Detroit Urbanism’s series on the Woodward Plan shows us what could have been


Historian Paul Szewczyk recently completed a three-part series on the Woodward Plan and the making of Detroit’s streets on his blog Detroit Urbanism. The series is full of maps, photos, and historical details related to the best plans. And with all the talk about public transport and getting around the city, we thought a little history lesson might be worth a look.

As part of the plan, the whole city should be laid out in triangles,

“The bases of the city of Detroit are said to be an equilateral triangle with each side four thousand feet long and each angle bisected by a perpendicular line on the opposite side …”

The lobby of the David Whitney Building, which reflects the plan by Michelle & Chris Gerard

And the city should keep adding more triangles as you can see all over the city center.

The Skillman Branch Library Michelle & Chris Gerard

Capitol Park Michelle & Chris Gerard

Isaac agrees with Michelle & Chris Gerard at the downtown synagogue

Spoiler alert! The whole city didn’t end up like that. 10,000 acres of land north of downtown in what would be referred to as park lots were sold and the owners did not have to follow the plan. The details are described in the third part. Some notable details:

  • Broadway was originally called Miami Avenue. (Would we call Old Miami something else if it hadn’t been changed? We’ll never know!)
  • Other cities have criticized our inefficiencies for a while, as a Chicago planner stated in 1915: “It is extremely unfortunate that we did not develop the city entirely on the Woodward Plan. It is more than unfortunate that the city is evolving The same ideas and street lines could not be maintained, and no small parks were made available in the section north of Adams Avenue. If that had been done, Detroit would have been a much nicer and more convenient city. ”
  • The avenues could have been wider than they are now and they could have accommodated all kinds of transit, bicycles, and pedestrians. Wait, isn’t that what we’re suggesting again? Special lanes?

Watch: Detroit’s beautiful fisherman building

The lobby of the David Whitney Building reflecting the plan


Dusty Kennedy