Friday morning I did something I have been meaning to do for a while. My dad and I drove around Detroit and hit a few neighborhoods, including the one where he grew up, Del Ray. There is not much left of that neighborhood. My dad’s old house is one of only two left on the entire block. He lived there until he was 11 and his dad, my grandfather, worked just down the street at Zug Island. I think it’s a steel plant and it’s still in operation. My grandpa used to walk to work past the tar factory right behind their house. The tar factory has since burned down. All of this is about two or three blocks from the main road that is filled with buildings that look abandoned, but there are still bus stops and a few people waiting for a ride to somewhere. The whole thing was made more eerie by the fog that would not lift from the city. On the other side of the main road there was more of a traditional neighborhood centered around a very nice church where services were held in Hungarian.
We also made a pass by the old train station. It is a stunning piece of architecture and a great example of how unwilling investors are to go downtown. I saw it featured once in an issue of Metropolis and have since learned that Mayor Kilpatrick of Detroit announced that it would be redeveloped as the police headquarters. It’s anybody’s guest as to the number of homeless and drug-addicted it has housed over the years. I suspect it was also the point of entry (to Detroit at least) for thousands of immigrants. There is history everywhere like that in Detroit. There are so many old, and what would in other cities be considered cool and marketable, buildings in Detroit, but none get touched. They are not even torn down because the land they stand on is not worth developing. It is a very interesting place and I will have to look into the planning that is going on there and see if there are opportunities. It would be a fascinating place to work.
We drove around the city some more and went to Hamtramck (a neighborhood I have been wanting to see for some time). It is a Polish mainstay of the city and what many refer to as the City within the City. There is a lot of street activity, houses are well kept and the population is diverse. Shop signs can be found in English, Polish, Arabic to name a few. We stopped in to a Polish bakery and picked up some pastries and then walked down the street, grabbed a coffee at a coney island diner, some socks at a new dollar store and headed on our way.
It was cool to see the city that I have been asked about so many times in planning classes from the inside rather than the outside.