Detroit’s Dequindre Cut Greenway is a former Grand Trunk Railroad line constructed in the 1830s. The trains ran below grade from the Detroit River warehouse district — serving factories like a stove plant, a rubber company, and the Parke-Davis Laboratories — north through the Eastern Market and on to the suburbs. A 1.35 mile recreational path for joggers, cyclists, and pedestrians opened in May 2009, just weeks before the High Line. After the railroad closed, the derelict line became famous for what Detroit News reporter Donna Terek called “a gallery of graffiti masterworks” and “an ad hoc museum of hip hop culture.” Because the line ran below street level and passed under many bridge abutments and overpasses, it offered a perfect, secluded, place for graffiti artists to linger over their work. And the paintings were largely protected from sunlight and rain, so the colors remain, after many years, “eye-stabbing.”
Unlike the High Line’s designers in New York, who had to contend with Mayor Bloomberg’s Graffiti Free NYC program, the architects of Detroit’s Dequindre Cut Greenway made a commitment from the beginning to preserve the art. The construction project manager, Michael Dempsey, told a reporter in 2007: “Unless it is obscene or offensive, our policy is to leave it in place. We also want to encourage new works to the extent that the artists are willing to do that — as long as they pick up their aerosol cans after themselves!”
The folks in Detroit were kind enough to provide some great before and after photos of the Dequindre Cut. You can see graffiti in some of them, and the “before” photos show the abundant plant life — grasses, trees, perennials — that grew up after the railroad was abandoned. The overpass in the early photos is Chestnut Street Bridge, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. As always, click to enlarge an image to full-size. For more, visit the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. And go here to read about other Urban Greenway projects, including in Philadelphia, Jersey City, St. Paul, Chicago, Tampa/St. Pete, Toronto, and the original viaduct park — the first in the world — in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.