Pontiac: The ‘Platform City’ That Never Was

Pontiac is the seat of Michigan’s wealthiest county, but much of downtown is vacant as the city’s population has fallen steadily from its 1970 peak of 85,000. No, don’t blame it on the auto industry. The decline began in 1960 when county offices moved to an undeveloped field on the city’s fringe, and was hastened over the next few years as neighborhoods were razed to create Wide Track Drive (now the Woodward Loop), a ring road which allowed two intersecting highways to bypass the city center altogether.

To cap it all off—pun intended—planners C. Don Davidson and Bruno Leon envisioned demolishing much of downtown to create an elevated ‘platform city’ that would span the downtown street grid, reaching from one parking structure to the next.

This never happened, of course. By the time construction began in 1980, much of the ‘Pontiac Plan’ had already been forgotten. All we were left with was a parking garage.

See my article in Mode Shift for more.

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Boys Find Mastodon Bone in Shelby Township

Kids Discover a Discovery [Free Press]

Yeah, a discovery! Photo: Detroit Free Press

Two Shelby Township eleven-year-olds have discovered the axis bone of an American Mastodon. The species—once a major food source for humans—has been extinct for about 6,000 years.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Andrew Gainariu and Eric Stamatin “were doing what 11-year-old boys do — fishing, catching crayfish and gathering sticks and rocks to build a dam.”

The Free Press did not note the inherent irony — that the two boys discovered an extinct species while they were engaged in activities that, themselves, are presently on the brink of extinction.

“Yeah, we found an actual discovery,” Mr. Gainariu told the Free Press. “This doesn’t happen to kids.”

Kids might discover more discoveries if they spent more time digging around in creeks.

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Walk Score Gives Detroit the Shaft

(And El Paso, Too, But We Don’t Care About Them*)

Walk Score‘s oft-cited walkability index rates the pedestrian-friendliness of locations throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and even provides on its website easily-readable green-to-red heat maps for U. S. addresses. It gives Detroit a score of 50 out of 100, ranking our city at #22 in the 50 largest municipalities in the United States. Not bad, right?

Except, as cycling blog m-bike.org observes, Walk Score is broken.

One glance at the Walk Score website’s map view, and it is quite obvious that something has gone terribly wrong with the organization’s assessment of our city:

Green=good, red=bad. Screenshot: www.walkscore.com

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Where Did All These Neighborhood Names Come From, Anyway? (and Why it Matters)

Photo: www.alliedfabrication.com, used with permission.

Detroit’s neighborhood names are on Google Maps now (actually, they have been since 2009 — does this mean we’ve finally achieved our dreams of becoming a world class city?) and other major Internet content providers have also joined the game, identifying and displaying the names of neighborhoods. Palmer Woods, Corktown, West Village — at last, we can geotag photos to them on Flickr, debate the merits of their dive bars on Yelp, and scope out their real estate on Trulia. Foundation-backed think tank Data-Driven Detroit has proposed using their boundaries to elect City Council members by district, and they’ve even spawned a series of cute, map-themed wall decor inspired by Chicago-based typographer Jenny Beorkum’s Ork Posters.

Let’s not get too excited, though! While some of these titles — Indian Village, Herman Gardens — describe historically and visually distinct sections of the city that are well-known among Detroiters, others seem to be, well… rather dubious.

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Challenging the Myth of Pruitt-Igoe

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, a documentary by Chad Freidrichs, comprises yet another attempt to interpret the history of Pruitt-Igoe, a vast and ambitious St. Louis public housing project by Detroit architect Minoru Yamasaki that was completed in 1956 and failed sixteen years later. By the late 1950s, the quality of life of Pruitt-Igoe’s residents had already begun a catastrophic downward spiral as the buildings fell victim to vandalism and disrepair and became a haven for crime and violence. The complex was demolished in the early 1970s.

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Detroit: The Capital of Comic Sans?

Quicken Loans CEO Dan Gilbert espoues the virtues of Comic Sans at TEDxDetroit. Photo: Jonathan Oosting, MLive.com; I think this is fair use.

This past winter, Philadelphia entrepreneur and blogger Jason Lorimer commuted back and forth between his city and Detroit a dozen times, leaving us with this list: Six Things I Love About Detroit… So Far. Up there with regular, easy-to-like stuff like “live music” and “Avalon Bakery” was an item whose recognition, I believe, is long overdue: our typography.

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The Ice Tree is Back!

As reported in Detroit Moxie, Detroit’s coolest attractive nuisance has returned. After a warmer-than-usual December and early January, winter temperatures have finally arrived in the city, giving us cause to be optimistic regarding the remainder of the ice tree season.  Over the past week kids and adults alike have been seen having a great time climbing on, skating around, spelunking within pine-scented grottos of, and generally admiring and being inspired by our great city’s grandest, coldest, slipperiest, jaggedest, and probably most dangerous public art installation.

The 2012 Ice Tree. Photo: Roger J. Frank, Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The winter of 2011 was a very sad time on Belle Isle, when the tipi-like structure of discarded tree parts was erected, but the water supply to the installation was never turned on. According to Belle Isle Manager Keith Flournoy, cold weather froze and damaged the pipes before the structure could be completed. “We had no idea how beloved that tree was until last year, when it was gone,” Mr. Flournoy said in an interview, citing numerous telephone inquires park staff received from ice tree admirers. Continue reading

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