Hello from Detroit Architectural rejuvenation at the Inn on Ferry Street
by Arther in Travel / Travel Tips (submitted 2010-12-06)
The East Ferry Avenue Historic District is a historic area in Midtown Detroit, which is also referred to as Detroit's Cultural Centre. Well-preserved elegant mansions from the 1880s and 1890s line the streets and recall an era when these villas were owned by some of Detroit's wealthiest citizens. This historic district represents one of the largest and least altered collections of Detroit's leading architects of the late nineteenth century
I had a chance to sit down with Sue Mosey, the driving force behind the renovation of the six buildings that make up the Inn on Ferry Street. Sue is an urban planner and the President of the University Cultural Center Association, a non-profit organization that has aided in planning and developing nearly $400 million in new residential projects in Detroit's Midtown area.
Sue Mosey is one of Detroit's most visionary and influential citizens. With more than 20 years of experience as an urban planner, Sue has dedicated her entire career to non-profit organizations that improve her city. She is the president of the University Cultural Center Association, a nonprofit community development group which promotes the revitalization and development of Detroit's Midtown area. Detroit's lack of strong city planners and developers has created a space for non-profit organizations and independent professionals who have been working hard to improve the city.
Under Sue Mosey's leadership the Midtown area has attracted more than $400 million in new residential investments; roughly 2800 housing units have been created or are being planned. Projects include planning support, real estate development, attraction of retailers and businesses, beautification and public safety improvement programs, the organization of local festivals and events and much more. Most recently Sue is working on getting a two-mile greenway off the ground to provide Midtown residents with safe recreational opportunities for walking, jogging and cycling. One of her main goals is to attract more people and businesses to the Midtown area.
To provide context for Sue Mosey's endeavours it is important to understand a bit of Detroit's history. During the late 1800s and early 1900s Detroit was often referred to as "the Paris of the West" because of its stunning architecture and Gilded Age mansions. From the first half of the 19th century onwards Detroit had become a centre of shipping, shipbuilding and manufacturing, resulting in rapid economic growth and considerable wealth among the city's business leaders.
Around the turn of the last century Detroit became a powerhouse in automotive manufacturing: the Ford Motor Company was founded in 1904 and other automotive pioneers built extensive factories in Detroit. The success of Ford's Model T made car ownership accessible to the masses and created a large demand for automobiles. Thousands of African-American former plantation workers migrated north to participate in the manufacturing boom and the new prosperity offered to assembly line workers.
The economic slowdown following the end of World War I and, from 1929 onwards, the Great Depression put a damper on these economic aspirations. As jobs dwindled, old racial prejudices resurfaced and race relations became severely strained during the 1920s. The 1930s were a period of bitter labour strife in Detroit
During the 1940s the world's first sunken expressway was constructed in Detroit, and World War II sparked demand for weapons and spurred industrial growth. Changing demographics and long-entrenched racism led to racial tensions between Detroit's African-American and White populations which escalated into a full-scale riot in 1943 during which 34 people were killed and 600 injured.
During the 1950s and 1960s an extensive network of highways was constructed in Detroit which made it easier for people to commute and move into the suburbs. Poor housing conditions, economic factors and police prejudice against African-Americans led to another devastating race riot in 1967. This event together with school desegregation led to white flight, a demographic trend where working and middle-class white people moved into the suburbs. Large numbers of jobs also relocated into the outskirts, and as a result, Detroit's tax base eroded and its population declined from about 1.8 million in 1950 to around 900,000 today. Large tracts of housing were simply abandoned as people moved away from the city.
The gasoline crisis of the 1970s also impacted the Detroit auto industry while the city was increasingly afflicted by the heroin and crack cocaine trade during the 1980s. Many of the abandoned houses had become crack houses and havens for drug dealers. The city responded by demolishing countless buildings, leaving behind large swaths of vacant land, often referred to as "urban prairies". Demolitions are still continuing today and some parts of the city are marred by large numbers of abandoned buildings and empty lots.
However, from the 1990s and into the 2000s, Detroit started to experience a significant revival: the Comerica Tower was built in 1993; new state-of-the-art sports stadiums were constructed for the Detroit Lions and the Detroit Tigers; three casinos opened inside the city. In recent years, several large-scale events have also added to the city's renaissance: the 2005 MLB All-Star Game, the 2006 Super Bowl, the 2006 Word Series and WrestleMania in 2007 were all held in Detroit. In October of 2008, one of the most ambitious architectural restoration programs was unveiled when the historic Book Cadillac Hotel was reopened under the Westin flag after a $200 million investment and 24 years of abandonment.
Many revival initiatives have happened in Detroit over the years, and in the mid-town area many of them came together directly or indirectly because of the involvement of Sue Mosey and the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA). This non-profit organization is involved in the organization of special events, planning, transportation and public awareness campaigns. Sue added that since 2000 more than $2 billion have been invested in the Midtown area. Other areas of Detroit are also undergoing redevelopment as I witnessed myself during my walk through the historic Brush Park neighborhood. Neighborhoods like these are an interesting mix of shuttered buildings, vacant lots, recently restored historic buildings and brand-new real estate developments.