While searching for images of highway interchanges in urban areas, I came across these historic aerial photos of Detroit on a message board, showing how the city fabric has slowly eroded. It's a remarkable record of a process that has scarred many other American cities.
1949: Here's what the east side of the city looked like right at the middle of the century, with Gratiot Avenue forming the diagonal. Detroit was a big, bustling city.
1952: Just a few years later though, urban renewal and other city-clearing initiatives were already leaving their mark.
1961: Almost a decade later, you can see a large space south of Gratiot had been cleared to make way for Lafayette Park, a neighborhood of high-rise residential towers.
1967: By the mid-1960s, land was cleared and buildings destroyed to make way for Interstate 375.
1981: The freeway is complete, along with a monster interchange. The tight network of small streets and small blocks has been replaced by mega blocks.
1997: By the turn of the century, the area is almost unrecognizable.
Finally, in this recent shot, you see that the new Tigers Stadium has entered the landscape, surrounded by a field of parking.
Can this process be reversed? Well, the city of Detroit is considering the removal of I-375, so there is hope.
Thanks to user GSGeorge at the forum AtDetroit.net for sharing the first five of these images. The originals up to 1997 — and other aerial photographs from all over the city — can be found in this image repository maintained by Wayne State University.
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Angie Schmitt is a newspaper reporter-turned planner/advocate who manages the Streetsblog Network from glamorous Cleveland, Ohio. She also writes about urban issues particular to the industrial Midwest at Rustwire.com.