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LA Dave

Downtown Detroit -- not that big a deal

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In response to folks who have posted regarding the comparison of downtown Detroit and GR, I would take issue with those who have stated that the former is a downtown for a city of 2 million. Not really.

Detroit in 1910 was a medium-sized city, with less than 500,000 residents. By 1930, it had well over a million. Obviously, the growth of the auto industry was the reason.

The downtown area, however, never really caught up with this growth, IMHO. First, Detroit never had the concentration of banking and legal offices that could be found in Chicago or even Cleveland. These were skyscraper generators. Second, while I understand that there were mighty plans in the late 1920s to build additional structures in downtown Detroit, these plans were casualties of the Depression. Third, while the GM Building is massive, most of the car companies did not feature large office structures, or were located elsewhere. Ford was in Dearborn and Chrysler was in, I believe, Hamtramck. (I am sure a Detroiter can correct this.)

I will never forget my grandfather (who was born in 1887) telling me that, as a young man of about 20, he visited Detroit and said "it was just a little city down by the river." My grandfather was a proud Pittsburgher, and was also comparing Pittsburgh to anyplace else, so I naturally took issue with that characterization. Except that he was right. In 1907, downtown Pittsburgh was probably at least as grand or grander than downtown Detroit. Detroit never got too much grander, RenCen and Fisher Building, notwithstanding.

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This is something you should have started in the Detroit forum if it should have been started at all.

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It is an interesting topic (that has been brought up before). My perspective on Detroit is that it has/had some of the greatest architecture from 1910-1930's. Hopefully Detroit can recover. The perception of Michigan to the outside world is basically Detroit. If Detroit is perceived badly, the whole state gets lumped in. I for one hope that they stop knocking down all of their treasures and start embracing the past. It looks like the Detroit forumers are doing a fine job of trying to make people think about that.

Joe

This is something you should have started in the Detroit forum if it should have been started at all.

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This is something you should have started in the Detroit forum if it should have been started at all.

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Well, I was responding to a comparison thread on GR versus Detroit, but see your point. In particular, I was responding to a poster who claimed that downtown Detroit was built for a city of 2 million people, which just isn't the case.

As a native of West Michigan, I really don't know Detroit well but certainly admire some of the individual buildings there; the Michigan Central depot, St. John's Episcopal Church, some of the 1920's zig-zag skyscrapers all are quite nice. But I have never sense a feeling of place in Detroit's downtown -- it just seems like a collection of buildings imposed on a confusing pattern of streets.

I find Detroit, though, very interesting as the earliest example of a true twentieth century boom town, the Las Vegas/Silicon Valley of its era. It is very said now to see what has become of this once very promising place. I hope that people find their way back there, the way that people are beginning to live in downtown Grand Rapids and in many other downtowns across the country.

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Detroit does have a very small downtown in comparison to the size of the city & metro area. I think a large part of this has to do with the fact that the economy relies so heavily on manufacturing. Manufacturing doesn't really require towering office buildings as much as something banking would.

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Downtown Detroit really isn't all that physically small. I think it's just slightly smaller than it should be. If you're talking about skyline, sure it's short, but the spread of it is actually pretty big (if you take away the freeways as a border). Before the freeways downtown was both larger to the north, east, and west. And, IMO, these area's are still "downtown" with the freeway loop simply being the CBD.

Heck is downtown Minneapolis can be 2 square miles and Kansas City includes 4 square miles for their "downtown" downtown Detroit can easily include the adjacent neighborhoods as it's downtown (which is currently only seen as the small freeway loop that's slightly less than a square mile).

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Ford was in Dearborn and Chrysler was in, I believe, Hamtramck. (I am sure a Detroiter can correct this.)

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dgriff04,

Actually, Chrysler was in Hamtramck before they moved out to Auburn Hills.

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Chrysler was in Highland Park before moving to Auburn Hills.

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Why is it that I keep getting the two cities mixed up? LOL. Aaron's right, Chrysler was in Highland Park.

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Downtown Detroit really isn't all that physically small.  I think it's just slightly smaller than it should be.  If you're talking about skyline, sure it's short, but the spread of it is actually pretty big (if you take away the freeways as a border).  Before the freeways downtown was both larger to the north, east, and west.  And, IMO, these area's are still "downtown" with the freeway loop simply being the CBD.

Heck is downtown Minneapolis can be 2 square miles and Kansas City includes 4 square miles for their "downtown" downtown Detroit can easily include the adjacent neighborhoods as it's downtown (which is currently only seen as the small freeway loop that's slightly less than a square mile).

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A resident of Detroit, I spend relatively little time between the expressways that outline the central business district. While this is obviously the center, there is plenty of activity (and buildings of equally high concentration) east on Jefferson, north through Midtown and the New Center area, and if you look at activity rather than real estate density, Corktown and Mexicantown qualify as well.

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Prior to the bank mergers of the late 80's and 90's, Downtown was home to many banks (main office or otherwise): Manufacturer's, Michigan National, Comerica, NBD, First of America and the one that was in the tower on the corner of Michigan and Woodward (1001?). Downtown Detroit's main tenants were law firms (at one point one of the largest concentrations of law firms in the country), banks, accounting firms, advertising firms (and sales offices), utilities and government.

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The bank that was in 1001 Woodward was First Federal, I believe.

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Detroit's skyline was one the world's largest for decades. It wasn't until the 1970's that the rest of the country started to catch up and then surpass Detroit.

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