Detroit's Downtown Revival Is Real, But Road To Recovery Remains Long

So you think Chicago is a tale of two cities? The gulf between its booming downtown and its violence-plagued neighborhoods is nothing compared to the gaps that a visitor witnesses in Detroit.

Along Woodward Avenue, Detroit's main drag, a new streetcar line will start running in a few weeks. Construction crews are turning old high-rises into micro-lofts and building a sports arena that will open next fall. On the site of the old Hudson's department store that was imploded in 1998, the Quicken Loans magnate and real estate developer Dan Gilbert has proposed a skyscraper that would be taller than the glass-sheathed Renaissance Center, currently the city's tallest building.

Yet outside the resurgent downtown core, it's another story. Elegant old neighborhoods like Indian Village, a national historic district, quickly give way to expanses of empty lots that bring to mind Chicago's impoverished Englewood area. Detroit has roughly 25 square miles of vacant land — enough to fill the entire island of Manhattan and then some. Thousands of blighted homes have been torn down.

As Chicagoans know from the innovations that followed the Great Fire of 1871, necessity (or is it desperation?) often serves as the mother of invention. Accordingly, Detroit is evolving new ideas for how to revive its stricken neighborhoods. Here's what they boil down to: Turn emptiness into opportunity. Make a new kind of city — still urban, but more spread out. And while you're at it, avoid the gentrification that typically goes hand-in-hand with redevelopment.

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