Henry Ford first tinkered on his internal combustion engine here. Berhnhard Stroh brought his brewing operations from Germany and located a couple blocks east. Just north, Mies van der Rohe experimented with landscape urbanism long before Harvard made it Landscape Urbanism some fifty years later. General Motors' Renaissance Center, built as an effort to save the city, casts its shadow on the streets it stripped life from.
The city has before it the great challenge of managing contraction to once again stir up the embers of what made Detroit advantageous in the early twentieth century. As it looks to rebuild its core, the riverfront faces several hurdles it must overcome. First, is East Jefferson Avenue. This huge east-west arterial divides the riverfront from the rest of the city and has with it the unfortunate trappings of any wanna-be highway: car dealerships, drive-thru joints, and other types of places people hate to hang out in longer than they absolutely have to. The second is the perception of safety issues. With great care, the riverfront park is policed well but without eyes on the street and a consistent beat of activity in the district, folks are hard-pressed to want to walk to far of the beaten (and well lit) path. And, of course, finally is Detroit itself. The city is in such economic pain and high vacancies in existing buildings continue to weigh down the feasibility of building back an urban neighborhood here.
But the initial reasons for why those who founded where our cities later grew persist. Today, this part of Detroit's riverfront is slowly starting to come back to life. Ford's tinkering grounds are still standing (the Globe Building). Stroh's building's are turning into housing and office space and Lafeyette Park where Mies engineered his housing is still kicking. A science and math high school is on site. Foundations and others have begun to invest in connecting assets along the river and inland. The riverfront park is largely complete save for a few segments, offering riverfront trails and park space to residents, employees, and programmed events. The Dequindre Cut connects the Detroit River inland to Eastern Market. An intact urban block and street grid with few encumbrances sits ready for an incremental build-back using flexible and adaptable building types. Whereas past leaders leaned heavily on "silver bullet" projects, today's growth strategy is one that necessarily anticipates a dynamic, if not messy, return to the the riverfront.