Monthly Archives: March 2013

How to make Detroit’s really weird layout work

**DISCLAIMER: I’m not a city planner. I’m a 20-something girl who likes to party with itchy feet and a sister with a PhD in Civil Engineering (planning specialization).

On the last episode of Zizu and Stuff, I mapped out some reasons why Detroit should be a contender for Social Media Week. It’s time to break out your cartography hats because I’m going to be mappin’ it up again today.


Haha, see what I did there? Map?

So, I caught wind that Dan Gilbert of QL hosting a little chaterooni about new Detroit initiatives, which always gets me giddy, so I perused the hashtags and live-tweets about it.

One particular tweet caught my eye, “A City Needs 10 destinations…” 10 Destinations/10 Places/10 things to do (destination defined as a district). 10x10x10. Good formula. So how does this apply to The D? Let’s name the Detroit districts:

10 DETROIT ‘HOODS (Districts/Destinations):

  • Greektown
  • Mexicantown
  • Corktown
  • Midtown
  • Downtown
  • Grand Circus Park


Ok ok, I know there are other named Detroit neighborhoods (Indian VIllage, Boston-Edison, Poletown and EAST Poletown as I discovered a couple of months ago). But these are the most notable neighborhoods Detroit has (not including Hamtramck/Highland Park/anything else that’s technically it’s own city). I could name 5. So we’re halfway there?

My guess is the presenter behind 10x10x10 knows what’s up about the cache about living in a neighborhood in a big city. My Chicago friends always tout the neighborhood they live/hang out in (seemingly 3/4 times its a Park. Chicago’s got dominance on the Parks –Wicker, Lincoln, Rogers, etc.) Anyone can spout Manhattan neighborhoods without ever living there (SoHo, Chelsea, Little Italy, Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Greenwich, yada yada, you know them).

Problem is, Detroit wasn’t laid out like New York or Chicago, which rely on wicked public transportation systems and are very walkable. Detroit is Motor City, so the expectation here has always been that you need a car. But now, that’s played out with youngins’ who have seen public transport glamorized on TV and want to drop a quarter in a saxophone man’s case like the big kids in NYC/Chicago. Public transportation also gives clarity as to what neighborhoods where which (i.e. Red Line riders in Chicago know the Thorndale stop is in the Edgewater neighborhood).

Detroit is actually laid out more like Los Angeles, where the expectation is also that you need a car to get around. And while LA proper has its well known neighborhoods (Compton, Van Nuys, etc.), the real “destinations” in LA are different cities: Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Venice, Santa Monica… We’ve got that going on here too: Royal Oak, Ferndale, Birmingham — problem is: Detroit is trying to attract people back into the city — LA doesn’t have to.

So the real ? is: HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE DESTINATIONS OF DETROIT? And if that makes you feel like this:


Never fear. I totally think Detroit can have the best of both worlds:


    Don’t alienate good ‘hoods that have already been established. RO and Ferndale are already popular with the young crowd in Metro Detroit. Why not make it easier for the coveted Young Pro crowd living there to travel into the city? Maybe they’ll fall even more in love and move Downtown? This is why I’m so thrilled about the M1 Light Rail. I’m thrilled that it’s linking Midtown, Downtown and GCP, but for the Detroit destinations to really take off, the already established sexy neighborhoods need to be included. 


    DG and other Detroit investors are doing a pretty good job of trying to integrate living space near workplaces, restaurants, other life essentials downtown, which is great. However, if Detroit is trying to attract outsiders, it’ll  be easier if all the fun stuff is in one place. If you ask a Detroiter, “Where do you go out at night?” they are likely to give you names of their favorite night haunts instead of naming an entire district that is straight up fun. And having a district that is straight up fun will only help the reputation of a city. It’s worked for Miami and Las Vegas and Amsterdam…hell, it’s worked for Cleveland.


    Austin, Minneapolis, and Portland have all seen an uptick in young post-grads flocking there. And we all know why…they’re known as “hipster” cities. And those cities aren’t even all that huge and glamorous but people want to be there because they feel like those are the cities where they will find people just like them. Detroit can totally do this too and even has an advantage because Detroit has pieces of subculture with global scope already. Everyone knows Detroit is a music city (Eminem, Madonna, White Stripes, Kid Rock, Bob Seger, Motown IF YOU LIKE MUSIC IT CAME FROM DETROIT). Detroit also has lots of gorgeous & historic music venues. I don’t know how we aren’t known as Concert Capital of the World. DG is trying to get a fire started with Techtown. I don’t care what it is–let’s associate Detroit with something that people want to be a part of. These people will develop the Detroit neighborhoods.

That’s what I say!

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