We all know Detroit gets a bad rap around the country, but I am continually amazed by how institutionalized this reputation has become. Just as Los Angeles is immediately associated with movie stars and New York City is understood to be the cultural and financial capital of perhaps the entire world, Detroit is ingrained as a complete failure in the minds of most Americans.

Such a belief would have been outrageous 50 years ago, when Detroit was the fifth largest city in America (behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia) and a fledgling cultural capital too. Formerly holding titles such as “The Paris of the West” and “The Arsenal of Democracy,” Detroit had long been known as the center of the automotive world. In the Red Wings and Tigers, it had some of the most storied sports teams in the country. The founding of Motown Records in 1959 and the cultural revolution that followed seemed to complete Detroit’s bid to become one of the world’s premier cities.

Things didn’t work out that way. The infamous 12th St. Riot of 1967, layoffs in the automotive industry and the departure of businesses, money and even Motown Records itself have left the city reeling for decades. Detroit’s supposed renaissance has been in the works for at least three decades (The Renaissance Center was built in 1977 to commemorate Detroit’s supposedly imminent turnaround). Of late, new casinos have been built, businesses have been brought downtown and the city has hosted an MLB All-Star Game and Super Bowl XL in its new baseball and football stadiums.

But Detroit will never escape the shadow of its past. If the city plays its cards right, that is actually a good thing: The riots and destruction that the city is associated with are a very minor part of its history and heritage. There are many gems here that can be used as part of a true resurgence.

Tiger Stadium was one such gem. Older than New York’s Yankee Stadium and Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Tiger Stadium opened as Navin Field in 1912 – on the same day as Boston’s Fenway Park. Counting its predecessor, Bennett Park, there has been Tigers baseball at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull since 1896. That stadium is something everyone knows and admires about Detroit. Even in its final season in 1999, Tiger Stadium was in excellent shape: While parts of the roof were falling in at Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium stood unfettered, ever the calm and stoic symbol of a Detroit tradition that outdates even the birth of the city’s auto industry.

There was much potential in Tiger Stadium after the Tigers moved up the street to Comerica Park in 2000. So what did the city do with that landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Nothing. While there was idle chatter about having little league teams play there, building a baseball museum within the stadium or renovating it and using it as a venue for other events, the stadium just stood there. Paint peeled, concrete cracked and weeds grew wild. All of a sudden several years later, there was just no possible option other than tearing down the apparently decrepit stadium.

With the demolition of most of the stadium all but certain – the city is reviewing demolition bids at the moment, and the wrecking ball will be brought in in February – Detroit is losing perhaps its most powerful weapon in the struggle for a true resurgence. There won’t be another Tiger Stadium, and with it largely destroyed, the rest of the country will have even less good to remember the city by.

It does appear, however, that parts of the stadium – the dugouts, playing field and a small part of the structure – will be preserved. Around them will be built stores, restaurants and housing units – the same monotonies every city and suburb in the country has at every corner. It’s true that Detroit needs more of all of these things to become a city outsiders would want to call home one day, but specifically targeting the stadium for demolition is counterproductive. The stadium is an important symbol, and there are plenty of other decrepit buildings in Detroit that could be torn down to make way for a Gap or a Chili’s.

In accepting a proposal for such a commercial, business-oriented development at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull, Detroit city officials are making the same mistake they have repeatedly made in their quest to plug revival: Trying to make Detroit look just like any other city rather than embracing and emphasizing its peculiarities. Detroit will never outrun its past to become just another big city, as city officials seem to be hoping. But it can choose to emphasize parts of its history and character to ensure the rest is forgotten. It will have a much tougher time doing that with the corner of Michigan and Trumbull looking no different than any other modern city square.

Imran Syed is the Daily’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

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