As the end of the 2010s draws near, we’ll be recapping the decade through articles on some of the biggest topics and trends that shaped Detroit during that time.
It’s hard to look back on Detroit from a decade ago and see the same city. Many will surely remember the moribund downtown, lack of building across the city, sky high unemployment rate, and other seemingly intractable problems.
While plenty of issues still remain, and its right to question the “revitalization” narrative, Detroit has undeniably changed from a city that many had written off to one where big, potentially preposterous, ideas seem plausible.
Some of those ideas have been announced, some are underway, and some have even come to fruition. Let’s recall a few highlights—or lowlights—from the past decade.
Redeveloping Michigan Central Station
Very few people at the beginning of the decade thought the symbol of Detroit’s “ruin” would be redeveloped anytime soon. Well, it’s happening.
Ford bought Michigan Central Station in June 2018 and has been slowly preparing it for a massive restoration effort. The eventual $740 million project will have a grand lobby open to the public, some retail and residential components, and around 900,000 of the total campus (which includes other nearby Corktown buildings) for Ford offices.
Building at Hudson’s
An even more expensive, new-build project is coming to the site of the former Hudson’s Department Store. Demolished in 1997, for years after the site of the iconic and beloved store sat empty.
But starting in at least 2013, Dan Gilbert has wanted to build a new Hudson’s. Plans for the $909 million skyscraper had slowly been revealed over time, until the project finally broke ground in June 2017.
Since then it’s been digging and building the foundation for what’s set to be one of the tallest—but probably not the tallest—building in the state.
Another People Mover?
The People Mover has largely been seen as a failure. While the 3-mile, single-track transit system does transport some people at an affordable cost downtown, its actual functionality compared to its cost is highly questionable.
And yet when it was announced, people were generally excited about the QLine, a Woodward Avenue streetcar eventually built at cost of $187 million. Like the People Mover, people thought it might one day extend all the way to Pontiac.
But as early as the first winter, it was clear there were issues, ridership has been far below expectations. Too few streetcars and no dedicated lanes have resulted in poor on-time performance. At the moment, it seems like the QLine might be seen as another Detroit transit failure.
It began with the Dequindre Cut and has only expanded from there.
The two-mile greenway along a former Grand Trunk Railroad line opened in 2009. Since then, we’ve seen ground break on other greenways, dozens of miles of protected bike lanes, and a greatly expanded Riverwalk.
Most ambitiously, the city is trying to build the Joe Louis Greenway, a 32-mile non-motorized trail loop. Expect the release of a bigger plan soon with construction to start in 2020.
20,000 home demolitions
While large-scale demolitions of abandoned and vacant Detroit homes began under Mayor Bing, it kicked into high gear under Mayor Duggan, who has argued that eliminating residential blight is an essential part of neighborhood revitalization.
The numbers are hard to fathom: An astounding 20,000 homes have been demolished with a similar number left. After the $265 million already spent through federal Hardest Hit Funds, Duggan asked for an additional $250 million through sales of city bonds to finish the job.
But the priorities of city council didn’t match the mayor and rejected his bond proposal. After the vote, Duggan said the demolitions would have to slow down, but that “one way or another, we’re gonna find a way not to shut down demolitions.”
Crazy housing trends
The other side of the coin. While thousands of Detroit homes were beyond repair, some were in rough shape but salvageable.
Due to the mind-boggling and tragic number of foreclosures, homes in the city could be bought for cheap—some for as little as $500. The Detroit Land Bank Authority still sells homes through its Own It Now program for as little as $1,000. Tell those figures to people in other cities and then help them pick their jaw off the floor.
Detroit definitely has a speculation problem with bad acting investors buying large numbers of properties, often through the Wayne County Tax Auction, and then sitting on them. But others have pulled off some impressive renovations (see: Woodbridge, East Village, northwest Detroit). There’s also the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, which is trying to rebuild and sell dozens of homes in the struggling neighborhood.
In a city largely made up of single-family homes, then gutted by foreclosure and declining population, some truly preposterous things can happen.