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Fallen Motor City
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2013-07-20 11:08:05 | Detroit, Michigan, United States
Keywords: empty, Landscape
A Michigan friend of mine discouraged me from going to Detroit, saying it was so dangerous. But I always wanted to visit Motor City. Why? Because it's fascinating how a city that size can be built around a single industry, and the influence Detroit had on music with Motown.

A lot like Pittsburgh, Detroit has lost its power and most of its population, with the decline of its only industry. More than half the Detroit population went away, looking for a better future. In many areas of Detroit, it looks like a war zone, with its abandoned crashed cars and half-destroyed buildings. In other areas of this large metro city it's more like a ghost town with its entire neighbourhoods deserted of human life.

But nothing looks more like a ghost town than downtown. You first notice very wide one-way streets with 4 to 6 lanes of traffic like you see in New York City... except they're almost empty. I explored the city in the afternoon of a Wednesday, and it felt like it was Sunday. On weekends, it's virtually deserted.

The city's infrastructure was built for a few millions people driving cars. Now that people and cars are gone, the city has almost lost its reason to be. There used to be more than 1.5 millions people in Detroit, now it's barely over 600 000. All the transportation systems in and around the city were meant for cars with little for other transportation methods.

What's surprising at first for a city of the size Detroit was is the total absence of a subway or light-rail system, especially considering the area covered by the city and the fact it's perfectly flat. Even the Amtrak train station in Detroit is very small (Ann Arbor's station is larger than Detroit's). The city bus network is okay, but it was probably scaled down with the exodus of the population. For about half of my transports in Detroit, the service was good, I appreciated the fact it had A/C, but it was not very reliable. On 2 or 3 occasions, the bus was very late (from 30 to 90 minutes late). The city being bankrupt won't help for a while that's sure.

There is an aerial tramway put in place 20 years ago, called the “People Mover”. It runs a one-way loop around downtown, but besides moving people between the Tiger's stadium or the Red Wings' arena to the transit bus terminal this service doesn't have a real purpose in my opinion.

Despite the overall decline of the city, you clearly see that there are some elements in the city that are still thriving, not despite but because of the global situation. These elements are churches, casinos and liquor stores. These are signs of a population seeking solutions to their problems and are to be expected in such situations.

Of course, there is violence in the outskirts of the city and in many rough areas, but downtown is very safe and so are the buses. Of course, just use common sense and be alert as you should be in every city.

I explored downtown only during half of a day, in intense heat, but I like the variety of architecture of the city and the omnipresence of the automobile industry, with GM's headquarters still being a major element of downtown.

I also took the opportunity to go to Windsor, Ontario, which is just across the river. It's the only place along the 5000 km border where you need to go South to enter Canada. Windsor is the southernmost city in Canada. The riverfront offers the best view of the Detroit skyline, and from there you don't notice the decline of the city. I didn't explore Windsor because of the heat and lack of time.

Detroit has to find resources and time to re-define itself and not only rely on her past glory, but it is an important stop to make in my opinion because of the role that city plays in the automobile industry.


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