Detroit has long been dismissed for its
decrepit, crumbling buildings that deter tourism and impede the
city’s development. Recent years have witnessed
well-intentioned attempts to revitalize and reinvigorate Detroit,
with the most recent announced by Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick on
Wednesday. Although such attempts are laudable and necessary,
Kilpatrick’s plan misuses a building that has a prominent
place in the city’s history.

Laura Wong

Determined to turn Detroit into a modern urban center,
Kilpatrick revealed his plans for transforming the Michigan Central
Depot into a new police headquarters, which will cost the city an
estimated $100 to $130 million. Despite the hefty price tag this
project bears, Kilpatrick will not raise taxes, but rather rely on
bonds to finance the depot’s transformation. The proposal is
still pending approval from the Detroit City Council, and if it
passes, the state-of-the-art headquarters is expected to open
sometime in 2008.

The depot is a remnant of Detroit’s former glory days.
Built in 1913, this 17-story edifice was designed by the same
architects responsible for New York’s Grand Central Terminal.
But the grandeur and the bustle left the Michigan Central Depot
long ago, and the center was closed in 1988. However, New York
chose to celebrate Grand Central and spent four years restoring the
terminal and adding space for merchants. In its attempt to
reestablish itself as one of the nation’s most vibrant
cities, Detroit should recreate its former splendor — a
difficult task indeed. Rather, the city is trying for a fresh
start, with no acknowledgment of the past. “This building has
been a symbol of our dilapidation. … Now we want it to be a
symbol of our renaissance,” Kilpatrick said, as reported by
the Detroit Free Press. But transforming the building into a police
headquarters is a mistake.

The project’s cost could also be allocated for
Detroit’s schools. Investments in education will lure people
to the city and promise to produce an educated workforce for the
future. Instead, urban education is neglected and will ultimately
yield consequences far worse than those a slightly outdated police
headquarters might create.

Preservation of public space in urban areas is critical to
generating feelings of community and pride. Locations serving all
of Detroit’s population will produce the city’s
much-sought-after and much-needed renaissance.

The tenacity and passion Kilpatrick exudes is impressive and
necessary to bring about real changes. However, transforming the
depot into a police station sacrifices potential public space for
many to enjoy. Other cultural centers vanished from the city in
order to house less public functions. In a city where money is
scarce, city revitalization efforts should focus on public spaces
because they promise to benefit everyone.

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