Detroit’s New Waterfront PorchJohn H. Hartig
Waterfronts are magical places where the water meets the land and people can reconnect with their waterways. But during the industrial revolution, many communities made waterways their backdoor. Detroit was no exception with its Detroit River. For two centuries, the Detroit River – a 32-mile connecting channel that links the upper Great Lakes with the lower Great Lakes and a shard resource between the United States and Canada – was perceived as a working river that supported commerce and technological progress.
It was 1989, and I was attending a meeting on the 17th floor of Tower 600 of the Renaissance Center in Detroit that faces east and upriver towards Belle Isle, a 980-acre island park in the middle of the Detroit River. It was a striking view of material storage piles, surface parking lots, dilapidated warehouse buildings, and three sets of cement silos. I couldn’t help but think that these cement silos were like sentinel solders standing guard on Detroit’s east waterfront that had long lost its industrial glory. Even though much of the industry had long left this waterfront district, these sentinel solders were remaining true to their orders given many decades before.
Clearly, Detroit was an industrial town with primarily a working riverfront that supported industry and commerce. However, times had changed. There were fewer people and industries, and much underutilized and undervalued riverfront land. Urban planners and landscape architects describe this as a post-industrial waterfront.
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