Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

wolverine

Gauging the losses of Detroit's built environment

5 posts in this topic

I was just wondering if there has ever been an official study of the losses in Detroit's built environment. We hear statistics on changing population densities, and the quantity of people who have left the city, but not the impact on structures that allow us to visually judge the size of the city. Obviously, some cities may appear larger than they are because they contain the types of buildings that were representative to the size of the city at its peak population. But what about now?

If we count abandoned buildings as total losses, and add up the total number of occupied structures, what would it be? Also, large buildings should be factored in. For example the loss of an apartment buildings is much greater than the loss of a single familty home. The loss of a factory would probably be more significant than the loss of a downtown skyscraper. I've only heard, but have never read statistics of this. I've heard people say as much as 70% of the city has been lost. Is there any way we can determine an exact number?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


It depends on what you consider a loss. Many buildings have been torn down to be replaced by something else. If 50 houses in Corktown were torn down and replaced by 1 warehouse that's a loss of 49 buildings, but the warehouse has the same footprint as the 50 houses so spacially speaking there isn't a loss. (Architectually speaking it is a huge loss, but are we solely talking about built environment or asthetics?)

And what about the opposite? A dense block of 30 housing units is torn down to be replaced by a suburban-looking senior complex with 50 units. There was a net gain of 20 housing units, but at a great loss to urbanity.

Granted, overall I'd say that closer to 70% of the city is intact, when you add the gains to the losses. You have the original neighborhoods developed in the 30's, 40's and 50's around the edge of the city that are well over 90% intact, and then you have the middle-ring neighborhoods that are probably closer to 30% intact, but with a lot of urban renewal.

As far as greater downtown is considered, I'd say that maybe 40% of the original (pre-50's) city is intact, but when you add all of the urban renewal and new urbanism projects the structural density is closer to 60%. (But that includes abandoned buildings)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gains and losses would have to gauged by the number of people the building provided jobs or housing for, weighted by that structures footprint and mass (or height). For example the area where Comerica Park sits would probably be a loss because numerous large building has to be demolished, and many of them contained more residents or jobs (historically) than Comerica Park provided.

It's a very difficult thing to determine, that's why I'm wondering if there were any official studies.

I agree with some of things you are talking about hudkina. Your warehouse example is great, but it depends. If the warehouse maxed out the footprint of where the 50 houses stood, and provided more jobs than the number of residents, then there is a gain for Detroit's built environment. I'm going to leave the architectural and cultural impacts out because I think that's a whole different ballpark.

Lately, I've been looking at a lot of Detroit aerial maps it's shocking to see how dilluted Detroit's built environment has become. There are so many blocks with only a few houses standing. Additionally, when I drive around the city, I find far more vacant apartment buildings than occupied ones, and many of them are under utilized.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'd venture to say that roughly 60-70% of the city is left intact. Some areas have obviously lost very little (Palmer Woods, Boston Edision, etc.), while others have been completely decimated (Far east side). Hence, it's very difficult to get an accurate reading on this.

The only studies I know of that have looked at this phenomenon have focused on the greater downtown area, and I'm not sure how in depth they've really gone.

Last semester I had to create figure-ground maps for a large area on the east side (Warren/Conner area). We did one map for 1930, another for 1950 (we considered this to be the peak density), one for 1975, and one for 2006. Using the maps, we were able to compare the changes that occurred over time. The only real way to gauge the changes was to put the maps side by side to see where homes had been replaced by vacant lots, larger buildings, etc. It's not something that's easy to quanitify, especially since a lot of things were never well documented, and things have changed so much over the past 100 years.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When this question is asked, I often think of the images showing the central business district and the transition into Midtown: the location where the Fisher Freeway is today. What used to be "Brooklyn-like" urbanity is now a swath of some historic buildings, plenty of unused surface parking lots, vacant lots, and freeway interchanges. It's easy to assess what use to be there, but also very difficult to imagine how contiguously vibrant a walk down say Park Ave. or Cass Ave might have been before the city was destroyed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.