Where Art Thou, Sterling Heights?

My mom gets lost every time she drives to my sister’s house in Sterling Heights, MI. We were running late driving there yesterday, stuck in construction traffic on Mound Rd, driving around my sister’s neighborhood trying to figure out where her street was (my parents, lifelong residents of the Detroit Metro region, haven’t considered buying a GPS), and turning around on busy roads after realizing we’d overshot the place.

How does one get lost in Sterling Heights? The city, after all, is laid out in a very simple, very logically labeled grid of roads. The problem is that the landscape, if you could call it that, is so thoroughly paved and homogenous that nothing stands out.

Google Maps identifies the marker below as the “center” of the city. To the SW of the marker are Chrysler’s Sterling Stamping and (now-defunct) Assembly Plants, a building complex which covers nearly 300 acres. To the NE is Sunnybrook Golf Club. To the immediate NE is a strip mall containing a Burlington Coat Factory and Rite Aid and to the SE is another parking lot with a restaurant and sleep disorders clinic. Off the main roads are many neighborhoods of single-family homes.

Sterling Heights, an epitomal suburb of the Motor City, is a place designed primarily for cars: gas stations, wide roads, copious parking lots. From a human perspective, the place is daunting, even threatening. We saw two pedestrians crossing the middle of 15-mile, five lanes of traffic, with plastic bags. Everything on the main roads is concrete colored and expansive.

As we drove around, I wondered what would become of a place like Sterling Heights, the 4th largest city in Michigan, after cheap oil runs out. Can a place like this possibly be repaired for human-sized use or will it be largely abandoned decades from now as people leave in search of greener pastures?

16 Mile and Van Dyke Ave. (Google Maps)

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