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It identified an area designated as the Detroit International Riverfront, which extends from the Ambassador Bridge to the Gabriel Richard Park, just east of the Belle Isle Bridge, about a five-mile span of waterfront next to downtown.
The development of Detroit's riverfront actually stands in contrast, in terms of scale, to much of the rest of the city. Built to service the automobile, Detroit is not laid out with pedestrians in mind: wide swaths of pavement cut through downtown, making travel by vehicle a near necessity.
Part of the RiverWalk construction has involved reclaiming vast downtown parking lots that nearly abut the riverbank. In their place will eventually be wide swaths of green space and footpaths leading to the water. In fact, if the design principles employed on the city's waterfront were somehow extended throughout the city, Detroit would be the picture of a modern, sustainable urban center.
The success of the project is instructive for Philadelphia—or any modern city with a post-industrial waterfront. Detroit's now-bustling, pedestrian-centered waterfront, once designed and built entirely for industrial use, now includes the former grounds of factories like the Uniroyal tire plant and Medusa cement company. Private land that had impeded public access to the river was acquired.
The waterfront's economic appeal now lies in how it can serve individuals, both as a place to exercise and play, and as a focal point for festivals, concerts, and outdoor exhibits.
Among the more popular events held on the riverfront are GM Days, a four-day festival that draws some 700,000 attendees annually; and Rockin' on the Riverfront, which brings free Friday concerts beginning in April.
The East River Front has also helped bring in private development; million-dollar condos like Watermark Detroit are going up, enticed partly by the appeal of a vibrant, active waterfront.
That said, development of the East Riverfront has not been cheap. To date, the DRFC has raised $102 million toward its capital campaign goal of $140 million. The most recent contribution came in December, when Wayne County contributed $1 million. But money needs to keep coming in if work is going to move forward. In September, construction began on the expansion of Tricentennial State Park and Harbor—a project managers have said will take 275 days to complete.
Gabriel Richard Park, the eastern most point for the RiverWalk, is located just east of the Belle Isle Bridge and directly across the Detroit River from Belle Isle. The DRFC recently improved the park with a plaza and pavilion.
But so far, Detroit's ambitious waterfront plan seems to be working. The use of a public-private partnership in the form of the DRFC is analogous, in many ways, to Philadelphia's Action Plan for the Central Delaware. That plan, crafted by the Central Delaware Advocacy Group and Penn Praxis, in cooperation with city residents, will see funding from both public and private sources in the coming years, much like the DRFC's East Riverfront plan has.Once you get away from the waterfront, much of Detroit is built for vehicles. In contrast to the walkable, pedestrian-scale riverfront, Detroit has many wide, multi-lane streets cutting through its downtown.
With a deadline looming to show it can provide tens of millions of dollars to restore and redevelop Tiger Stadium, the group trying to save the historic ballpark got a boost this week in Washington.A $410 billion omnibus spending bill approved by the House on Wednesday includes $3.8 million for the Tiger Stadium project.
Last week Craig Sutton, someone I know from Twitter, posted an interview with me on his blog about some of my various endeavors. One of the questions in particular related specifically to Startup Weekend Detroit:
Q: You are organizing the upcoming Startup Weekend Detroit (Mar. 27-29). Can you explain what that is, and why other cities would benefit from doing the same?
A: The Startup Weekend organization was founded by Andrew Hyde in Boulder, Colorado. There have been several Startup Weekends in cities across the country and even in Europe.
Basically the event gathers together creatives and people with technical skills to launch new companies within a single weekend. Each event is different since the direction is largely determined by the people who show up.
I live in Detroit and I was raised here. I really believe that the future of this city lies in the ability to bring people together to get great ideas off the ground. Nobody becomes successful in a vacuum. We need each other. Events like Startup Weekend help bring people together with a variety of skills to roll up their sleeves, work side by side and get things done.
I attended Startup Weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan last year. What struck me most about the event was the fact that so much was accomplished in a single weekend. This experience leaves people who attend with the feeling that anything really is possible if you work together. What city couldn’t benefit from a little of that?