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A second chance for Detroit: the urban renaissance of the "Motor City" in ten spots

The urban image of Detroit since the end of the 20th century had become the archetypal example of decadence and abandonment: Ruined buildings, vacant lots, and uninhabited streets recreated a dystopian panorama that some defined as the great failure of capitalism and the "Dream American".

Detroit at sunset. Photo: Nic Redhead

Such a statement was not - to some extent - an exaggeration. From the 1950s (population peak) to 2010, Detroit had lost more than one million inhabitants in its urban area, as the product of the closure of the automobile industries. It generated empty districts and a serious problem of insecurity and violence that turned the Motor City into one of the most dangerous urban areas in the United States and the world.

In 2013, Detroit seemed to hit rock bottom, becoming the first major U.S. city to declare bankruptcy and with a future that did not look promising. However, despite its severe economic crisis and with the effects of the Pandemic still present in the country, the Motor City seems to be rising from obscurity and rethinking its destiny.

According to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Detroit ranks among the top 10 U.S. cities with the greatest potential for economic growth and is third in the country in attracting innovation companies and start-ups. Additionally, the city's cultural and musical legacy is also boosting the city as a national and international tourist destination.

Thus, like the legendary Phoenix, Detroit is rising from the blighted grounds and today shows an urban appearance with signs of a slow rebirth. Here are 10 examples of the city’s new face:

New housing developments

Although there are still many uninhabited suburban areas, the situation in the central part of Detroit shows signs of recovery, where new housing developments have been built in recent years. 

Housing units in Rivertown - Warehouse District (2011 and 2020)

Apartments in Downtown Detroit (2011 and 2021)

University Accommodation in Wayne State (2011 and 2021)

Mobility and public spaces

In 2017, Detroit put into service the QLine, a streetcar system that runs along Woodward Avenue and connects the Downtown to the Northern Districts. This is the second rail-like mass transit system to operate in the city, following the Detroit People Mover or DPM.

QLine in Woodward Ave (2011 and 2021)

Beacon Park site (2011 and 2021)

Academia and Research

Wayne State University is the main center of higher education in Detroit. In the last decade, the university has expanded its campus, creating new buildings such as the Mike Ilitch School of Business and the Integrative Biosciences Center.

Mike Ilitch School of Business (2011 and 2021)

Integrative Biosciences Center site (2011 and 2021)

New office buildings

Although the Covid Pandemic generated a serious global impact on the demand for office space, Detroit appears to be experiencing a slow resurgence as can be seen in the new buildings located in Downtown.

New office buildings and Little Ceasars Headquartes in Woordward Ave (2011 and 2021)

Spaces for sports and entertainment

Little Caesars Arena is the largest sports complex built in Detroit in the last decade. It is home to the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and the NBA's Detroit Pistons. This makes Detroit the only city in the United States to have all four major professional league teams play in its Downtown.

Little Ceasars Arena site (2011 and 2021)

The restoration of an icon

Michigan Central Station went from being a symbol of prosperity in Detroit to being one of the visible signs of the city's state of decay since its closure in 1988. After the purchase of the building by Ford Motor Company in 2018, work began on structural reinforcement, restoration of its facade and interior spaces, which are expected to be completed in 2023.

Michigan Central Station (2011 and 2021)

Images: Google Street View



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