The Misunderstood Motor City

It occurred to me after talking with some friends that only a few of my classmates have a good idea of what Detroit is like today and its history.

Detroit wasn’t always the city it is today, but with all the recent publicity on the city’s tragedies and corruption, I can understand the confusion.  In the industrial age Detroit was home to amazing, talented people, beautiful neighborhoods, innovation, growth and expansion.  Between 1880 and 1930 the city’s population doubled every ten years and while growth slowed in the 1940s, the city continued to expand well into the 1960s.


Detroit has some of the most significant Art Deco Architecture in America.  In the city’s prime, architects such as Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, Wirt Rowland built amazing structures and neighborhoods throughout the city.

The Penobscot Building:


The Guardian Building:


Belle Isle: The largest island city park in the United States

Campus Martius Park and Grand Circus Park:


I mean the scale of Detroit is absolutely amazing, take a look at the image below.

Three of the most significant US cities can fit inside the boundaries of Detroit with room to spare.  Further this doesn’t consider the extensive metropolitan areas that have grown up around Detroit since the 1950’s and 1960’s.  The movement of people out of the city into the surrounding area was prolific and so the surrounding cities have grown significantly (Southfield, Troy, Royal Oak, Bloomfield, Birmingham, Mount Clemens).  Today these cities represent 5 times the population within the city limits.

One of the most amazing ways I can describe parts of modern Detroit is ‘beautifully desolate’.  You can find neighborhoods (1 mile by 1 mile in area) with only a handful of homes sparsely located across the land and the city scape looms in the distance.  It’s a bizarre dichotomy – the rural inside the urban landscape with neighborhood homes that have been reclaimed by nature.

Legitimately Detroit is slightly tragic.  Awful things have happened but it remains an amazing city.  To me the city represents the innovative nature of man: the assembly line, the modern traffic light, Ford Motor Company, techno music, Motown, the location where Thomas Edison grew up just to name a few.

I’m certainly not trying to convince anyone to drop everything and move to Detroit but simply to appreciate a once great city that has the people and the potential to be great again.  Detroit represented innovation once and some truly amazing ideas are developing again.

Additional Sources:

Check out these pictures!

Detorit: A City Ripe for Innovation