Motor City

It is now three days after Super Bowl XLV (or the Glee Pre-show) which has given me ample to time to determine my favorite commercial. Initially it was a three way tie between the Volkswagen Star Wars ad, the Finger-Licking Doritos, and the Chrysler 200 spot featuring Eminem.  Today I am no longer on the fence and will officially declare my winner as Chrysler. Why? The two-minute ad (in my opinion) managed to capture the rich history of Detroit and its people, their recent struggles, and current opportunity before them to rise again.

As a landscape architect / urban designer, Detroit is a fascinating case study. In 1950 it was the fifth largest city in the country with a variety of neighborhood types and dense urban center. Consolidation of the automobile industry during that decade and increased competition for jobs signaled the beginning of a population decline that today is half of what it was at its peak.

What you read and hear in the news these days about Detroit isn’t positive. Hit especially hard by the recent economic downturn, in 2009 residential lot vacancy in Detroit was 27.8%, up from 10.3% in 2000. The population continues to shrink and foreclosures magnify the problem. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of lots are vacant. In 2010, the city began using federal funds on its quest to demolish 10,000 empty residential structures. (Info from Detroit Parcel Survey)

Vacant Lots in Rock City

That being said, Detroit is a resilient city evidenced by the numerous creative solutions to help turn the city around… including turning the vacant lots in land for urban agriculture. Detroit Urban Design is a blog devoted to the possibilities of this place… challenging us to look at Detroit in a new way (much like the Chrysler commercial).

Urban Farm in Detroit

Maybe I just love an underdog story, but I believe the passion of its people and the history of the place have positioned Detroit for a great next act.

(Photo credit: A Town Square )

  1. February 9th, 2011 - 1:30 pm
    Matt said:

    I missed this when it aired, but had heard much about it. I’m not a big fan of Eminem (or misogynists in general), and the Chrysler 200 is one of the worst cars in its class, but this commercial raised the hair on my neck. As a resident of a city recently named America’s most dangerous, and one that’s less than half the size of it’s former self, I guess it strikes a chord.

  2. February 10th, 2011 - 11:37 am
    nico.stearley said:

    I must say that of all the car commercials during the game (and so many of them were), this was the best. Somehow the others seemed so shallow and were focusing on the fantasy of the ride as opposed to the truth – we are all too broke to buy a new car! I totally noticed that one car ad said “around” 20,000* with the asterisks!

  3. February 12th, 2011 - 2:19 pm
    kimberly.dowdell said:

    Nicely done Megan! My hometown has definitely seen better days, but change is on the way! Thanks for posting this…it needed to be shared with our readers to generate more conversation about addressing the issues faced by Detroit and other places facing similar challenges.

  4. February 14th, 2011 - 10:06 am
    Matt said:

    @Kim: Speaking of other places facing similar challenges, are you familiar with Braddock, PA and its mayor, John Fetterman? Much smaller scale than Detroit, but a very inspiring story about the power of ideas.

  5. February 17th, 2011 - 10:03 am
    Megan said:

Comments Post a Comment

HOK encourages comments to be short and to the point; as a general rule, they should not run longer than the original post. Comments should show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.