Detroit’s downtown, situated in Wayne County, took form after the 1805 fires. The 1805 fires destroyed Detroit, to a point where it was feasible to re-start and re-plan the city from scratch. Augustus B. Woodward, born in New York City in 1774, was Washington D.C.’s first practicing lawyer, and moved days after the 1805 fires to Detroit as the territorial judge of Michigan Territory . He was inspired by Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s Washington D.C.’s hub-and-radial street plan, imitating this streetscape to rebuild downtown Detroit. The 1807 Map of Detroit (figure 1) represents the civic planning in downtown Detroit, which is still present today (figure 2). Notable features that remain to present day include Michigan Grand Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, Madison Avenue, Grand Circus Park, Campus, Penitentiary, U.S. Arsenal, Fort Shelby, churches, Council House and Bank in relation to the Detroit River . The main boulevard, self-titled Woodward Avenue, still remains in the same state in present-day Detroit. The plan was strategically built to a section of land that would line up and meet with the Detroit River for use and aesthetics of a water source.
As a result of Woodward’s plan being inspired from Washington D.C.’s plan (Figure 3), it replicate the same pattern of diagonal lines cutting through the grid forming hubs of public-open space. These ‘hubs’ of circular open space could be described through Kevin Lynch’s “Legibility of the City” as nodes . The cutting of the diagonal roads also opens the grid, allowing for new types of paths. It frees the grid from the usual rigid four-way intersection, creating forward, backward, and side to side patterns and movements to occur. The points where all the lines intersect could also be compared to round-a-bouts, whereby the new types of movement create a visual site and excitement out of ambiguity . The three plans are also examples of the Baroque era in planning.
A parallel can be drawn between the 1807 Map of Detroit and the current Future City plan as they both resulted after an event of crisis: the 1807 Plan resulted after the crisis of the 1805 fires whereas the current plan resulted after the downfall of the auto industry. Both city plans also have a focus on advocating and improving living quality for the Detroit residents. The new city plan and Woodward both advocate for fair treatment of the citizens, revitalizing the community, lifting community spirit and improving the functionality and aesthetics of the urban realm .
The position of Woodward’s 1807 plan for Detroit is became the foundation of the geographical framework of Detroit. The layout in the modern age, however boxed in by highways, remains with the semi-circle diagonal roads and the central Woodward Avenue leading to the Detroit River . Although Woodward’s plan left its mark in the contemporary downtown of Detroit, the rest of Detroit is seen to follow a strict grid structure, right angles and perpendicular lines.
Throughout its history, Detroit has suffered from a series of major setbacks and its resilience can be seen from its recoveries made after the disasters. The fire in 1805 burnt the entire Detroit down, even considering its proximity to river. About all 600 residents at that time carried water bucket-to-bucket from the river to fight the fire. It soon recovered and catapulted itself into one of the major US cities through automobile industries, but it soon faced massive job losses in 1950s due to dire aftermaths of World War II in joint with decline of its automobile industries. On top of that, as a city development project, the city government launched construction in 1950-60s and evicted downtown residents who were living in already a poor economic condition. As a result, those people were forced into settle in a more crowded neighboring area, which only worsened the quality of their lives.
With economic, racial, and political complaints piling up, massive number of people surged up in 1967 in 12th street in what is known as the 1967 race riots. The riots continued for five days and the police brutally suppressed participants, labeling these riots to be the deadliest in U.S. history after the Civil War. After these riots, the city goes on a downward spiral. Gentrification issues, racial relations and economic difficulties are not dealt with effectively, and the city finally filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
- Detroit Historical Society “Encyclopedia of Detroit”. (2016). Retrieved from:http://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-of-detroit/woodward-augustus.
- Lynch, K. (1960). The City Image and Its Elements. In Lynch, K (Eds.). The Image of the City. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
- Detroit Future City. 2012 Detroit Future City. (2nded.). (2013). Detroit: Inland Press.
- Maps of the Past “Plans of Detroit Michigan”. (2016). Retrieved from: http://www.mapsofthepast.com/detroit-map-michigan-mi-bowen-company-1807.html
- Monumentality in Microcosm. (2012). Retrieved from: http://images.doaks.org/garden-histories/exhibits/show/monumentality-in-microcosm/history-and-context/l-enfant