the good, bad, and the ugly

November 25, 2008

in Urban issues

Kingfisher and I were out and about over the weekend. There’s not much joy in the Motor City these days. But we did make our way to one of Detroit’s bright spots for lunch, Slows Bar BQ.

We had a great meal, and walked across Michigan Avenue for dessert and coffee at the new Mercury Coffee Bar, which serves Intelligentsia coffee. I am so relieved there is one place in this city where you can get awesome coffee. Slows and the Mercury are located in one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods, Corktown. These establishments are signs of urban renewal, but right down the street from the Mercury is what is probably Detroit’s most famous abandoned building (in a city absolutely full of them): the Michigan Central Station.

Opened in 1913, it’s now been closed for 20 years. Every window is broken, and the interior has been completely vandalized. Renovation would cost a fortune, and plenty of plans have been floated. Each has sunk.

While we were in old building mode, we decided to swing by Brush Park, which I last posted about In June 2007. In that post, I showed the William Livingstone mansion (“Old Slumpy”), but it was finally pulled down and there is now only a vacant lot. I also showed a few places on Edmund Place, including a wreck that was enveloped by vegetation. Here it is without the leafy covering. Still well ventilated, but standing.

This one a few blocks away, on Adelaide near John R, was still in relatively decent shape.

But if these homes were having a hard time being renovated during boom times, I don’t hold much hope that anything will happen with them now. Around the corner was this historic building. It was slated for condos (photos from 2005 here, from Faded Detroit), but has now been destroyed by fire.

The sign is the same one that is on a number of Brush Park buildings, signifying that the building has been designated for rehabilitation. Now a condemnation sign has been slapped on it.

Note that someone has amended former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s title and updated it to reflect his current occupation.


These are the “glamorous” examples of urban decay in Detroit. Mostly, there are just seemingly endless blocks of much more prosaic abandonment and blight. Whereas the Michigan Central and the broad stretches of urban prairie represent a sort of post-apocolyptic scene, much of the rest has more of a currently-under-siege look and feel. Boarded up (or wide open) empty buildings, bustling with scrappers, dopers, and the homeless, people living or just surviving in broad swaths of city with crumbling infrastructure and minimal retail.

I’m not a big fan of a lot of the decisions made by the Big 3. I admit that, like most residents of this area, I have direct connections to the auto industry and therefore an urgent personal interest in their survival. Yet even if you live far removed from this area, you do not want to pick up the tab for the failure of one of these companies, which will cost many times more than the bailout. We’ve been surprised at the lack of depth in the news in outlining why bankruptcy for GM is not really an option, how different their situation is from the airlines, and how this particular economic climate has taken “fairness” off the table. Kingfisher and I have spent some time explaining this to far-flung relatives. Here are some articles we recommend:


{ 5 comments }

Hawkeye November 25, 2008 at 7:51 am

Trivia – The Central Station building was the site for some filming of "Transformers". Apparently, the director (whose name I have now forgotten) is a big fan of Detroit and likes to film here. In the movie, too, you will notice all the cars are GM – he said he did it just cuz (GM did not pay him a dime).

Nuthatch November 25, 2008 at 8:38 am

Yes, MCS is apparently a big favorite of movie directors — I've heard they all ask to see it when scouting locations in Detroit.

John November 25, 2008 at 9:04 am

An auto industry bailout would probably be more useful than some of the financial industry bailouts. That said, if the Big Three hadn't dragged their feet on fuel efficiency for decades and if we had a national health care system (like most other auto-producing countries have), it probably wouldn't be necessary.

Clare November 27, 2008 at 10:33 am

Man, I always find your urban decay pictures so depressing. Those were beautiful buildings.

paranaquephilippines November 30, 2008 at 12:19 pm

i think the pictures were beautiful. the houses were indeed in decay, but they tell a story, and leave much to think about. i hope things get better for all of you there….

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