|Broderick Tower and Peoplemover track|
I love living in the North Bay. Walkable downtowns. Nice people. Comfortable Mediterranean climate, at least until climate changes progresses further.
But living in the North Bay presents challenges when I attend the annual gatherings of the Congress for the New Urbanism. The recent CNU 24 in Detroit was no different.
There are some fine urbanists in the North Bay. To my pleasant surprise, there was a handful in Detroit. We had a casual assembly during the CNU 24 closing party.
But there aren’t a lot of urbanists in the North Bay. We may be only an hour from San Francisco and Oakland, two hours by transit, but personal obligations often make those journeys awkward or impossible. As a result, I often feel starved for large gatherings of urbanists of differing perspectives where the intellectual ferment can be set at a rolling boil. Exactly the kind of setting that CNUs provide.
At the same time, CNUs are held in interesting cities, the kind of cities that demand closer inspection. In my four years of attending CNUs, I’ve been to Salt Lake City, Buffalo, Dallas, and now Detroit, each of which offered lessons to the inquiring and the observant.
All of which creates a series of dilemmas when reviewing a CNU schedule. Do I listen to walkability expert Jeff Speck or do I go on a field trip to a neighborhood revitalization effort? Do I attend the keynote address by cutting edge traffic planner Janette Sadik-Khan or do I join a walking tour of local parks?
This year, I arrived a day early so I could take a field to Grand Rapids. It was a well-organized, well-filled day that I’m pleased to have done. But as CNU 24 moved toward its conclusion, I began feeling that I hadn’t really partaken of the Detroit experience, aside from dodging a few cars and watching as Peoplemover doors failed to open.
Before writing of the walk, I have a couple of preparatory notes. First, the layout of downtown Detroit is unusual and remarkable. Perhaps complex for cars, but full of closed vistas and charming shortcuts for pedestrians.
|Municpal parking lot|
He was apparently so proud of his work that he named the principal street after himself.
With most Detroit maps dominated by the freeways and expressways that had a role in its plummet, it’s hard to find a graphic that adequately depicts Woodward’s plan, but this map comes close. Woodward Avenue is the principal north-south street through the heart of the plan, the street that bisects the semi-circular park and continues toward the river. This was the path for much of my walk. (It is also the route for a streetcar that will soon begin service, an improvement that seems to meet a key civic need.)
With that background, let me begin my walk through downtown Detroit.
Upon exiting the Peoplemover, I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of the Peoplemover track and the renovated Broderick Tower, still blocking the morning sun on a day that would soon reach a humid 92 degrees.
Looking north up Woodward Avenue, the streetcar track construction and the final straggling buildings can be seen. Beyond the buildings, the near void that characterizes much of Detroit soon takes hold. (Let me take a chance here. From left to right, Greek Revival, Art Deco, and Gothic Revival. How did I do?)
It’s not that Detroit doesn’t have tall buildings, but many are on streets a block or two from Woodward, allowing Woodward to function as a grand boulevard.
|Guardian Building lobby|
Heading down Woodward, I found myself oddly discomfited by a municipal parking lot in which the stubs of the columns of a former building had been left in place. I can’t guess why, if demolition included severing the columns, the cuts were done three feet above grade rather than twelve inches under. Perhaps someone thought the remaining stubs would recall the glory of Detroit. I found them more redolent of the fall.
|Guardian Building lobby|
A block further way was the reason I’d been told to take Griswold, the lobby of the Guardian Building. I don’t know what to call the architectural style, perhaps Art Deco with a Native American color scheme? Regardless, it’s a dramatic space that is securely and irrevocably of its time.
|Monument to Joe Louis|
To that speculation, I’d add that the fist is palm down when the more normal boxing position would have the palm facing sideways. With the pyramid support, it does appear that the fist is being staged, prior to being raised into a vertical position. However, the sculptor never confirmed or denied this interpretation.
|Buildings along W. Jefferson Street|
When I next write, it will be to begin offering the best quotes from the sessions I attended.
As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated. Please comment below or email me. And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (email@example.com)