Detroit: If You Build it, Will They Come?
While leafing through the recent issue of the Atlantic, I was drawn in by a headline reading, “Kansas City Bets on Culture.” The sub-headline asked the question “If you build a shiny new performing-arts center, will the creative class come?” I immediately thought of Bilbao, Spain. It was largely an industrial town in the 19th and 20th centuries (second in production only to Barcelona) that underwent a transition to a service-based economy in the latter part of the 20th century like many other cities have: Pittsburgh, Turin, Manchester, Berlin, etc. Bilbao just did it by creating a destination. They commissioned Frank Gehry to build the Bilbao Guggenheim Museum in 1997. Within a couple of years the Guggenheim became a heavily sought-after tourist destination, drawing in millions of people. In many ways it ushered in an era of service-based growth repairing many components of the broken industrial past. And so the Atlantic asked the same question with a performing arts theatre built in Kansas City. Will it bring the young creative class in as tourists? As residents?
Here in Detroit, could we build a cultural attraction to usher in similar service-based growth? Could RoboCop do it? OK, OK. Kidding. Sort of. Though it doesn’t seem a horribly distant prospect given that boat loads of people go to Philly every year to see a Rocky statue.
Perhaps more likely to be the cultural attraction that could bring in the masses would be the re-development of the elephant in the room of our architectural ruins: Michigan Central Station. Everyone from Mars to Maryland has heard of this place, if not taken a photo of it, which lays the groundwork for a massive inflow of people were it to be re-developed in to something interesting. I can already hear people screaming that that will never happen. But wait–
Team LOVELAND has created a site to begin gathering ideas that people have as to what could be done with the train station: talktothestation.com. Anyone can get on the site and suggest ideas for the future re-development, with others being able to “love” that idea, the social equivalent of Facebook’s “like.” Even more interesting is that Nora Moroun, the wife of infamous Matty, the station’s owner, has taken a shine to the website and the sheer amount of ideas that are coming through. It’s proof that some dialog is being had around the future of this magnificent station, which is a massive step forward compared to previous years and controversy around its fate. If they do choose to develop something with the building, get ready Kansas City and Bilbao, because the masses will be flocking to Detroit to see and taste one of the greatest architectural comeback stories of all time.