Is Detroit Doomed?

<p>Despite loft conversions and a rash of casino developments, Detroit continues to lose population and seems unlikely to recover any time soon, writes Lisa Rochon.</p>
November 7, 2007, 10am PST | Michael Dudley
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"At night, viewed from afar, Detroit is a muscular, glittering composition. There are some splendid loft conversions now completed in the city; and a $500-million (U.S.) investment by General Motors in the Renaissance Center (a hulking series of towers that originally turned its concrete back on the Detroit River) has opened a winter-garden atrium to a reinvented riverfront.

Walking along Woodward Avenue, a grand civic boulevard lined with skyscraper masterpieces from the 1920s, it's possible to imagine the city as the economic giant where Henry Ford launched his dynasty and Detroit architect Albert Kahn designed hundreds of his factories.

But the era of Fordism has come to an ugly end. And clearly there is no sympathy or remorse for what was, or what could have been. Like Carthage, Detroit has fallen.

The Michigan Central Station (1913) - designed by Warren & Wetmore, Reed & Stern, the architects of New York's Grand Central Terminal (also 1913) - has had every one of its 600 windows bashed out. Graffiti rages over its once-gorgeous Corinthian columns and pilasters. Every month, about 1,000 people leave Detroit. Most of them are African-Americans who move to the inner ring of the city's suburbs in search of better schools, safer neighbourhoods and lower taxes. Long-time residents of the suburbs will proclaim, as a badge of honour, that they haven't stepped foot in downtown for 35 years.

And their absence is obvious. In the heart of what used to be a bustling neighbourhood of immigrants, public-housing projects are boarded up, and fields of urban prairie surround beat-up, two-storey clapboard houses.

Can Detroit turn itself around? Possibly. Hopefully. But it's not likely in the near future. And it's unlikely the three casinos opening within the downtown will provide much of an elixir."

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Published on Saturday, November 3, 2007 in The Globe and Mail
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