The View From Above: Broderick Tower Offered Michael Stepniak a New Angle on Detroit

Atop Detroit's Broderick Tower. Photo: Detroiturbex.com

Working as a mason tender gave UniverCities intern Michael Stepniak a better feel for metro Detroit’s urban fabric than most people ever have. An itinerant private contractor assisting at construction and demolition sites, he found himself “essentially living in [his] work truck several times over the years.” Moving around the region, he saw change in concrete form, as it happened on the ground: in the clean lines of a freshly poured basement, or the dust of a jackhammered loading dock.

During a job at downtown Detroit’s Madison Building, Michael found himself drawn to a dramatic new perspective. Next door to the Madison stood the vacant thirty-five-story shell of the Broderick Tower, commanding the corner of Woodward and Witherell at Grand Circus Park. An open window on the Broderick beckoned within reach of Michael’s scaffolding. The attraction proved irresistible. After work one day, he climbed through onto the Broderick’s ninth floor and made his way up twenty-nine flights of stairs to the roof.

Michael back on the ground.

“From 360 feet up,” he recalls, “the wagon-wheel corridors of Detroit stretched out to the horizon. I thought that I knew the city like the back of my hand, but I had never seen anything so breathtaking.” Years before Google Maps made aerial photos commonplace, the panorama led Michael to reflect on the infrastructure spread out below him. “I began to consider the systems upon which my way of life depended: streets, sewers, power plants, police departments, sidewalks, buses, and so on. It is one thing to live in a major metropolitan area, it is quite another to attempt to understand what makes it one.”

Now an urban studies major at Wayne State University, Michael hopes to attend graduate school for urban planning, feeding the fascination with cities that he’s fostering this summer with UniverCities in Southgate. Wherever that takes him, though, he knows he’ll find himself pulled back. “For some reason, other cities lack some intangible quality that makes Detroit my home,” he says. “I love this town.”

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