Michigan Central and the Rebirth of Detroit

(bbc.co.uk)

47 points | by pionerkotik 104 days ago

5 comments

  • redis_mlc 103 days ago

    This is a great article - maybe the best that I've seen in terms of depth and balance about Detroit (I'm from there.)

    Both Detroit and Oakland allowed rain and rodents to heavily damage their showcase train stations.

    They are trying to restore them now, but a tarp would have saved tens of millions of dollars and years in restoration costs.

    The world-class DIA art museum was mentioned. Note that Toledo, Ohio, another ruined city, has the fantastic Libby Glass Museum.

    > For some years he has been buying lots in the area

    Forward-thinking business owners with cash flow have a unique opportunity to buy downtown real estate.

    A trucking company bought hundreds of abandoned homes near swanky Belle Isle(!) and paved an urban parking lot of around 50 acres for trans-shipping between USA and Canada.

    Detroit is one of the few cities in the world where you can buy a block-long brick factory and launch a new mfg. business for essentially just the back taxes.

    https://www.mobsteel.com/detroit-steel-wheel-co

    • ironchef 103 days ago

      Friend of a friend owns mobsteel. It's not manufacturing in the sense of "big production lines" ... but more crafting new cars out of old ones. You'll see lots of Adam's cars right at home on the woodward dream cruise.

      While the article focuses on the Central, I wish there was a bit of something on the failure that is the people mover.

      That being said I wish Ford and Gilbert and everyone trying to revitalize things the best of luck. It's an uphill battle which requires fixing the educational system and essentially the community.

      • cleandreams 103 days ago

        I see this differently. I grew up in Chicago in the era of decline. Economic decline begets social decline. Much is made of the pathology of poor communities, and I've heard it before: for jobs to come, you need to 'fix' the people, the schools, the community. But funny thing, if the jobs are stripped away, the people sink into despair and dysfunction. You see it today, in white working class communities where it seems nearly everyone has succumbed to opiates. When I was growing up it was called the pathology of the Black family. In my area, jobs fled because the companies didn't want to pay union wages. Then gangs took over. The people were blamed for the dysfunction. What happens when the jobs disappear is the real problem.

        • AnthonyMouse 103 days ago

          The problem is people don't want to admit what needs to be done before it's too late.

          When the gas crisis hit, it put enough money into the Japanese car makers that their next generation of cars weren't just more fuel efficient than what Detroit was producing, they were actually competitive on multiple levels.

          Suddenly the Big Three had to compete, but there was a problem. They had promised their workers wages and benefits they could only provide when they didn't have viable foreign competition. More competition meant lower volumes and lower margins.

          There are only two options in that circumstance. Either everyone tightens their belt or the companies fail. But nobody wanted to tighten their belt. The unions wouldn't give back what they negotiated during the time when the American automakers had no competition. So the companies slowly failed, and with them the region.

          The alternative might have been that most cars were still made in Detroit, and people there made middle class wages, just not upper middle class wages. But they chose bankruptcy and unemployment over accepting that, and that's what they got.

          • nradov 103 days ago

            The promises to workers were certainly a contributing factor, but incompetent and apathetic management was a far larger problem. If management had decided to make efficient, high-quality cars the workers were capable of building them as perhaps only slightly higher cost than the competition. Union assembly line workers didn't design the Ford Pinto.

            • AnthonyMouse 103 days ago

              Management decisions did them no favors, but it was a fundamental shift no matter how well they would have executed. If they had made better cars they would have done better, but there was still no way to maintain their previous revenues when they had new competitors selling good cars for less money, and those revenues were what paid for those benefits.

        • redis_mlc 103 days ago

          > people mover

          So I used Mayor "Coleman's Train" a few times. The construction went fairly well, but thugs would wait for the doors to close and mug passengers. So passengers started to think twice before boarding. :)

          The coolest thing about the People Mover was that it cut thru the corner of some buildings - quite an experience!

          Ultimately building the RenCen isolated the original outside downtown from the new "RenCen downtown", destroying the original downtown as a destination.

          And of course the RenCen elevators were as dangerous as Coleman's Train. Women couldn't use them alone.

          The one good thing I can say about violence in Detroit is that AK-47's were never commonly used, unlike LA. You were more likely to get clubbed than shot.

          Interesting Wikipedia link below. So the original projection was for 67,700 riders per day, which is laughable, as the popular Caltrain is slightly less than that even today.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit_People_Mover

      • spking 103 days ago

        After years of looking at Detroit "ruin porn", I finally got to visit in person last month with a friend from the area as my guide. Photos don't do it justice! The station is enormous and very imposing.

        (Also 4 minutes away is an amazing ramen place - Johnny Noodle King).

      • rmason 103 days ago

        That station first represented the greatness of Detroit. Then it represented what locals call 'ruin porn' and I've got at least three coffee table books where it was the cover subject.

        I grew up in Detroit and visit it often. I remember as a little kid visiting the depot with my dad where he'd use one of the few nickel phones that still remained in the city. As a teenager I took trains to and from the station.

        I think what Ford is doing is amazing. A previous Ford built RenCen https://fineartamerica.com/featured/detroit-renaissance-cent... on the river shortly after the riots. It was supposed to represent the city's rebirth but it was a very flawed development. General Motors bought it and made it better as Ford exited the city.

        The station represents Ford's triumphant reentry into the city of its birth. It was a very gutsy call at a time when the company faces major threats. Despite what the story says my friends that live there say that Ford has been very receptive to their concerns.

        But on a sad note there are the farmers. There are a number of couples making a full time living farming the vacant lots. Someday those lots will be sold and developed and the neighborhood will lose some of its unique character.

        https://www.freep.com/in-depth/news/columnists/john-carlisle...

        • danans 103 days ago

          Even as a kid in the 80s when I saw its shuttered carcass out the car window, I knew that building was something special, even though its size and prominence vs it's surroundings made it a bit scary looking.

          I remember asking my parents what it was, and being confused when they said it was a train station, because I'd never heard of passenger trains in Detroit.

          I do have a very foggy early memory of the last streetcars of Detroit before they were ripped out, or maybe it was just the abandoned tracks. I also remember asking my parents where the trains for those tracks were. I remember them saying that "this is a car city", neither proudly nor vindictively, just as a matter of fact.

          It would be amazing to see passenger rail service return to Detroit. It would take a huge culture shift,both nationally and locally.

          • analognoise 103 days ago

            I don't understand why we bother. If places outlive their economic usefulness, just move somewhere else. That's exactly what people did with Detroit - moved on.

            Why bother saving, or resurrecting it? Did we forget how to build grand buildings?

            • cleandreams 103 days ago

              Yes, we did forget how to build grand buildings.

              • AnthonyMouse 103 days ago

                We didn't really forget. We just stopped wanting them.

                Grand buildings are beautiful, but they're also much more expensive to build, and to climate control, and they take up a lot more real estate that could be housing for people.

                Bill Gates or Elon Musk could afford to build buildings like that. Or they could use their resources to fight malaria and climate change and get humans into space. And as between them, they're probably making the better choice.