Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hope for a better future in Detroit

URBAN PLANNING. I spent last night watching an interesting documentary on Detroit, by many described as the worst urban failure in America and perhaps the world.
PBS aired “Blueprint America: Beyond the Motor City” a few nights ago. You can find it here . The film is part of a PBS series about America’s crumbling infrastructure.
Anyone interested in the dilemmas American cities face as they look for a future beyond car dependency will find this film worth seeing.
It paints a grim picture of a city that once was one of the greatest in the country, but now has more or less collapsed. The downfall is blamed on a total reliance on the automobile and the highways that were built for them with the destruction of public transportation as a result.
But the film gives some hope. Plans for a stretch of light rail along the main thoroughfare Woodward Avenue is seen as a starting point for the revival of Detroit.
When I met John Norquist, the former mayor of Milwaukee who now heads the Congress for the New Urbanism, in Chicago last year he talked a lot about Detroit.
“”To build highways in cities, for example, is insanity. It lessens the value of the city. In most European cities they wouldn’t do that, but here we have done that. It’s like dropping a bomb over the city”, he said.
“America won the Second World War, but if you take a city like Detroit today and compare it with Rotterdam, Hamburg, Dresden or Nagasaki you could think that the war took place in Detroit, not in Europe or Asia.”
Now many American cities are at a crossroads, looking for the right way forward. “The change has to begin in Detroit”, it was said in the PBS documentary.
If you are interested in Detroit, I can recommend a year-long project by Time magazine that you can follow in a special blog.

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