Detroit Travel Information

United States > US City Index > Detroit > History

Los Angeles may have perfected urban sprawl, but Detroit invented it. Following the dictates of the auto industry, Detroit abandoned its efficient streetcar system in the 1950s and built a network of freeways. Many fine city neighborhoods never recovered and no adequate mass transit system was ever built to replace the trolleys. The old spoke pattern of main roads (Jefferson, Gratiot, Woodward, Grand River, Michigan and Fort) emanating from downtown was eclipsed by the freeway system, and these main thoroughfares suffered declines that are yet to be reversed.

Not surprisingly, the Motor City is impossible to navigate without a car. The metropolis has expanded into seven counties, with no end in sight, and the suburban population is more than three times that of the city proper.

Although the landscape is mostly flat, recreational opportunities abound, most of them centered around water. To the northeast of the city sprawls Lake St. Clair, a shallow but large lake filled with boats and fish. The Detroit River is a resource that the city has never fully exploited, though a system of parks and greenways is now gradually taking shape. To the south, the western end of Lake Erie has marshes and great fishing spots. Inland lakes dot western and northern Oakland County, which lies to the citys northwest and has the regions hilliest terrain; here the battle over sprawl is most intense. The area boasts three major river systems: the Clinton, the Rouge, and the Huron, which drain a vast area. The wonderful Metroparks system provides a ring of family-friendly recreation sites around the region, all of them accessible within an hours drive.

In the 1950s, downtown Detroit was such a bustling area of shops, theaters, restaurants, and night life that residents of dreary, staid Toronto rode trains to Detroit for weekend excursions. In subsequent decades, the two cities switched places, but now Detroit is making a comeback.

The old downtown of grand movie houses and department stores is all but vanished, but lively areas have sprung up around the perimeter of the aging banking-and-commerce center. The north end of downtown is the latest hot spot. Comerica Park, a new baseball stadium for the Detroit Tigers, opened in 2000. The National Football League Detroit Lions, who abandoned downtown in the 1970s for suburban Pontiac, are set to return to Ford Field, being built adjacent to Comerica Park. Nearby is the glamorous Fox Theater, the renovated crown jewel of the citys opulent movie houses, as well as the aptly-named Gem Theater, a Second City comedy theater, the Music Hall, and an assortment of restaurants and bars.

On the eastern edge of downtown is Greektown, once just a block of Greek restaurants, now the center of Detroit nightlife, with eateries, bistros and clubs. One of Detroits three temporary casinos is drawing additional people to the area. Adjacent is the restaurant-and bar area known as Bricktown, and near that is towering Renaissance Center. East of the Renaissance Center, along Jefferson Avenue, new housing and retail developments are taking shape beyond the eateries and clubs of the warehouse district known as Rivertown.

Other pockets of activity include Cobo Convention Center and Joe Louis Arena, home to the National Hockey Leagues Detroit Red Wings, and the western outskirts, where two more temporary casinos have opened. Most of downtowns sites are linked by the People Mover elevated train system. Three permanent casinos are scheduled to open on the eastern fringes of downtown in 2003.

Cultural Center/New Center
Detroits Cultural Center is situated between Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, an impressive complex of hospitals and research facilities. The Detroit Institute of Arts is famed for its Diego Rivera murals, which chronicle history through the eyes of laborers, and Auguste Rodins sculpture 'The Thinker.' Nearby is the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the largest museum of its kind in the United States. Families can also enjoy the Detroit Science Center and the Detroit Historical Museum.

Farther north, the New Center Area boasts the ornate, golden-towered Fisher Building and its Fisher Theater, home to touring Broadway shows, as well as the General Motors Building and Henry Ford Hospital.

South of the Cultural Center, a major renovation effort is underway to preserve acoustically rich Orchestra Hall.

The West Side
Near the Ambassador Bridge is Mexicantown, the heart of Detroits growing Hispanic community, with dozens of great restaurants. Dearborn is home to Ford Motor Company world headquarters, Fairlane Mall, and the areas foremost attraction, Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, where the intertwining history of America and the automobile are chronicled. With a large Arabic population, Dearborn also has an intoxicating array of authentic Middle Eastern restaurants.

Farther west is bustling Metropolitan Airport, undergoing a major expansion to handle increasing traffic. A new trade center is taking shape in nearby Romulus. Livonia has Laurel Park Place, a major shopping and entertainment area.

Oakland County
Oakland County is vast and diverse. It is one of the nations wealthiest counties, and the site of the worlds first enclosed shopping mall (the Northland Center). Many other shopping opportunities abound, including the upscale Somerset Collection and the new Great Lakes Crossing.

In the southern part of the county, a vibrant restaurant and nightclub scene has sprung up in once-stodgy Royal Oak. North along Woodward Avenue, Birminghams thriving downtown features upscale shops of taste and variety.

In the northeastern part of the county, Auburn Hills is home to the Palace of Auburn Hills, the home of the National Basketball Associations Detroit Pistons. It also has the new Chrysler Technology Center. Nearby in Rochester are Oakland University and its acclaimed Meadowbrook Theater. In West Bloomfield Township is the deeply moving Holocaust Memorial Center.

Each August, the Woodward strip from Ferndale to Pontiac hosts the Woodward Dream Cruise, the worlds largest rolling participatory auto show and the ultimate 1950s and 1960s nostalgia trip.

The East Side and Macomb County
Go east from downtown along Jefferson Avenue parallel to the Detroit River and you will pass the bridge to Belle Isle, one of the worlds great urban parks. The Grosse Pointe area boasts mansions of auto executives and scenic Lakeshore Drive. The nondescript suburbs of Macomb County include some items of interest: The Macomb Center for the Performing Arts, the General Motors Tech Center in Warren, and Metropolitan Beach on Lake St. Clair.

One of the few places in the United States where one can travel south into Canada is from downtown Detroit. By tunnel or bridge its easy to reach Windsor, Ontario, whose clubs and restaurants are an integral part of the metro Detroit entertainment scene. The popular Windsor Casino served as the impetus for Detroit to start building its own casinos.


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