Ford Motor Co. has a new partnership. The automaker is joining tech company Google to transform a Detroit train station into a research hub. Will Ford + Google = Detroit 2.0?
In 1913, Michigan Central Station (MCS) opened. U.S. rail travel peaked during those early years. More than 200 trains left the bustling MCS every day. For decades, it was a jewel of Detroit and the hub of rail transportation into and out of the city.
Less than two decades after opening, rail service from the inner city stopped. MCS sat stranded from much of the population. Automobiles had been fairly new when the building opened. Its design didn’t include plentiful parking. Yet those who drove to the station required parking.
The last train departed from MCS in 1988. Today, the abandoned station looms over the historic Corktown neighborhood just outside downtown Detroit. It has come to symbolize the city’s decline from America’s manufacturing powerhouse to its largest urban bankruptcy. (See Housing Revival in Detroit for more on Detroit’s rise and fall.)
Enter Ford and Google. Ford bought the 18-story, 500,000-square-foot train depot in 2018. Together with Google, Ford has plans for the derelict station. The project is called the Michigan Central Innovation District. A new plant focusing on electric and self-driving vehicles will include the defunct train depot and other nearby buildings.
In a way, MCS’s decline and opportunity for new purpose mirrors God’s creation-fall-redemption-restoration story. Sin destroyed mankind’s relationship with the Creator, but God through Jesus’ sacrifice made reclamation and renewal possible. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17.)
In the 1920s, Ford founder Henry Ford devised plans for construction near MCS, but they never materialized. Now his great-grandson believes the district could transform “from a national punchline into a national treasure.”
“I was sick and tired of . . . having this [building] be the poster child for the decay of Detroit,” says Bill Ford, executive chair of Ford Motor Company. His company is pouring $1 billion into the project.
Google will open a lab on the 30-acre site to teach computer science to high school students. The goal is to ensure that people have the digital skills and coaching they need to succeed, says Ruth Porat, Google’s chief financial officer. “Michigan was at the forefront of the industrial revolution,” she says. “Now the world is in the midst of a digital revolution. And Michigan is front and center.”
“Innovation breeds innovation,” Mary Culler, president of Ford Fund, says of the innovation district. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer.”
Why? Recognizing the pattern of creation-fall-redemption-restoration in earthly events is one way humans can not only improve difficult circumstances but also point others to the amazing grace of God’s eternal plan for humanity.