Detroit's top 10 urban planning blunders (and 10 successes) 

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  • Image from The Detroit Free Press, Mar. 17, 1980, via

Blunder: The lack of a subway system
A subway for Detroit has been discussed countless times since Boston opened its first underground line in 1897. After the Detroit Common Council failed to act on subway proposals in the 1910s, Mayor John C. Lodge appointed the first Rapid Transit Commission in 1922. Voters and the Common Council rejected their proposals until 1933, when electors overwhelmingly approved a two-line subway. The only problem was that it was supposed to be funded by the U.S. Public Works Administration, but the federal government refused to fund it. President Gerald Ford promised $600 million for a Detroit subway in 1976 on the condition that it be approved by the Southeastern Michigan Transit Authority. Suburban interests simply did not want any funds spent if Detroit was to receive the most benefit, and the project stalled. A portion of those funds would ultimately be spent on the Detroit People Mover, intended as a hub for the system. The Reagan administration finally withdrew the remainder of the pledge. Today, the People Mover creeps along in a 3-mile loop, widely regarded as a punch line.


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