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A swinging gate leads to an empty concrete parking lot. A nearby screen says “$30.” Many buildings are in the distance.
A surface parking lot in “District Detroit.”
Photos by Michelle and Chris Gerard

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5 Detroit trends that didn’t survive the 2010s

Recapping all the failed hopes and bygone fads of the last decade

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.

Detroit underwent enormous changes in the 2010s, spurred by several trends like emergency management, downtown’s revival, and the growth of the food scene. Many of these will surely leave their mark well into the next decade.

But some other trends, expected to have a big impact, fizzled. Here are five of the most notable examples.

Two buildings, a parking deck and the other boarded up, on a quiet street.
A parking deck and vacant buliding in the underdeveloped District Detroit.

District Detroit

The ultimate case of hype not matching reality. As part of the construction of Little Caesars Arena, the Ilitch-owned Olympia Development unveiled grand plans for the area it called “District Detroit,” which would consist of five vibrant, mixed-use neighborhoods.

Almost none of it has come to fruition. There’s a few Olympia-branded buildings, like the Mike Ilitch School of Business and Little Caesars World HQ. Otherwise, redevelopments are nonexistent and many buildings in the Cass Corridor have been demolished to make way for surface parking lots. Olympia has also missed development deadlines and is still actively trying to demolish buildings.

On our list of dormant buildings awaiting life, the Ilitches owned nearly half, all in the moribund District Detroit.

A huge, abandoned warehouse and factory. All the windows are empty, there’s graffiti on the side of the brick building, and debris on the dirt nearby.
Inside the Packard Plant.

Ruin porn

In the early part of the decade, it was still “cool” to go into abandoned Detroit buildings and photograph the post-apocalyptic scene. These “ruin porn” tourists would come from all over the world to take in the Packard Plant, Fisher Body, Michigan Central Station, or a street of vacant homes.

But gawking at Detroit’s misfortune doesn’t have the same cache it once did. In part, that’s because some of these hulking structures, like Michigan Central Station, are being redeveloped or better secured. The narrative about the city has also shifted to one of revitalization instead of decay.

But something else changed over the decade—a greater cognizance of the effects of decay and disinvestment on the people who still inhabit the city. Outsiders can drop into Detroit, photograph and fetishize it, then display the images to mesmerized onlookers. Detroiters have to live with it every day.

A colorful streetcar pulls into a stop with the words “Grand Circus” at the top.
The QLine has been beset by delays and other issues.

QLine

The $187-million Woodward Avenue streetcar opened to much fanfare in May 2017. Some had hopes of extending the line all the way to 8 Mile Road or even 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. A lengthy exposé by the Metro Times detailed the myriad problems facing the streetcar.

Though M-1 Rail, which operates the QLine, has done what it can to improve service—like including it in the regional payment system Dart—because of some inherent flaws, it’s unlikely to be expanded beyond its 3.3-mile footprint anytime soon.

Shipping containers

Developers had high hopes for the potential of shipping containers. At one point, it seemed like these rectangular cargo holders, which can be used for a variety of modular developments, would take off in Detroit as well.

Not so much. Sure, there have been a smattering of successful projects—one firm opened the Detroit Shipping Company food hall last year and announced a second shipping container project next door.

But many more have not come to fruition. Whether that’s because they have limited design application or aren’t cost effective, the hype surrounding shipping containers has definitely been diminished.

A 13-story building with mostly glass facade at the corner of an intersection.
28 Grand has 218 apartments under 300 square feet in size.

Tiny living

Another building trend that didn’t take off. Micro-apartments seemed like a potential solution to rising rental costs by squeezing tenants into small living spaces. They’re considerably more popular, and viable, in cities like San Francisco or New York City where there’s a severe space limitation.

In Detroit? We’ve had exactly one building, 28 Grand, whose 218 apartments are all under 300 square feet. There’s one tiny home community that’s been steadily expanding, but given its reliance on philanthropy, it seems impractical to scale. Co-living, where tenants have shared amenities like a kitchen, is planned for the mega-development The Mid.

Detroit has ample space and many underdeveloped buildings and neighborhoods. We’re skeptical that these micro-living spaces will be utilized outside of a handful of developments in the 2020s.

Little Caesars Arena

2645 Woodward Avenue, , MI 48201 (313) 471-7000 Visit Website

Packard Plant

E Grand Blvd., Detroit, MI
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