I recently finished up the draft text that summarized the land use and open space portions of the Detroit Sustainable Design Assessment Team (AIA SDAT) that I participated in a few months back. It gave me a chance to revisit some of the thinking around my initial thoughts and reactions - with some distance and further reading that has illuminated both the potential of what we proposed, as well as how much we could've/should've done to provide an actual 'vison' for the community.
There has been some more recent coverage of Detroit, mostly focused around the
blatant ridiculous giveaway, bailout for the car companies in Detroit - (save the big 3, save the world, right?) One such article, via Bloomberg, mentions the connection between industrial dissipation and the large amount of vacant lands. "GM's Bust Turns Detroit Into Urban Prairie of Vacant-Lot Farms" discusses vacancy, land banking, and urban farming, to name a few items. These photos come from the local group and their vacant farmland Urban Farming.
We were definitely on the right track, but did we really tell Detroit something they already didn't know. Maybe, maybe not... but it was definitely reinforcing some of the strong trends already in place, for instance the strong push to move urban agriculture from a small scale to a larger scale operation. From Bloomberg: "With enough abandoned lots to fill the city of San Francisco, Motown is 138 square miles divided between expanses of decay and emptiness and tracts of still-functioning communities and commercial areas. Close to six barren acres of an estimated 17,000 have already been turned into 500 "mini- farms,'' demonstrating the lengths to which planners will go to make land productive. ...Harvests are sold in markets or donated to soup kitchens. This year's produce was picked ``quickly because people need food so badly,'' said Sevelle. ...The farms may also raise home values. In many neighborhoods, nearby gardens could add as much as $5,000 to selling prices, said real estate broker Russ Ravary, who works in the city and surrounding suburbs. The average price of a home dropped 55 percent to $18,578 in the first nine months of the year, according to the Detroit Board of Realtors."
Another article from this month in the Detroit Free Press follows a similar theme, 'Acres of barren blocks offer chance to reinvent Detroit' provides some of the same thinking, and specifically relates some of the recommendations of our SDAT. "Earlier this fall, some out-of-town planners recruited by the American Institute of Architects visited Detroit for a brainstorming session. The leader, Alan Mallach, research director of the National Housing Institute in Maplewood, N.J., concluded that Detroit needs no more than about 50 square miles of its land for its current population. The remaining 89 square miles could be used entirely for other purposes, he said. ...Mallach's group liked the suggestion of large-scale commercial farming, both as a way to put the space to good use and to generate new income and jobs for the cash-starved city."
Another part of the article that I was really interested in, was the juxtaposed map of land areas of Boston (49 sq.mi.), Manhattan (23 sq.mi.), and San Francisco (47 sq.mi.) laid neatly within the 139 square mile footprint of the City of Detroit. Prepared by Dan Pitera, a professor of architecture at University of Detroit Mercy and one of the more involved local participants, this really shows an indication of the immensity of the problem.
And finally, an amazing resource that I've been trying to track down that has been an amazing find (gotta love Interlibrary Loan...) - 'Stalking Detroit' by Jason Young (editor), Georgia Daskalakis (editor), and Charles Waldheim (editor) is chock full of prescient Landscape Urbanism theory and writings - as well as much more applied thinking that we did in our four days in Detroit.
:: image via TCAUP
:: image via TCAUP