In a previous post I talked about the need for cities to look at their situations as-is.
This leads to uncovering opportunities that exploit a city’s “uniqueness."
The City of the Past thrived on communal interaction out of necessity.
The City of the Present has an emphasis on private space aided and abetted by personal electronics.
The City of the Opportunity embraces adaptive reuse of place and space as a primary “organizing” theme.
Urban areas are uniquely equipped to provide this type of experience because of the concentration of the built “infrastructure” of buildings, open space, and landmarks, which create an environment of intense energy.
Understanding the roles that all three of the above elements play will be important in dealing with nature as a desirable amenity within the city will be paramount to counteract the rapid suburbanization of our country in the latter half of the 20th century. To ease the now inbred misunderstanding of the virtue of density among American citizens, natural elements must coexist with, but not dominate, the urban realm.
The Non-Motorized Urban Transportation Masterplan for Detroit is an example of opportunistic thinking in action. When you think of it what better place for this than the city that is known for the auto and yet 30% of its populace doesn’t own one?
I. DETROIT: THE URBAN CONDITION
The trials and tribulations of Detroit have been well documented:
-population loss to below 1 million after peaking at 2 million in the 1950s
-economic disinvestment leading to physical devastation
The intrigue of Detroit stems from the fact that it is “shrinking” yet this shrinking is just the thing that is providing it with unparalleled opportunities for [re]development. The urban condition has become much more than the “hole in the donut”. It is a tattered tapestry. Thing that makes any tapestry, though, is the quality of the connections.
Detroit has (de)veloped into a series of destinations that are disconnected. Currently, “The City” (i.e.,government) and designers are searching for ways to link these pieces utilizing unique functions. We can understand how this situation is being reversed by looking at the city in relation to how it is [re]forming itself.
The following three areas, if successfully handled, could hold the answer for the rebirth of the city:
Green development principles provide opportunities to rethink the way urban space works as well as how the urban economy flows.
Adaptive reuse of buildings and sites becomes a change agent by providing the opportunity to inject new functions into existing areas, creating catalysts for change.
“Transitions of Activity”
These areas are of primary concern. They hold the key to urban restructuring in many post-industrial cities. Detroit is specifically rethinking its core with “gaming” facilities as well as grass roots appropriation of public space. This approach fills needs on both ends of the socio-economic spectrum, but it does not help to “heal” the city overall. It represents both hope and despair.
II. TAKING ADVANTAGE OF UNDERUTIZED ROADS AND PARK SYSTEMS
Interestingly, though, Detroit has embarked on an endeavor that can fulfill this goal: a master plan for a Non-Motorized Path System for the entire city. 139 square miles of walking trails, greenways, and bicycle paths that will be used to provide connectivity between the numerous disparate nodes within the city. This plan, once implemented will provide non-car dependant mobility options for citizens of the “Motor City."
This is crucial in a city where more than half the population depends on public transportation that consists only of buses. I have been fortunate to be one the urban design consultants on this unique initiative5. This initiative takes advantage of the “opportunity” that underutilized streets, parks, districts, and rights-of-way provide. It attempts to stitch together the tattered tapestry.
III. THE PROCESS FOR THE NON-MOTORIZED PLAN
A. Design Team planning process
a. Destination Analysis
b. Route Analysis
c. Infrastructure Inventory
d. Intra-city connectivity
B. Public Involvement process
The process of realizing the Non-Motorized Path system involved community input at multiple levels. The design team conducted workshops in communities on all sides of the city. The team also worked closely with the Parks and Recreation department and the Department of Streets and Roads. The overwhelming vacancy in the city became a positive for realizing the project. The openness fostered creativity in planning as well as responding to residents needs.
a. Bike Lanes
IV. IMPLEMENTATION OF THE PLAN
B. Educating the Public
C. Encouraging usage
D. Enforcing rules of engagement
Towards a Better Community
A new urban environment is created by combining the traditional planning of urban areas with new technologies and aesthetics. The buildings respect the scale of the pedestrian and also provide interesting and engaging storefronts to make for a pleasurable experience. The area contains a healthy mix of housing, shopping, entertainment, and office functions. Again, this a traditional model for healthy urban development realized in a decidedly contemporary aesthetic. True urban space is created. Older, primarily industrial, American cities which typically have large areas of urban blight must embrace this concept of creating healing environments from the decay. Creating multi-functioning environments within the gaping holes in the existing fabric is an area where the city of the future can make the largest stride towards completely recapturing the spirit of community. A key element in doing this will be a connecting system that embraces, rather than fights, the existing paradigm.