A Place That ‘ChainLinkers’ Would Love

Background Reading


If you are one of the many ChainLinkers who would prefer to live in a city where automobiles are literally on the verge of extinction, you had better move to Detroit before the likes of Dan Gilbert gets his hands on it.

For folks on the ChainLink this sounds like Nirvana:

THE best way to experience all that is strange and a little otherworldly about downtown Detroit is to walk the streets around 5 p.m. on a weekday. At that hour, you’ll notice not just the peculiarity of what is around you — notably, the gorgeous, Art Deco skyscrapers alongside empty, decrepit buildings — but also what is missing. There is no traffic here. As the workday ends, cars trickle out of underground parking lots and speed off to nearby highways, but in a volume that doesn’t cause delays.

I’m of the opinion that the ChainLink is full of a class of folks who really and truly believe that automobiles are the Spawn of Satan and really would rather see the parking long Milwaukee decimated in order to provide bike lanes instead. Some have gone so far as to express themselves this way:

Reply by Jason on Friday
I fail to see how less parking means more traffic. This is what the cagers scream when a traffic lane is taken away for a bike lane, but that doesn’t apply here by any logic. Less car parking would mean less cars coming to park. Less idiots holding up traffic because they can’t parallel park too!

Reply by Adam Herstein (5.5 mi) on Friday
Easy (and cheap) solution: ban all motor traffic between Division and Western.

Reply by James BlackHeron on Friday
Ban all personal motor vehicle traffic between the orbits of Venus and Mars.

Reply by April 5.3 mi on Saturday

James BlackHeron said:
Boo hoo traffic clusterfuck. If people want to drive then they should move over onto the Kennedy just to the side.
Too many people are using cars for short trips and Milwaukee is a prime example of this. The Kennedy is right off to the side if they don’t like driving on a parking lot. I say slow them down even more. Maybe they’ll decide to take a bike or ride the Blue line. So many alternatives and yet cars STILL drive up and down Milwaukee like it is the interstate on the long haul downtown or outbound.
Make it narrower, make it slower, make it unbearable to drive on in a big hulking gas-guzzling CO2-spewing car. That’s the whole point.
Built it and they will come. Maybe unbuild it and the damn cars will finally go somewhere else.

Reply by April 5.3 mi on Saturday
Peter that is an F’n brilliant idea. Can we nominate you for the Wicker Park Committee?

peter moorman said:
Why not eliminate parking on the NE side of Mil. Ave and create a 2- way bike lane there.
This would leave half of the parking spaces on the SW side of Mil Ave.
They could double the price for parking in those spots and have the same net
and drivers would gladly pay for the convenience of those sacred spots,

Reply by Juan Primo on Saturday
Did you say drivers would gladly pay double for parking when they used to get twice as much parking for half the cost?

‘Share The Road’ Is Not Their Notion

Clearly the idea of how a society like ours functions is beyond the grasp of most of these folks. For all the blather from groups like League of American Bicyclists and Active Transportation Alliance the very last thing their Urban Cyclist membership hopes to achieve is to “Share The Road“. What they hope to do is more like “Take The Road“.

You will get folks on the Active Transportation Alliance board who will try and spin this attitude by saying that either I am misquoting or better yet “quoting the ChainLink group out of context“. I certainly try not to and apologize if I have. But when I write I try to capture the entirety of a group discussion (interspersed with comments) in order to give the reader an idea of just how radical most of the ChainLink Forum thinking really is.

If you are unaware of the agenda held by groups like this you are likely to continue giving money to organizations like Active Transportation Alliance and the League of Illinois Bicyclists without asking of their leadership if they too espouse these views. After all both groups have a presence on the forum and both groups have members and employees who routinely ride the Chicago Critical Mass. The cyclists who attend the CCM do not have an trouble openly declaring their distaste for automobiles.

But distaste is really a mild emotion where the most hard core of the group is concerned. If you scratch the surface you will find folks who have sentiments that are hardly inline with the most recent blather from the League of American Bicyclists concerning their notion that “Cycling Means Business“. This is the kind of spin on increased calls for bicycle infrastructure that is meant to deflect some of the blatant propaganda like that you read above. But it also is intended to give the GOP a warmer, fuzzier feeling about the future as envisioned by the ChainLink-types who populate the ranks of Cycling Advocacy here in Chicago.

This is not a group of people who are Capitalists by any stretch of the imagination. They hold nothing but contempt and disdain for small business people who are concerned about the calls for less parking along streets like Milwaukee. They do not buy into the notion that less parking and more Bus Rapid Transit is the solution to increased access to their shops and greater profits. And I share their concern and yet am eager to see bicycling thrive. There simply has to be a middle ground that everyone can occupy that is a saner approach than banning “all personal motor vehicle traffic between the orbits of Venus and Mars“.

The quickest way to peel the veneer off of these activists is to ask whether or not they hate motor vehicles so much that they are willing to ban all truck delivery of beer into their communities.

Such a proposal held up against your willingness to ban all parking would divulge just how sincere their activism really is. These folks claim that the suburbs are “vapid empty places” and yet make pilgrimages to these very locations to find local breweries. We suburbanites welcome them to our “soulless territory” with open arms. We understand the virtues of Capitalism and have (in many places) enough parking to accommodate the increases in car and bike traffic well into the future. We are not afraid of progress and indeed invite it. And we make damn good beer into the bargain.

Detroit Is The Place ChainLinkers Would Love

If you want the raw unvarnished world of fewer cars you might look no further than Detroit. Dan Gilbert the founder of Quicken Loans is ready to dish out his vast fortune to rebuild the inner core of the now decimated city:

Dan Gilbert - Quicken Loans Founder © Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Dan Gilbert – Quicken Loans Founder
© Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

The best way to experience all that is strange and a little otherworldly about downtown Detroit is to walk the streets around 5 p.m. on a weekday. At that hour, you’ll notice not just the peculiarity of what is around you — notably, the gorgeous, Art Deco skyscrapers alongside empty, decrepit buildings — but also what is missing. There is no traffic here. As the workday ends, cars trickle out of underground parking lots and speed off to nearby highways, but in a volume that doesn’t cause delays.

Downtown Detroit once buzzed with activity, but the city has lost about a quarter of its population over the last decade.

It is just one small sign of how far Detroit’s fortunes have fallen: the birthplace of the mass-produced automobile, the city that gave us the infuriating, bumper-to-bumper commute, is now so sparsely populated that it doesn’t have a rush hour.

Dan Gilbert would like to change that. No, he’s not interested in a honking pileup of S.U.V.’s. Mr. Gilbert, 51, a Detroit native and the fantastically wealthy founder and chairman of Quicken Loans, wants to revive two square miles that were once the thrumming heart of this city. To do so, he has already spent roughly $1 billion acquiring nearly three million square feet of real estate, and is ready to close another deal, for the Greektown Casino-Hotel and nearby parking lots, that will add one million more square feet to his holdings.

His real estate company, Bedrock Real Estate Services, is renovating properties, building apartments and wooing corporate tenants. A seven-mile light rail system is in the planning stages, underwritten by a number of businesses and business leaders, including Mr. Gilbert, as well as foundations and a federal grant.

Along with his employees, civic groups and public-spaces gurus, he is devising strategies to “activate” streets with outdoor seating and ground-level retail stores. Taxpayers will kick in a yet-to-be-determined sum for parts of this rehabilitation program, but it will be a fraction of what Mr. Gilbert contributes.

His plans, according to academics like Brent D. Ryan, author of “Design After Decline: How America Rebuilds Shrinking Cities,” amount to one of the most ambitious privately financed urban reclamation projects in American history.

Opportunity Detroit, as Mr. Gilbert has branded it, is both a rescue mission and a business venture that, if successful, will yield him a fortune. When he started buying in 2011, the city was having what he has described as a “skyscraper sale.” Among the bargains was the Dime Building, a 23-story neo-Classical gem of glazed brick and terra cotta trim, designed by Daniel Burnham — of Flatiron Building fame — and completed in 1912. In August 2011, Bedrock bought all 330,000 square feet of it, reportedly for $15 million. There are high-end apartments in Manhattan that cost more.

If this area turns around, no one will profit quite like Mr. Gilbert, but the risk looks as great as the potential reward. Even with its auto industry in relatively robust, post-bailout health, Detroit has been on a long, distressing slide. A quarter of its population left in the last decade, and it has $14 billion in long-term debt. The financial situation is so dire that Michigan’s governor recently appointed an emergency manager. Detroit remains a national symbol of municipal decline, a victim of macroeconomic trends, poor planning and political corruption.

Mr. Gilbert is undaunted. Part-owner of a handful of casinos, he is familiar with big bets and steep odds, and, as they say in poker, he is all in. In 2010, he started moving his employees from a nearby suburb, and 7,600 people on his payroll now work downtown.

Not a single one of them has told me, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ ” he said in a recent interview in his office next to downtown’s Campus Martius Park, formerly among the city’s busiest gathering points and a focus of his campaign. “Kids coming out of college want that urban core excitement, more and more.

Capitalism Demands Two Things

So here is your chance ChainLinkers to bail on Chicago and go in search of the “brass ring” now known as Detroit. But it should be pointed out that the Pullman District here in Chicago was once the same in terms of its far reaching design for its employees. Every metropolis changes over time.

The one constant is the automobile. When prosperity comes to a region you can always bet that people who were once riding bicycles or walking or taking trains want to show their affluence by splurging on a new car.

The second constant is meat. You can search high and low around the world and always find that when prosperity comes to a region the peasants who were forced to eat pretty low of the food chain, shift much higher. Meat becomes the new staple and along with that simple fact come the excesses in fat consumption which account for so much coronary disease and dementia.

The automobile represents less exercise and the change in diet represents more dietary fat. Draw me a picture of how this shapes the figures of the emerging middle class in the region.

But paramount in all of this are the stresses brought on by attempting to live in an increasingly dense city core. What was fine a few years ago when the city was emerging was fine. But eventually everyone hears about the great lifestyles available in the city and like Vail Colorado things get too dense. This is not something to be angry about, it is simply a fact of Capitalism. The antidote to the density is to live in the less dense areas like suburbs. And sooner or later young urban types are venturing out into the greener lands outside the metropolis to slow down the pace of their existence.

This will happen to Detroit as well. Already the pressures to bring automobiles back into the central cities of Europe is causing friction between those who want to keep the scale of growth down in order to maintain “quality of life“. But eventually the automobile will win out in some form or another. As populations age the necessity of having mechanized means of moving families about become increasingly important.

If the population density is not controlled even the Mass Transit options become unappealing. But Capitalism does not yield to artificial controls. If you attempt to apply them you dampen the possibility of growth. You cannot keep construction workers sitting on the sidelines indefinitely and expect to have unfettered prosperity. Cities must grow and become too fat and break down a bit like Detroit and be rebuilt again. That is the way of the world.

Every great civilization has seen this ebb and flow of prosperity and growth and eventual decay. Expect it and embrace it and be ready to take advantage of as much of it as you can. But know for certain that as sure as the fact that every small business person wants to grow that business as large as possible, there will also come a day when the management skills required to keep that organization humming along will fail to do so. The things they do best will perhaps find them stuck in old technology. Or the environments they serve will begin to age and decay and they are stuck with shops in areas no longer growing.

Again this is what happens to the human body and we should not be surprised to know that it happens to cities and towns. Detroit is poised to be a teenager again. But she will not be beautiful forever. She will get older and her hips will spread and some other locale will become the pretty young ingénue. You simply have to time your arrival to match her period of beauty.