Before we get into the current state of Detroit and how it got to be the way it is, I thought I’d go over some basic history of the city. I don’t want to be too long winded, so let’s just go over some major events and keep it to the point. Most of the below text was taken from wiki, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detroit
Detroit was founded in 1701 by Frenchman Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Its name originates from the French word détroit (pronounced: [detʁwa}, Listen Here) for strait, characterizing its location on the Detroit River connecting the Great Lakes Huron and Erie. British troops gained control of the city during the French/Indian War (1760) and shortened the name to Detroit. Under the Jay Treaty in 1796, Detroit became part of the United States. In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. The only structures to survive the blaze were a single warehouse, and the brick chimneys of the homes.
From 1805 to 1847, Detroit was the capital of Michigan. Detroit fell to British troops during the War of 1812 in the Siege of Detroit, but was recaptured by the United States in 1813 and incorporated as a city in 1815.
Prior to the American Civil War, the city’s access to the Canadian border made it a key stop along the underground railroad. Then a Lieutenant, the future president Ulysses S. Grant was stationed in the city. His dwelling is still at the Michigan State Fairgrounds. Because of this local sentiment, many Detroiters volunteered to fight during the American Civil War, including the 24th Michigan Infantry Regiment which fought with distinction and suffered 82% casualties at Gettysburg in 1863. George Armstrong Custer led the Michigan Brigade during the American Civil War and called them the Wolverines.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many of the city’s Gilded Age mansions and buildings arose. Detroit was referred to as the Paris of the West for its architecture, and for Washington Boulevard, recently electrified by Thomas Edison. Strategically located along the Great Lakes waterway, Detroit emerged as a transportation hub. The city had grown steadily from the 1830s with the rise of shipping, shipbuilding, and manufacturing industries. In 1896, a thriving carriage trade prompted Henry Ford to build his first automobile in a rented workshop on Mack Avenue. In 1904 he founded the Ford Motor Company. Ford’s manufacturing—and those of automotive pioneers William C. Durant, the Dodge brothers, Packard, and Walter Chrysler—reinforced Detroit’s status as the world’s automotive capital.
Labor strife climaxed in the 1930s when the United Auto Workers became involved in bitter disputes with Detroit’s auto manufacturers. The labor activism of those years brought notoriety to union leaders such as Jimmy Hoffa and Walter Reuther. The 1940s saw the construction of the world’s first urban depressed freeway, the Davison and the industrial growth during World War II that led to Detroit’s nickname as the Arsenal of Democracy.
Industry spurred growth during the first half of the twentieth century as the city drew tens of thousands of new residents, particularly workers from the Southern United States, to become the nation’s fourth largest. At the same time, tens of thousands of European immigrants poured into the city. Social tensions rose with the rapid pace of growth. The color blind promotion policies of the auto plants resulted in racial tension that erupted into a full-scale riot in 1943.
Consolidation during the 1950s, especially in the automobile sector, increased competition for jobs. An extensive freeway system constructed in the 1950s and 1960s had facilitated commuting. The Twelfth Street riot in 1967(more on this in another post), as well as court-ordered busing accelerated white flight from the city. Commensurate with the shift of population and jobs to its suburbs, the city’s tax base eroded. In the years following, Detroit’s population fell from a peak of roughly 1.8 million in 1950 to about half that number today.
The gasoline crises of 1973 and 1979 impacted the U.S. auto industry as small cars from foreign makers made inroads. Heroin and crack cocaine use afflicted the city with the influence of Butch Jones, Maserati Rick, and the Chambers Brothers. Renaissance has been a perennial buzzword among city leaders, reinforced by the construction of the Renaissance Center in the late 1970s. This complex of skyscrapers, designed as a city within a city, slowed but was unable to reverse the trend of businesses leaving Downtown Detroit until the 1990s.
In 1980, Detroit hosted the Republican National Convention which nominated Ronald Reagan to a successful bid for President of the United States. By then, nearly three decades of crime, drug addiction, and inadequate policies had caused areas like the Elmhurst block to decay. During the 1980s, abandoned structures were demolished to reduce havens for drug dealers with sizable tracts of land reverted to a form of urban prairie.
In the 1990s, the city began to receive a revival with much of it centered in Downtown Detroit. Comerica Tower at Detroit Center (1993) arose on the city skyline. In the ensuing years, three casinos opened in Detroit: MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino, and Greektown Casino which debuted as resorts in 2007-08. New downtown stadiums were constructed for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions in 2000 and 2002, respectively; this put the Lions’ home stadium in the city proper for the first time since 1974.The city also saw the historic Book Cadillac Hotel hotel and the Fort Shelby Hotel reopen for the first time in over 20 years. The city hosted the 2005 MLB All-Star Game, 2006 Super Bowl XL, 2006 World Series, WrestleMania 23 in 2007 and the NCAA Final Four in April 2009 all of which prompted many improvements to the downtown area.
Sill, the improvements made to the downtown area in recent years is dwarfed by the alarming state of decay that the rest of the city has been subject to for the last 40+ years.