The Cass Corridor in black & white

I was impressed this week by a map of the Cass Corridor made in 1971 by the Detroit Geographic Expedition Institute, a short-lived but influential coalition of citizen geographers. (Thanks to Detroitography for collecting and reproducing a smattering of the maps that the DGEI produced, and to Model D for helping spread the word about Detroit cartography this week.)

There’s a lot of discussion going on in Detroit about the Cass Corridor, the storied, hardscrabble ‘hood that earned a reputation in the last century as one of Detroit’s toughest (but that also remained, as Keith Owens has explored in this blog, one of its most special). Is the Corridor being absorbed by Midtown? Is it already gone? Is it an identity, a state of mind, that we should work to hold onto, or should we let it go and watch it slip into history, like Cass Farms and Piety Hill, two monikers for the neighborhood that came (and went) before it?

Amid all this collective and occasionally contentious soul-searching about the neighborhood in which the El Moore has stood for 117 years, the simplicity of the map really struck me:


There it is, the Cass Corridor, in black and white: a narrow district two blocks wide and nine blocks long, encompassing the sections of Third, Second, and Cass that run between Prentis and Temple. (The El Moore is located at the corner of Alexandrine and Second, just north of center.)

The map makes me realize that, amid all the talk in recent years about Cass Corridor’s history, identity, and transformation, I somehow lost sight of the Corridor itself. I never really understood how clear its boundaries were. (Google Maps, interestingly, places the its southern border considerably farther south, all the way to I-75, which doesn’t seem right.)

The Cass Corridor: a small place nestled within a larger place, which is, itself, part of a larger place, ad infinitum…. I wonder: is it possible that the Corridor’s simple, distinctive geography has been somehow swallowed up by its outsized mystique, by all the layers of meaning we’ve assigned to it over the decades? And as we continue to wrestle with the important questions about how the neighborhood is changing, can a map like this one help?