Detroit Crop City

I had no idea things were this bad.

I mean, I’d heard that Flint, Michigan was in the process of disconnecting the municipal infrastructure in its abandoned suburbs — it was just too expensive to maintain roads, sewer and electricity out to areas that will likely never be resettled. But that’s Flint. It’s been in the crapper since before the internet.

But here I am last night listening to As It Happens and their interview with historian, Mark Dowie, about the Mayor of Detroit’s plans to raze entire neighbourhoods of his city and reclaim them as agricultural land. Yeesh. That’s some pretty big frickin’ news, I’m thinking.

Okay, granted, Detroit’s population has dropped from over two million to under 900,000. These are grim times for Motor City. Something needs to be done. But this project means deconstructing great swaths of a major American city. They’ll be tearing down and returning to scrub one of the great icons of the auto age. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea. I’m saying: Holy. Crap. That’s got to be unprecedented.

Seems like an admission that this “thing” we’ve been half-jokingly calling the econopocalypse isn’t just some correction or temporary downturn.

Anyway, you can listen to the As It Happens segment here (it’s in Part 2) and here’s a short news bit on Mayor Bing’s plan which contains a link to his Neighbourhood Revitalization Strategic Framework. Plus, here’s an article from the New Geography website about the financial pressures that will be forcing a lot of American cities to deconstruct themselves.

Now, it’s no secret that I have some issues with the suburbs. I’ve been known to, on occasion, express a quantity of doubt about their prolonged sustainability.

I have quibbles.

But I just want to make it clear that this isn’t motivated by some urban hipster disdain for vinyl siding and cul-de-sacs, for big box stores and parking lagoons, for atomized society and the culture of “Happy Motoring!”

Let me rephrase.

About 40 per cent is urban hipster disdain. The rest is frustration with the fact that so many Canadian municipalities continue to invest in suburbs even though we know there are better ways to design cities. And we know that in the current economic climate, investing in suburbs is a huge risk that places like Detroit and Flint are only now starting to understand the true costs of.

The snap-back that America is facing is going to hit here eventually. Sure, times are looking good for Canada by some accounts but how long is that going to last when we’re just north of and biggest trading partner to Clusterfuck Nation?

I think my point is that maybe as Regina is growing, we should keep its eventual contraction in mind. If we focus on density and infill over sprawl, the worst that’ll happen is we wind up with a more efficient city and a network of infrastructure we’re more likely to afford over the long term.

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

3 thoughts on “Detroit Crop City”

  1. Very good post. Great links, thanks for those.

    I’m of two minds on the suburbs personally. I agree with you on their many failings, but I think our great challenge will be making them work, since we’ve sunk so much time, money and energy into them that it’s all but impossible to go back.

    I suspect as the years move on, the McMansions will slowly be subdivided, the population density will creep up, the transportation options will grow (Jitneys, anyone?)

    Of course the irony here is that these trends will inevitably remake the ‘burbs into the slums.

  2. If we can manage to keep water flowing here (unlikely in the long term) we could have 2 million people in Regina by 2050.

  3. By the standards of large metro-region cities in America I’m not sure what’s declining into vegetation here is suburban. The loss is in the city of Detroit which is a huge area to be sure, but it isn’t coming from the suburban cities like Warren and Dearborn.

    I take your point that any expansion now in a small city like Regina is tied to the availability of inexpensive individual transportation. While non oil based transportation options (trains) would still allow suburban conditions these would likely be more linear than the clouds of homes that can pop up all around with sprawl.

    I’m not sure in Regina there ever will be a complete contraction of suburbs even with a Kunstleresk end to “Happy motoring” right-of-ways like Arcola, Albert Broad Victoria and Dewdney could allow access to Dieppe, Albert Park, Uplands, and Varsity Park among others. So there would be winners and losers.

    Anyway, I wanted to add some Detroit links here for anyone interested:

    Kunstler cast 65 virtual walking tour of Detroit

    Blue print America, an overview of the transportation development in the USA, with Detroit as a case study and the future of the city.

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