HE. DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS
contemporary art from the
When You Wish Upon A Store
t occurred to
me recently that
over my entire
career I have been
writing about the
decline of my home-
town. That is pretty
Even in 1963, when
I started working at
the Free Press, Detroit
was perceived nation-
ally as a city in
So nothing would make me happier
than to write a column about how the
city finally has turned around and is
coming back. Unfortunately, I am not
paid to write fiction.
Sure, its better now than it was 15
years ago. The downtown stadiums and
casinos, restored theaters, new restau-
rants and Compuware headquarters
have made an impact. But the recovery
began from such a low base of expecta-
tions that what is hailed as wonderful
in Detroit would be met with a shrug
in most other places.
Both of the city's daily papers greeted
the opening of a new upscale clothing
store downtown with front-page arti-
cles. If the same store had opened in
Novi or Troy, it would have been noted
with a paragraph in the business briefs.
Hard Rock Cafes were hot stuff 20
years ago. My kids insisted I bring
home one of their T-shirts from Tel
Aviv, and that was in 1984. To portray
their arrival in Detroit as a great day for
the city ... well, it's sort of sad.
George Cantor, a West Bloomfield
resident, is a native Detroiter and
longtime Detroit journalist. His e-mail
address is email@example.com
If the media could levitate a rebirth
of downtown retail by wishing and
hoping, that would be very nice.
But every major city that has man-
aged to maintain a successful central
business district has two things in com-
mon: a great number of young people
with money living right in the urban
core and a usable transit system.
High-income residents create a
demand for retail, not the other way
around. So far a return of this demo-
graphic into downtown Detroit is less
than a trickle.
The failure of transit is an old, sad
story in this area. From the successful
campaign by the auto companies to kill
it in the 1920s, to the failure this year
to establish a regional transit system, it
has been one missed opportunity after
Without such a system, shoppers
who visit downtown have no alterna-
tive but to drive their cars,
which they then must park. In
other words, they must pay for
what the suburban malls are
giving away free.
Parking meters and high-
priced lots helped kill down-
towns four decades ago. But
the people who rim Detroit
still don't get it.
Whenever it is suggested
that they temper their aggressive
meter enforcement or remove them
altogether from many areas, the city
responds that revenue coming from the
meters and parking tickets are necessary
components of Detroit's budget.
Well, I hate to break the news to
them, but it really comes down to a
choice. Either you ax the meters or pro-
vide real cheap off street parking, as in
Royal Oak and Birmingham, or you
don't have an urban retail district.
A few downtown clothiers —
Serman's, Hot Sam's — have managed
to hold on over the years against all
odds in the Broadway-Randolph area.
They went after a distinct market niche
and made it pay off. But they are the
You may also have noticed the news
items that funding for the planned
restoration of the Book Cadillac Hotel
has dried up and that Detroit once
again has claimed the unlovely title as
the city with the highest rate of serious
crime in America.
It gives me no joy to write any of this
because supporting Detroit is the right
thing to do. But don't expect more
from the city than it can be. ❑
Through January 18, 2004
FREE with museum admission.
This exhibition has been organized by the DaimlerChrysler Collection
and the Detroit Institute of Arts and is made possible by a generous
grant from the DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund, the Michigan
Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the City of Detroit.
DaimlerChrysler Corporation Fund
Simone Westerwinter, Starting Again at Zero
(detail), 2001. DaimlerChrysler Collection.
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