From Detroit Squanders Distinct Urban Past (John Gallagher/Detroit Free Press):

…buildings and the culture they contain are so important that America is about to spend tens of billions of dollars to rebuild and safeguard New Orleans.

In Detroit, we have pretty much squandered our heritage of historic architecture. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of important older buildings have been torn down since World War II. In their place, we’ve gotten little more than surface parking lots and, in some cases, not even that.

Compare aerial views of Detroit from the 1950s and today and you’ll see a startling difference. The city has been thinning out at a steady rate, with fewer buildings remaining decade after decade.

New Orleans demonstrated long ago that historic buildings and districts proved the perfect counterbalance to the hustle and sprawl of suburbia. Historic buildings tend to be more solidly built, are sized more for human scale and address the street and neighboring buildings in a more genial way.

Suburban structures, whether office buildings, malls or whatever, tend to sit by themselves amid acres of parking. Historic urban buildings tend to hang together to create a lively environment for pedestrians and tourists.

Even today, Detroit is losing more historic architecture daily. The famed Statler Hotel on Grand Circus Park is mostly gone, wrecking crews hard at work. With Super Bowl XL coming in February, contractors appear poised to demolish some of the historic mansions in the Brush Park district to make way for more parking lots.

New Orleans takes its past seriously. That city will be rebuilt.

Will Detroit?

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