Over the span of a year, 21 Detroit natives traveled around the country visiting the great public parks of the United States. The group was made up of average citizens, indicative of the diversity of Detroit: 62% female, 48% African-American, and 29% Latino. Their goal? Help craft the vision for West Riverfront Park, a 22-acre swath of land situated on the Detroit River and overlooking the Detroit and Windsor skylines. “We set out to build the best park in the country for Detroit by building the best park in the country for Detroiters,” says Detroit Riverfront Conservancy President Mark Wallace of his Community Advisory Board. “The idea was to elevate voices that are rarely heard in city planning meetings.”
Along with a Community Advisory Board, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy held 20 public meetings to receive feedback from residents. They then displayed proposals from four architecture firms earlier this year, using public feedback to select Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and Sir David Adjaye to develop the park in August.
The development of West Riverfront Park is, in a nutshell, how the entire city of Detroit is being rebuilt. Over the past few years, Detroit has seen billions of dollars of investment in hundreds of constructions projects, from neighborhood planning to adaptive reuse. All of these developments follow the principles of inclusive design, a result of the city’s designation as a UNESCO City of Design in 2015, the first and only U.S. city to receive this honor. Inclusive design is a method of design that takes into consideration all different points of human difference to develop products, services and systems that allow people to live independently and confidently. Whereas urban renewal has pushed low income residents to the margins in cities like New York and San Francisco, Detroit hopes inclusive design will ensure its renewal benefits all residents.
“Ever since the assembly line was created, Detroit has been a leader in design,” says Olga Stella, executive director of Design Core Detroit, an organization that champions design-driven growth. “In our city, though, design can’t just be beautiful, it has to produce an outcome. We’re trying to show how smart design can drive the different change you want to see in a city.”
Here are eight examples of Detroit developments that are practicing inclusive design:
The Seebaldt Project aims to turn vacant lots in low-income neighborhoods into a source of renewable energy and community space by installing solar canopies that double as rainwater collectors. The rainwater can then be used to irrigate community gardens. The pilot is taking place in ZIP code 48204, a neighborhood where 28% of the homes are vacant, and many more have been torn down. It Starts At Home, a community redevelopment group, and Studio Ci, an urban design collective, are working together to install the canopies. The hope is that they will revitalize the neighborhood, create local jobs, and deliver sustainable self-reliance.
Real estate developer The Platform is planning to invest $50 million in the restoration and modernization of the iconic Fisher Building in New Center to turn it into an office, retail, and entertainment space. The Platform has been hosting cultural programming and exhibitions known as Beacon Projects to establish a dialogue with residents on the redevelopment. One of their goals is to create office space for those who cannot afford Class A rents, such as independent contractors and freelancers. On their website, The Platform says their plan is to upgrade the Fisher Building to welcome all.
The redevelopment of Roosevelt Park, led by Assembly Design Studio and Human Scale Studio, is meant to reestablish the connection between the two neighborhoods the park intersects: Corktown and Mexicantown. The park once served as the grand entranceway to Michigan Central Station, but as the station fell out of use (it closed in 1988), so did the park. Before drafting plans to redesign the park, representatives from Assembly Design Studio and Human Scale Studio convened multiple meetings with local residents and government officials to ask what they wanted out of the park in terms of access, form and activation. A final design for the park will be unveiled soon.
Danish Brotherhood Hall
The renovation of the 100-year-old social hall is aimed at stabilizing an area of high vacancy by attracting residents from the nearby dense residential core of Woodbridge. The design is led by Laavu. The masterplan calls for the construction of a range of housing types around the hall that can support different life-cycle stages.
City Modern is a community development in the Brush Park neighborhood featuring an array of residential, shopping, and dining options. Designer Hamilton Anderson Associates collaborated with existing residents, city and state agencies, local developers, and active community groups to achieve a shared vision for the project. The result is a diversity of housing types, architectural aesthetics, historic preservation strategies, and residential unit costs designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of existing and future Brush Park residents.
The Fitzgerald Revitalization Project is an initiative led by the City of Detroit to stabilize and strengthen the Fitzgerald neighborhood by transforming publicly owned vacant land and buildings into community assets. Over 300 parcels of land are being redeveloped, including 100 homes that will be renovated. Those that cannot be saved will be demolished, and green infrastructure and urban gardens will be put in their place. The redeveloped homes will be offered at affordable and market-rate prices for buying, and some will be available for rental. The houses should be complete in 2020.
The Douglass Site redevelopment calls for 900 housing units in the form of townhouses, carriage houses, duplexes, flats, walk-ups, and apartments in the southeast corner of Brush Park near Ford Field. The plan also includes 3.2 acres of open space, an early childhood education center, 1,100 parking spots, 18,000 square feet of retail, and a small hotel. The Detroit city council recently approved a development agreement between Bedrock Detroit and Woodborn Partners to develop the 22-acre plot.
The Platform redesigned the 105-year-old Chroma building as a center for creativity, providing work space alongside cultural anchors of food, music, and exhibition. The building was renovated with input from Detroit’s design, craft, maker, music, and food communities, as well as the Detroit Creative Corridor and the Center for Craft and Applied Arts. It boasts a rooftop bar and basement lounge.
One of the most unique developments in Detroit is True North, a community of Quonset huts off of Grand River and 16th Street. The huts are lightweight prefab structures made of corrugated galvanized steel with a semicircular cross section. Designed by Edwin Chan of EC3 and Studio Detroit, True North brands itself as “an alternative for self-stimulated people.” The minimalist structures feature radiant in-floor heat, personal laboratories, landscaped outdoor gathering spaces and a community wellness center.
Lead image of West Riverfront Park courtesy of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy