Monday, November 10, 2003

Metro Detroit blog.

From Minneapolis I made my way to greater Detroit, for another conference last week -- the University of Michigan Real Estate Forum. For me, the high point of this to-do, and I'd to-done it once before in 1999, was the bus tour. Four years ago, the buses snaked through that part of metro Detroit known as Down River, south of Detroit proper along the Detroit River. A declining industrial region with some redevelopment promise.

It even involved a boat ride to Gross Ile, an island-town with its own houses, streets, an airstrip and a yacht club, where we had lunch and listened to a businessman give a speech (I've forgotten his name). A real immigrant success story, since he had come from Germany as a young man; and auto-related, since he had made his pile making sun- and moonroofs. Real estate-related because he owned a fair amount of it Down River. Less than a year later, not quite 60, he committed suicide. I would guess that it had nothing to do with his engagement at the yacht club. Otherwise, I haven't a clue. It was just one of those things you see in the newspaper, with a small flash of recognition.

This year, we toured the suburban downtowns of Oakland County, Michigan. Oakland County is essentially where the middle class fled to in the 1960s and '70s from the city of Detroit. In focusing on the downtowns -- Ferndale, Royal Oak, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills -- we looked at places along or near Woodward Avenue, a storied road that goes all the way from the heart of downtown Detroit to Pontiac, Michigan. Suburban downtown redevelopment involves mostly retail and multifamily development clustered closer than usual in a suburb, and is a fairly new thing in the urban planning and development world. Especially in metro Detroit, because a downtown assumes that people will, occasionally, get out of their cars and walk. And like it. A strange notion for some parts of the country, such as suburban Detroit.


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