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Detroit Urbanism's series on the Woodward Plan shows us what could have been

A city of triangles (that never made it out of downtown)

Capitol Park
Michelle & Chris Gerard

Historian Paul Szewczyk has recently finished a three-part series on his blog Detroit Urbanism about the Woodward Plan and how Detroit's roadways came to be. The series is full of maps, photos, and historical details pertaining to, well, best laid plans. And with all the talk about public transit and getting around the city, we thought a little history lesson might be worth a look.

As part of the plan, the whole city was to be laid out in triangles,

"The bases of the town of Detroit shall be an equilateral triangle, having each side of the length of four thousand feet, and having every angle bisected by a perpendicular line upon the opposite side..."

The David Whitney Building lobby, which reflects the plan
Michelle & Chris Gerard

And the city was to just add more and more triangles, as you can see all around downtown.

The Skillman Branch Library
Michelle & Chris Gerard
Capitol Park
Michelle & Chris Gerard
Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue
Michelle & Chris Gerard

Spoiler Alert! The whole city didn't end up like this. 10,000 acres of land north of downtown, what would be called "Park Lots," were sold and the owners didn't have to follow the plan. The details are described in Part Three. A few notable details:

  • Broadway was originally called Miami Avenue. (Would we be calling Old Miami something different if it hadn't been changed? We'll never know!)
  • Other cities have criticized our inefficiencies for a while, as explained by a Chicago planner in 1915, "It is most unfortunate that we have not developed the city entirely according to the Woodward plan. It is more than unfortunate that as the city extended itself, the same ideas and the same street lines could not be maintained; and that small parks have not been provided in the section north of Adams avenue. If this had been done, Detroit would have been a very much more handsome and convenient city."
  • The avenues could have been even wider than they are now and they would have been able to fit all sorts of transit, bikes, and pedestrians. Wait, isn't that what we're proposing again? Dedicated lanes?

Watch: Detroit's Gorgeous Fisher Building

The David Whitney Building lobby, which reflects the plan