Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Creating Places: A Journey to Detroit Part II

Having been back a week following my trip to Detroit, following are some positive and negative characteristics of the built environment of one of this country's five most important, arguably, old-school cities:

The Good

1. Stellar vintage architecture of all types (residential, commercial, civic and industrial).

2. Three large, well-defined and fairly vibrant big-city districts: Downtown, Midtown and New Center.

3. An outstanding collection of pre-World War-II-built skyscrapers (the Guardian Building is likely my favorite, with the lobby nothing short of breathtaking).

4. A nice collection of civic spaces (Campus Martius Park, Grand Circus Park, the Market Sheds in Eastern Market, Detroit Riverwalk and Lafayette Park/Dequindre Cut Greenway.

5. A distinctive downtown street layout, which allows for interesting vistas for walkers.

The Bad

1. An almost disturbingly modest number of striking 21st century buildings (a few exceptions include the Downtown YMCA, the Compuware Building and the Greektown Hotel).

2. A good bit of "dead space" (surface parking, empty residential lots, abandoned buildings, etc.), which limits pedestrian vibrancy.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I rank Detroit's manmade fabric a 7.5. Once the city is infilled with cutting-edge contemporary buildings — and assuming the bulk of the great traditional stuff is maintained — the ranking could shoot to a 9. This transformation will require at least 20 years and I might be dead, but perhaps my two nephews, 10 and 7 respectively, will be able to enjoy, along with the then-residents of what will remain a proud city.

Next the wonderful people of Detroit make the Motor City a special place.

1 comment:

  1. So... where's the scoop on the people of the D?