, broken, and obsolete. But as it has been pointed out, the Euro cities do a great job maintaining and updating their structures, which are often times several times older than anything American.

That is one thing I have to give Grand Rapids props for - their maintenance of historic structures downtown. If anything, it looks TOO clean. Combined with the lack of foot traffic, I sometimes feel like I'm walking around a set at Universal Studios.
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Old 03-01-2008, 07:15 PM
 
Location: Southeast Missouri
5,812 posts, read 18,037,871 times
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Originally Posted by Cato the Elder View Post
It's also somewhat relative. Let's put this on a global scale. How many US cities can compete as one of the prettiest cities? Hmm...San Francisco. Yeah, San Diego is nice, Chicago has great modern architecture, Boston has history, and NY is NY, but compared to Barcelona, Milan, Marseille, Edinburgh, Prague, Sydney, Krakow, and even Vienna, Amsterdam, Toronto, Vancouver, Paris, London, Constantinople, Singapore, Copenhagen, and the US is pretty bad for its size and GDP. FWIW, in this context, I don't find metro Detroit worse than average in the US. I can think of as many uglier cities (Houston, Memphis, Toledo, Akron, Atlanta, Fresno, Indy) as I can comparable cities (Sacramento, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, St. Louis) and prettier cities (SF, SD, Seattle, Portland, Boston, Chicago).
St. Louis has parts of it that are ugly. The north side can be pretty rundown, but there's also been a recent revitalization in that are (Old North St. Louis Restoration Group (ONSLRG).

Perhaps Detroit could do something similar. There's a recent move back into the cities (in general), mostly by young couples and empty-nesters. Maybe Detroit just needs to do something with all its empty buildings.

And about Landmarks, across a lot of St. Louis you can see the arch, which I think makes it more beautiful. Despite all the problems of the last 40 years, the arch has stood as a reminder that St. Louis is beautiful and that it has quite a history.

Detroit needs its citizens to meet together, make a plan, and take some action. You may not be able to wait around for government to do something.

Revitalizing old buildings and neighborhoods would probably help. And increased activity in downtown is usually a good sign for any city.

Last edited by STLCardsBlues1989; 03-01-2008 at 07:24 PM..
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Old 03-01-2008, 07:29 PM
 
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Cato - Washington, DC is well regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the country by residents and its 20 million visitors alike.

Detroit - meaning the whole region - sold its soul to the automobile. Getting that soul back now that the automobile era is ending will be very difficult. It's mindbogglingly spread out for a city of only 5 million and that, more than any "jobs", is going to hurt its ability to attract businesses and young creatives.

I live in Boston now (same population size) and once compared the two by miles-from-downtown. What was an outer suburb in Boston was Hamtramck in Detroit.

I think metro Detroiters need to stop seeing old as bad and new as good. All those old industrial spaces provide an extraordinary infrastructure for the lofts and commercial spaces people seek today.
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