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Detroit Vs Toronto: David Olive on Detroit

Edward

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There's more going on outside his office window than in all of Detroit and he can say this? Idiot!

Urban rebirth will be one of the defining stories of this new century. The cities the world looks to and learns from will be those that reinvent themselves, as Detroit is attempting to do. And those that make the leap from good to great, as this lifelong Torontonian hopes we do. In that regard, I despair that Detroit is a more happening place than Toronto.

http://www.thestar.com/business/article/813861--olive-what-detroit-s-comeback-bid-means-to-toronto/

Olive: What Detroit’s comeback bid means to Toronto

DETROIT – The cure for regarding Detroit as a lost cause is to go and look at it. Still America’s 11th-largest city, this metaphor for failed cities everywhere is finally on the mend.

There are three stately boulevards here to our one (University Avenue). Principal streets like Woodward and Michigan Avenues that I once found dangerous are safe, their abandoned storefronts and other eyesores having been replaced by well-tended lawns. The previous no-go zone between a decaying financial district and the new steel and glass silos of the Renaissance Center has at last filled in.

Detroit still has more than its share of no-go districts. But the downtown, studded with Art Deco and modern-architectural treasures, can now boast a people-watching scene as busy as King and Bay Streets. The ethnic landscape is familiar to a Torontonian, with South Asian immigrants now a big part of the mix. The new Comerica Park and Ford Field are downtown, where sports venues belong.

The city has completed the destruction of abandoned storefronts and other eyesores on Woodward and Michigan Avenues, before embarking recently on a tear-down of the first few thousand of the 80,000 or so deserted houses in the inner city.

Toronto today is Canada’s principal city, a status it wrested from Montreal not that long ago. That’s lesson enough, one with think, about the need for vigilance in continually raising one’s game.

Yet Toronto has been on auto-pilot these past two decades, afflicted by the same complacency that began to jeopardize Detroit in the 1960s. Detroit was then America’s 5th-largest city and controlled more than 80 per cent of the U.S. auto market. There seemed no compelling reason then for Detroit to prepare for a 21st-century “knowledge economy.†One not geared to workers unskilled in engineering, product design and efficient manufacturing methods on which the old Detroit economy was based.

But in a recent report on older industrial cities for the Brookings Institution and the London School of Economics, researchers Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley describe a new spirit of rebirth in Detroit.

“The city is attracting social entrepreneurs who are excited by the challenge of fundamentally remaking a city,†the co-authors write. “Philanthropies are pouring in money and imagination – the rail system on the Woodward Corridor is partially funded by tens of millions of dollars from two major foundations, and other philanthropies are trying to develop a comprehensive educational plan.â€

There’s a saying that urban planners have for comeback towns: “The industry might leave, but the talent doesn’t.†Detroit is the oldest of the world’s mass-production vehicle-making centres. Detroit’s tycoon philanthropists left a legacy of world-class colleges and medical institutions, and an art gallery and symphony ranked among the nation’s best. And Detroit is still home to three Fortune 500 manufacturing enterprises. (Philadelphia has none.)

The obstacles to rebirth are plain enough. They include turf wars among city, suburban and county governments. Chronically high unemployment rates saw the median Detroit house price fall to just $6.000 (U.S.) by June 2009. A city now less than half its peak size of two million is encumbered with more schools than it can afford to maintain, and tens of thousands of abandoned or derelict inner-city houses.

The schools and neighbourhoods must be consolidated. But the effort brings cries of outrage from those losing a local school, no matter its state of disrepair. Some anti-poverty groups have denounced Mayor Dave Bing, a former all-star Detroit Piston, for committing “ethnic cleansing†by encouraging residents of desolate inner-city districts to relocate to more viable ones.

Yet the rebirth proceeds. Detroit is downsizing its municipal infrastructure to serve a smaller, post-manufacturing community. Business-development efforts are aimed at exploiting human capital in biomedicine, infotech, advanced healthcare management and R&D in fuel-efficient vehicles.

Detroit has a new “land bank†empowered to seize and destroy abandoned buildings. The plan is to use the freed-up land for innovative inner-city farms, recreation areas and industrial campuses.

Required to start over, Detroit is embracing change that Toronto still resists for lack of urgency. Like Turin, another reborn old-industry metropolis, Detroit has knocked down obstructions separating the city from its waterfront. Restoration of the Detroit River shoreline has been largely funded by business leaders and philanthropic foundations. Their absence in planning Toronto’s future remains conspicuous.

Urban rebirth will be one of the defining stories of this new century. The cities the world looks to and learns from will be those that reinvent themselves, as Detroit is attempting to do. And those that make the leap from good to great, as this lifelong Torontonian hopes we do. In that regard, I despair that Detroit is a more happening place than Toronto.


It makes me mad just to read the thing.
 

hbl33

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Not the new thing, but something motivative and unique apart from other American cities. It's good to hear that Detroit is doing something right for good. The square grid masses of abandoned land is an eyesore. I wonder what is GTA doing with the current farmland left in the outer burbs.
 
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alantdot

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In David Olives world, the Toronto Maple Leafs have been a resounding success over the last 40 years because a Championship parade would further exacerbate the city's traffic problems. And don't forget that the few and short playoff runs by the team have allowed the ACC - and Maple Leaf Gardens before that - to hold significant cultural events far earlier in the year than would be expected, thus enhancing the cities cultural cache.
 

Irishmonk

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And trading away our first round draft picks for the next two years ensures that we'll have even more opportunities in the future to acquire talent that may be superior to what we gave up.
 

ShonTron

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Olive is not an idiot. He's one of my favourite business analysts in the mainstream press.

He's a little Chris Hume in the hyperbole department today, but there's always lessons to be learned. Detroit, while hardly a place we need to look to for most urban ideas, does have a few small success stories that shouldn't be brushed aside. There is always some hope for Detroit, and he is saying, partly, that we should look at innovative, "outside the box" ideas.
 

taal

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Olive is not an idiot. He's one of my favourite business analysts in the mainstream press.

He's a little Chris Hume in the hyperbole department today, but there's always lessons to be learned. Detroit, while hardly a place we need to look to for most urban ideas, does have a few small success stories that shouldn't be brushed aside. There is always some hope for Detroit, and he is saying, partly, that we should look at innovative, "outside the box" ideas.

Right, and we're not doing any of that today are we? Take Regent Park (and the many other such plans for mass subsided housing neighborhoods, that are in the works). The the central waterfront / west donlands / port lands. None of this screams innovation to you?

I'm all for analyzing the late successes of Detroit but please don't compare Toronto to Detroit, we really have nearly absolutely nothing in common if you stop and think about it. Our problems are so different you might as well compare us to Thunder Bay and we can probably draw more similarities there (the number one being we're both in Canada, and that's just about it).
 

alklay

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Oh where to start? That article is wrong on almost every point.

First, the big picture: Detroit is not going through a rebirth. It continues to die. Its employment base continues to shrink, its tax base continues to shrink and its population continues to shrink. He seems to mistaken raising houses and consolidating unaffordable schools as a 'rebirth'. They are simply controlling the decline. Yes, there are pockets of downtown which are in better shape than a few years ago. But sadly, there are other areas that have declined that were simply not in decline ten years ago.

His phrase "“The industry might leave, but the talent doesn’t” is laughable. Talent leaves too (for better jobs and living conditions) and Detroit's better off youth, have moved away for better employment prospects. If you went to college outside the greater Detroit area, and you wanted a job after, would you return to a high unemployment area or where the jobs are (in other places in Michigan or out of state)? Again, the population continues to decline.

If this guy thinks Detroit is a 'happening place" and Toronto is not, he clearly has no idea about either Detroit or the city he lives in. The man is clueless.
 

ganjavih

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Olive is not an idiot. He's one of my favourite business analysts in the mainstream press.

He's a little Chris Hume in the hyperbole department today, but there's always lessons to be learned. Detroit, while hardly a place we need to look to for most urban ideas, does have a few small success stories that shouldn't be brushed aside. There is always some hope for Detroit, and he is saying, partly, that we should look at innovative, "outside the box" ideas.

Yeah, but that's like saying Toronto can learn from how Baghdad is being rebuilt. Excessive hyperbole compromises your credibility.
 

Archivist

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Yes, Olive may be fine, but this article is simply hilarious and deserves to be mocked. I am willing to believe there are learning moments from almost any city, I have no problem with that, but the comparison is beneath contempt.

Like I have wondered sometimes with Hume, I often wonder if these kinds of articles arise from a paid trip to a place. I'm not suggesting that Olive is crooked, simply that he might have been greeted at the airport and whisked around by handlers to see very selected elements of the city in a carefully controlled fashion. My experiences with travel have repeatedly shown me that even the best urban experiences are frequently tempered by unexpected difficulties in the city. I don't mind that, I'm quite forgiving, but sometimes with an article like this you wonder if he had to walk in hot weather through those grassy fields if he would have made this silly comparison.
 

TrickyRicky

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I also find I like David Olive's opinion pieces on occasion. The man likes to think contrarian. In this instance however I think he is way off. His point, that we should take a look at what is really going on on the ground in Detroit instead of just dismissing it is a good one. However, he falls into the "Toronto the city in decline" trap and generates a very weak argument in the end.
 

Second_in_pie

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Yeah, but that's like saying Toronto can learn from how Baghdad is being rebuilt. Excessive hyperbole compromises your credibility.
A better metaphor might be how Kandahar City's being rebuilt :rolleyes:

I'm pretty sure that Detroit's going into the gutter. It's totally built it's economy around the car, which was at the least a century-long bubble if not going to be a dying economy these days. The city's essentially dead now, it'll be quite interesting to see how things will be going 20 years from now. A good idea might be relaxing US immigration into Ontario so we (namely Windsor,) can profit off of some new skilled workers. Get those people designing and building new busses and LRTs instead of cars!

And Toronto, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up. Rapidly growing population, very diversified economy, and one of the best cities in the world to live in. The only real places I think we sorely need to improve in is city building, namely mass transit and sustainable development.
 

syn

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This reminds me of those old 'Toronto is the next Detroit' threads by miketoronto.
 

Archivist

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I know this is in poor taste, but it's just too easy to parody this kind of article.

Olive: What Port-au-Prince's comeback bid means to Toronto

PORT AU PRINCE – The cure for regarding Port au Prince as a lost cause is to go and look at it. Still Haiti's largest city, this metaphor for failed cities everywhere is finally on the mend.

Unlike Toronto's repetitive grid of narrow streets, punctuated by only one major avenue (University Avenue), Port au Prince is now flush with newly-stately boulevards, wide streets offering ample views in all directions. Principal streets like Rue Pavee and Rue O. Durand that I once found dangerous are safe, their abandoned storefronts and other eyesores having been replaced by mud and broken concrete. And the city's innovative system of road surfacing is more environmentally friendly than Toronto's, it's mud construction allowing for periodic flash floods to replenish the city's water-table.

Port au Prince still has more than its share of no-go districts. But the downtown can now boast a people-watching scene as busy as King and Bay Streets, since very few of the people are cloistering themselves within buildings anymore. The city has completed the destruction of abandoned storefronts and other eyesores, and recently saw the tear-down of many thousands of shantytowns in the inner city. Where Toronto is allowing condos towers to spoil the view of the Ontario Legislature, Port au Prince recently took measures to actually increase the amount of sky view behind their Palais Législatif.

In a recent report on dangerous third-world cities for the Brookings Institution and the London School of Economics, researchers Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley describe a new spirit of rebirth in Port au Prince.

“The city is attracting social entrepreneurs who are excited by the challenge of fundamentally remaking a city,” the co-authors write. “Philanthropies are pouring in money and imagination – the system of walking paths downtown is partially funded by tens of dollars from two corner stores, and other philanthropies are trying to develop a washroom somewhere.”
 

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