For all the discussion and analysis focused around Detroit's meteoric rise and fall, the most widely accepted assessment – that a confluence of racial tension, vanishing industry, and political corruption caused the city to collapse from within – still misses the mark of this cautionary tale. As Saunders explains, a number of other cities (Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, to name a few) faced similar challenges and emerged on the other side in much better shape. So what went wrong?
The problem, Saunders claims, is that leaders in the Automotive Capital of the World left the helm of "sound urban planning and design" in favor of growing its industry, and "let the booming economy to do the work for them." Without an effective, attractive built environment, the problems that so many cities faced in the 20th century became insurmountable.
Saunders enumerates the key problems in Detroit's planning heritage:
1) Poorly defined neighborhoods
2) Outdated housing stock
3) A visually barren public realm
4) A weak downtown
5) Freeway expansion
6) Transit neglect
7) City-wide local elections (rather than by-ward)
8) An industrial landscape that limited growth
9) Untimely annexation
Any effort to revitalize the city that does not first address these problems rests on shaky foundations.