Urban Land Institute

City’s “Jewel” Demonstrates Transformative Power of Public Realm

Detroit’s Campus Martius Park, a 2.5-acre thriving green space created from a  desolate downtown parcel, has received national recognition as the first-ever winner of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award. The award for the park, unique in a city more often characterized by hardship than success, was based on a competition to recognize an outstanding example of a public open space that has catalyzed the transformation of the surrounding community.

The announcement was made today at ULI’s Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum in Boston. Detroit’s park was chosen over finalists Bremen Street Park in Boston; Falls Park on the Reedy in Greenville, S.C.; Herald and Greeley Square Parks in New York City; Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle; and Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh for the top honor.

Known as “Detroit’s Official Gathering Place,” Campus Martius Park is a vibrant central square that has become the heart of the city’s downtown redevelopment initiative. With extensive landscaping, moveable seating, and an ice skating rink, it serves as a much-needed recreational respite and an entertainment venue that is breathing new life into the area. The space attracts more than 2 million visitors year-round, and has catalyzed an estimated $700 million of adjacent development, including street level cafes, retail shops, and the new one-million-square-foot Compuware World Headquarters.

The selection of Campus Martius Park illustrates the power of well-designed open space to make a tangible difference in the quality of life in urban areas, said award creator Amanda M. Burden, chair of the New York City Planning Commission, director of the New York Department of City Planning, and 2009 laureate of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. “This park has far exceeded all expectations, in terms of the lift it has provided to Detroit’s social and economic well-being,” Ms. Burden said.

“It reflects a creative, innovative approach to transforming an eyesore into a jewel. What makes Campus Martius Park work so well is that quite simply, it’s a place where people want to spend time. As a result, it’s a magnet for investment. That’s the definition of a successful urban open space.”

A $10,000 cash prize is being awarded to the Detroit 300 Conservancy, which originally developed the park as a legacy gift to the city. According to Detroit 300 Conservancy President Robert F. Gregory, the organization had unwavering faith in former Mayor Dennis Archer’s goal of building  “one of the best public spaces in the world” in Detroit. “We had great confidence that Mayor Dennis Archer’s original vision could, in fact, be achieved in Detroit. Our confidence was based on a number of critical factors including very strong community support, a model partnership between the City of Detroit and the private business and foundation community; outstanding civic leadership; a great planning team and a dedicated principle to apply best practice solutions in every facet of the design and operations of the Park. “

The park projects optimism, civic pride and hope, Ms. Burden said. “Campus Martius Park is making a difference in how people in Detroit feel about their city. All great planning comes down to the granular approach of how a building meets the street, how a street feels, how you feel walking in the city, and how it feels to be in public spaces and use public spaces that are inviting. Great cities are not about buildings. They are about people.”

The creation of the ULI Amanda Burden Open Space Award immediately followed the announcement in October 2009 of Ms. Burden being selected as the winner of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize. The Nichols Prize, awarded annually by ULI, recognizes a person whose career demonstrates a commitment to the highest standards of responsible development. The Nichols prize includes a $100,000 honorarium, which, at Ms. Burden’s suggestion, ULI devoted to an annual competition honoring transformative and exciting public open spaces.

The six entries making the final round, including Campus Martius Park, were selected from 88 entries representing urban areas throughout the United States. The large number of applicants for the first competition is an “encouraging sign that an increasing number of cities are discovering the transformative power of the public realm,” Ms. Burden said.

The Urban Land Institute (www.uli.org) is a global nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 33,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.


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