Autopia’s End: The Decline and Fall of Detroit’s Automotive Manufacturing Landscape

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Planning History

Publication Date



Since the 1980s, Detroit’s historic building stock of automotive manufacturing facilities has mostly disappeared. Demolition, redevelopment, and abandonment have left little to mark the city’s twentieth-century history as the world capital of the automobile industry. Planning and policy making have been complicit by publicly subsidizing destructive redevelopment and by failing to advocate for retention or preservation of significant structures and complexes. Even today, Detroit’s leadership calls for the demolition of one of the city’s last remaining historic auto factories. This article surveys the disappearance of Detroit’s auto factories and documents the histories of three of the largest complexes: the Chrysler-Chalmers Plant, cleared for a redeveloped factory; the Cadillac Plant, cleared for a failed economic development project; and the Packard Plant, slowly abandoned over sixty years. The article calls for a revised theory and practice of preservation that accommodates the weak markets, imperfect conditions, and informal uses that characterize abandoned industrial buildings in shrinking cities.




Urban Studies and Planning