Books: ‘Reimagining Detroit’

Reporter John Gallagher offers a primer for improving the city

It’s a rare metro Detroiter who hasn’t questioned: Can the city survive? Will its turnaround happen in my lifetime?

In Reimagining Detroit: Opportunities for Redefining an American City (Wayne State University Press/Painted Turtle, $19.95), John Gallagher offers a primer that suggests what could be.

While offering a mostly realistic assessment, Gallagher is careful to include context. Shrinkage, he points out, is not just a heartland problem. It has been experienced — and handled with innovation — in communities around the globe.

Among the ideas he sets forth is the concept of a “road diet.” In Detroit, Gallagher says, I-375 “adds almost nothing to the city’s attractiveness or efficiency, running just a short distance along downtown’s eastern edge.” We could do without I-375 as well as (perhaps) the Lodge Freeway south of I-75, he says, explaining, “A freeway is supposed to carry motorists to the downtown, not slash its way through it.”

Freeway ditches aren’t the only example of road surplus. Our spoke streets (Woodward, Jefferson, Gratiot, and others) are too wide. “Three lanes for traffic in each direction, one in the middle for turning, and a lane along either curb for parking) may have made sense in the 1950s, when the city boasted a population near 2 million people,” he says. He suggests bike lanes, landscaped medians, transit in middle lanes, roundabouts.

Gallagher suggests other “backward” steps: gardening, tree planting, uncovering creeks that once meandered through the city — restoring the beauty that Antoine Lamothe Cadillac found.

Gallagher doesn’t ignore the nuts-and-bolts issue of jobs and business attraction. He advocates innovation in the form of high-tech incubators, cooperatives, and employee ownership.

The book is simply written, almost textbook like, except that it’s in first person — which is not the province of most reporters (Gallagher writes for the Detroit Free Press). And his journalist’s approach to creative writing does show on occasion: “as dawn is smearing the eastern sky.”

That aside, if the city had a suggestion box next to the “Spirit of Detroit,” it would serve our interests to slip this slim volume through the slot.

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