In the late 70s the plan was to build the Renaissance Center and Hart Plaza, stirring economic development and transforming the riverfront from an industrial port to an entertainment destination with festivals, restaurants and other stuff. It didn’t really work.
In the 80s the plan was to build the Detroit People Mover and Detroit Trolley line, which would spur economic development and connect the various parts of downtown with 100s of thousands of daily riders going from place to place. It, uh, didn’t really work.
In the 90s the plan was to build two new stadiums (baseball and football) and for GM to move downtown and bring along with it enough professionals to fill downtown office spaces. It sort of worked, but not really. No question the stadiums bring people, especially when the Tigers do as well as they have for the past two years, but it’s hard to argue that the stadium really have that much affect when streets are deserted on a non-game days and office buildings around them sit half empty.
I have to admit the latest 5-year plan, which includes the new Riverwalk, Campus Martius Park (anchored by the headquarters of Compuware), and a redeveloped Woodward Ave and Washington Blvd. (complete with stores, – stores? downtown Detroit? huh? – lofts, and restaurants), is the most ambitious and hopeful 5-year plan I’ve ever seen. I mean, downtown actually is looking better. Greg Parrish, a buddy of mine over at the Detroit Planning Division, told me this is the most development he’s seen in his 10 years at the city of Detroit.
Anyway, I digress from my original post idea. This isn’t about Detroit.
It’s about Chicago.
And let me tell you, whatever 5-year plan Chicago has been on for the past 30 years, they need to share it with Detroit.
I went to Chicago for a long weekend this summer and was blown away. Downtown Chicago buzzed like Manhattan, with a much more relaxed vibe. It’s hard to explain, but it’s real. I think anyone who has been to both places understands.
I visited Navy Pier, the Watertown Mall, had some the best popcorn I’ve ever tasted at Garrett’s, and went to Little Korea for some great Korean BBQ. I also visited Frank Lloyd Wright‘s home and design studio in Oak Park and the saw the Blue Man Group. Add to that visits to the Chicago Institute of Arts and the Field Museum and I had a very busy 2 and ½ days there.
And the thing is, what makes Chicago great isn’t all the activities one can do in Chicago. It’s really about the attitude people have towards the city and the amenities the city offers. It’s about the endless interesting neighborhoods and ethnic enclaves throughout the city. It’s about the waterfront and how Chicago has developed it as both an attraction for tourists and a destination for residents. It’s about being able to walk around and people watch. And it’s about the food. The variety of food was amazing.
But don’t get it from me. Here’s a local’s take on the city.
My homie Jarrett Knyal was born and raised in a suburb of Chicago and has some love for the city.
"Chicago is the cleanest city I’ve ever seen. It’s extremely clean. And the hot dogs are the best. You’ve never had a hot dog until you’ve had a Chicago dog. And you really have to go to Chicago to get one. Another great sandwich I’ve only seen in Chicago is The Combo. It’s an Italian beef wrapped around an Italian sausage. It’s amazing. It’s a heart attack on a roll. Look for the Vienna or Scala brand sign outside the restaurant. By the way, have you ever seen the bean sculpture?"
The bean sculpture? I missed that. I’ll have to catch that on my next trip. Maybe I’ll even check out the Blue Man Group again. It was really cool. I want to be a Blue Man. How do you get a job like that?
Now back to Detroit. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a lifelong Detroiter and I wish more than anything Detroit could became a better city.
My advice to Detroit’s leadership. Sit down with Chicago’s leaders. Figure out what they’ve done for the last 20 years to build up Chicago and do the same thing in Detroit.
That seems like a good idea to me…