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After starting as a small trading post in the eighteenth century, Detroit went on to become an industrial power house. However, as beautiful as it may seem, the modern Detroit is not the same city it was prior to 1960. In the last half-century, the city has been struck by crime and violence. That is when an "All-American City" became an eyesore, a blighted spot on the map. Attempts to reverse this downward trend have been made throughout the years; major construction projects appeared, and continue to appear, everywhere in Detroit. One of the most significant projects was the remodeling of Campus Martius. It was completed over a decade ago. This plaza still remains as the main gathering place for Detroiters and a great advertisement for the City of Detroit.
With all the completed and yet to be completed projects, it may seem that Detroit is far past its decay; however, when one takes a closer look at any of the Detroit landmarks, one will see that Detroit appears to be beautiful only on the outside. The city and its elected officials have created a fake impression of perfection. Unfortunately, just one block away from these "pockets of improvement" is the true Detroit.
Campus Martius was established in the eighteenth century as a military training ground. It is important to note that prior to 1805 Detroit was designed in a grid system. In 1805, a fire engulfed Detroit and destroyed Campus Martius and all wooden structures, leaving only a stone fort untouched (Beckett). Although tragic, the fire marked a new architectural beginning for the City of Detroit. Judge Augustus Woodward was one of the individuals appointed to lead the reconstruction of Detroit (Campus Martius Park Detroit). He would go on to design the city in a similar manner that Pierre L'enfant designed Washington D.C. (Beckett). Campus Martius became the centerpiece of his design, with all main streets originating at the heart of Detroit.
Up until mid-nineteenth century Campus Martius was a marshy wasteland that prevented Campus Martius from being remodeled into a business district in the heart of Detroit. City Council ordered addition of soil to the area in order to allow further architectural development (Detroit 300 Conservancy).
In the twentieth century Campus Martius was the gathering place for many citizens. This, however, changed when Detroit went through a major reconstruction phase in nineteen-hundreds to accommodate the increased automobile traffic. Hart plaza on the bank of the Detroit River became the new attraction (Olden Views). As time passed people grew tired of the concrete jungle created on the riverfront, calling for a "…true park space…" (Olden Views) in the City of Detroit.
The effort to satisfy Detroiters was begun by Mayor Dennis Archer in 1999. He initiated the reconstruction effort when he set the goals ahead of an eighteen-member team responsible for managing the Campus Martius project. The design of the new, revitalized park space was performed by Rundell Ernstberger Associates (Araj). After the construction was completed, Campus Martius became a gathering place for many Detroiters. A decade later, this plaza is still the home of the annual ice rink and many other social events throughout the year.
On paper, Campus Martius seems to be just a regular plaza, one that you would find in any other city. There is a small café shop, a place to sit down and relax, a historical building or two, and a ring of tall office buildings surrounding it. As contrary as it may seem, Campus Martius is a unique place.
This small plaza incorporates business and entertainment into its design. In the center of the site is a plaza with Fountain Bistro, a coffee shop. To the north you can find the Hard Rock Café and Compuware World Headquarters. These two locations are an excellent representation of the combined business and social life that complements Campus Martius. Some may come here everyday to work at Compuware or Quicken Loans while others may simply come into one of the local restaurants located around the plaza for dinner with their family.
On Monroe Avenue, one of the streets near Campus Martius, one can find The National Theatre. It was built in 1911 and is the oldest surviving theatre in Detroit. It is clear that this plaza and its surrounding area incorporate both the modern and the historic Detroit into its design.
Campus Martius is known as "Detroit's gathering place," where workers, tourists, and Detroiters seeking leisure moments may gather. They come here to work, relax, and to explore parts of Detroit where two eras of construction coexist. Although it is clear that currently Campus Martius has both an entertainment and business background, it is evident that it was originally intended to have a purely economic purpose. The office buildings were built long before the modern park. Business was present in the area long before any form of entertainment was incorporated. This observation reinforces the image of Detroit being an industrial city centered around business.
In addition to the entertainment and business elements of Campus Martius, Detroiters reflect an abstraction of this place through their emotions and behavior. During the week most people are office workers, between the ages of twenty five and fifty and always dressed for business. They occasionally come out of their work stations to eat lunch at the local eateries. Even during their breaks these office workers seem tense. It is uncommon to see a smile or hear "hello" from them. Verbal communication occurs only among mutual coworkers. Non-verbal communication is almost completely nonexistent between strangers. Everyone is headed to their destination without displaying any significant emotion. During the weekend, the presence of Detroiters is focused mainly around social events. Around Christmas time Campus Martius is transformed into an ice rink. Many Detroiters come to enjoy the holiday atmosphere and spend time with their families while admiring the beauty of the yearly transformation. During the summer and fall social events like games and Beach Haus Biergarten are organized (Campus Martius Park Detroit). Campus Martius is also one of the four Detroit Parks that host the "Summer in the Park" concert series (Woods). Individuals who come to these events often bring along their family and friends with whom they interact. Strangers very rarely engage in conversations with one another. Even though Campus Martius hosts many community events, there is almost no communal feeling. People are not open to meet others and rarely socialize with individuals they do not know.
During these events especially, it is not uncommon to encounter a homeless person seeking donations from the visitors. The presence of the homeless individuals is what represents the gray area where the marketed and real images of Detroit overlap. Upon a close evaluation of the behavior of individuals during social events at Campus Martius, it becomes clear that there is no sense of community in Detroit. Instead, everyone is enclosed within their own world.
The information gathered about Campus Martius makes it evident that the true image of the site and the city can only be seen if you look past the obvious popular attractions that are made evident by the city planners. When one looks at Campus Martius without paying much attention to its surroundings they will see exactly what the officials want one to see, the beauty of Detroit. However, walk just a block away from Campus Martius and you will see crime and poverty in addition to the burned and destroyed buildings. There are two ways to look at this.
One person may say "These corrupt politicians want us to think Detroit is a beautiful city so they create a few small attractions to lure us with the isolated beauty and convenience of the city."
Another person may say "Detroit has been destroyed and is rebuilding, these 'pockets of success' are a way to do it. One by one, the small isolated sites will eventually grow to become one unique city as long as these sites are maintained for the future."
I side with the opinion that Detroit is a city that is in very poor condition. It is unfortunate, but politicians in charge of construction projects are not focusing on rebuilding Detroit. They focus on luring in visitors with these small "pockets of improvement" to make revenue.
"Changes in North American cities are often the result of what economists call market forces, a reminder that our cities are shaped not only by planners but also by the often idiosyncratic decisions of large numbers of separated citizens (Rybczynski 30)." This is the strategy Detroit politicians have taken.
If you look closely at Detroit it is clear that parks, Campus Martius especially, are not built away from the city life. Every gathering place is always surrounded by businesses; the parks are just a form of advertisement intended to bring in customers. With this strategy, Detroit will never amount to anything great.
One by one, these attractive-looking gathering places will deteriorate and new ones will be built. The never-ending construction projects will continue to drive the economy but will never cause Detroit to be rebuilt as a whole. Instead, every new project must incorporate an irrevocable maintenance plan that will allay future decay.
Seven hundred thousand individual voices will never be as loud as one voice of the entire community. Without cooperation from the citizens, the city’s governing body will never listen to the public. If Detroit is to be rebuilt, that effort must start with the people.
The City of Detroit has retained some gracious and beautiful buildings and parks, but many are in the state of decay. Parts of Detroit's history continue to be beautiful, but others have been forgotten and have fallen behind the international trends. For half a century the leaders of this beautiful city have been trying to do what seemed like rebuilding a city. But was a beautiful city truly their goal? Or maybe they put personal interests ahead of the interests of the people? Maybe they did not hear the seven-hundred thousand individual voices? Whatever the case may be, it is clear that their way about rebuilding Detroit is not working.
One by one, each of the construction projects falls back into the same poverty from which it has been revived. An excellent example is Campus Martius. First it was a military training ground and then evolved into a simple city park. Now it is a center of entertainment and commerce. Some people are tricked by the fake image that Detroit is a beautiful city. They don't see that Detroit has potential to be beautiful but it is not beautiful quite yet. This city does have beautiful sites, but these are few and isolated. To fully extrapolate the beauty of the city, Detroit needs a complete makeover. One that will incorporate an irrevocable maintenance clause attached to every new construction project. Only then will Detroit reclaim its past title of beauty and prosperity.…...

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