Search results for "ideas city detroit"

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Thought Bubbles

An ad hoc village at Ideas City Detroit
The Studio Laboratory portion of Ideas City Detroit was being held at the shuttered Herman Kiefer Complex over the past week. Closed in 2013, Ideas City fellows used the complex’s utility building as a base for working and living over the five day workshop. At night fellows retired to a series of ad hoc shelters designed in collaboration with the New York-based design office Family New York, based on the OpenStructures principles by Thomas Lommée. The Frence-based Atelier Luma commissioned the specific sleeping pods for Ideas City Detroit as an investigation into nomadic and ad hoc community living space. The small structures are comprised of a flat base, onto which pre-drilled members are attached. Scrap fabric materials including felt, reflective thermal blankets, paper, and light cloth were used to skin each pod. An initial set was constructed in a handful of configurations, and throughout the week more were built to test the flexibility of the system. Fellows commented that the village of pods was been pleasant, though a bit chilly at night in the under-heated building.
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Museum Life

IDEAS CITY Detroit Day 4: What’s the role of the museum in the postindustrial city?
What role can art museums play in revitalizing the postindustrial city? On Day 4 of IDEAS CITY Detroit, Elysia Borowy-Reeder, executive director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCaD), spoke with fellows on the role of the museum in catalyzing neighborhood revitalization. Founded by Marsha Miro in 2006, MOCaD sits in a turn-of-the-century former auto dealership off of Woodward in Midtown. Borowy-Reeder expounded on the challenges of running a contemporary art museum with no permanent collection in a "lightly rehabbed" space. "We don’t have proper HVAC, it is a very alternative, raw space. It’s not your typical museum by any stretch.” Pieces with stringent climate control requirements, consequently, cannot be exhibited in the space, but the museum deflects this deficit as an asset by bringing a broad range of Detroiters in to see art and by bringing art out to Detroit. One exterior wall is a mural space with rotating pieces; right now, New York–based artist Andrew Kuo's work graces the facade. The most distinctive outreach component, though, is the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead, an off-the-rack mobile home that MOCaD uses to take art to the people. Named for a late influential local artist, the first floor is an exact replica of Kelley’s home. When not traveling, the first floor is used as the museum's offices. There are four upcoming spring and summer exhibitions. Artist Carlos Rolón will replicate his grandma's house inside the mobile homestead for an exhibition opening this Sunday. His piece is an homage to his grandmother's life and her Southside Chicago neighborhood: Rolón imported vintage furniture and an extensive macrame collection straight from his grandmother’s living room. (Borowy-Reeder: It was pitched to me as "balls-to-the-walls macrame.”) There will be a pop-up nail salon operating out of the home to service interested clients. Borowy-Reeder mused on the questions that drive her, and MOCaD's work: “How do you activate and expand the vocabulary of art? That’s what I hope MOCaD does. We try to be as much as possible artist-driven, we try to advocate for them internally and externally. Compared to other large institutions, I think we’re very artist-driven."
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Motor City

AN reports from the creative hub of IDEAS CITY Detroit
When I asked my cab driver, a lifelong Detroiter, to take me to the Herman Kiefer Complex, he cast me look of concern and noted, in the most polite Midwestern way possible: “That place is abandoned. Are you sure you want to go there?” AN is reporting from IDEAS CITY Detroit, an intense six day event hosted by the New Museum that brings together 40 fellows, a cross-disciplinary group of architects, planners, educators, activists, writers, artists, policymakers, and urbanists from the Detroit, the U.S., and beyond to plant a stake in the garden of possibility that flourishes in the Motor City. Fellows live and work in a utility building in the complex, a former hospital, working in teams to generate ideas around four city sites. Throughout the week, speakers like Maurice Cox, Detroit’s planning director, Michael Stone-Richards, cultural theorist, supplement locals-led tours of the city that deliberately avoid "ruin porn" sites like Michigan Central Station. The event culminates in a public conference on April 30, where fellows share their thoughts on visioning the city. On Wednesday, AN sat in on a presentation by Write A House, a nonprofit founded in 2012 that renovates a handful of the city’s 40,000 vacant houses and deeds them to writers for a two-year Detroit residency. Founders Toby Barlow and Sarah Cox lamented the "journalists who fly in for 48 hours without an understanding of problems affecting the city,” Barlow explained. Write A House leverages the human capacity of Detroit by renovating homes in partnership with contractors who teach building skills to under- or un-employed residents. The residents get on-the-job training in carpentry, plumbing, and electrical work: “We see vacant homes as a tremendous positive, Barlow noted. “They are an opportunity to build people’s skills.” Write A House buy homes from the city in on-the-edge neighborhoods, districts that have problems with blight but could be nudged towards a resurgence. It costs around $70,000 to renovate each one- or two-bedroom home; the organization completed their third home last week, and is starting on their fourth soon. Interested writers can apply for a home by submitting their work to a blind panel of practitioners from all genres. Winners are given a deed to the home for two years and are responsible for insurance and taxes. Chicago–based writer Anne Elizabeth Moore is the third recipient of a “writer’s residence.” Writers keen on Detroit will have to wait for applications to open again this year. Stay tuned for more updates from IDEAS CITY this week, and follow AN on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (as archpaper) for live updates.
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City of Ideas

In Detroit, IdeasCity explores the role of culture in making cities more fair and successful

“We are not here to fix Detroit’s problems. We are here to learn from Detroit. This is a learning platform,” said Joseph Grima. Grima, the director of IdeasCity, a symposium hosted by the New York–based New Museum, sat in a circle flanked by mostly-young artists, activists, and designers in a utility building on the grounds of a shuttered city-owned hospital. For over two hours, the group reacted to the first days of the laboratory, an exhaustive schedule of talks, debates, and tours, to discuss its role in Detroit. A postindustrial hipster summer camp this is not: Participants used the six-day event as a space to discuss the role of culture in making cities more vibrant, equitable spaces.

The latest iteration of IdeasCity included a five-day collaborative laboratory starting on April 25, and concluded with a daylong public conference on April 30. 41 fellows, culled from a global open call, were asked to work in small groups to explore and ruminate on the future of Detroit. Each group was assigned a site to anchor its thinking, although ideas could, and did, bleed beyond cartographic boundaries and into conceptual deliverables. Locals led tours of the sites to help fellows, especially the two-thirds majority not from Detroit, understand the depth of the history that contributes to the city’s present morphology. A stream of regional expert presenters, such as Elysia Borowy-Reeder, executive director of MOCAD and Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, placed visitors face-to-face with Detroiters to talk about what they love about their hometown and what needs to change.

The culmination of IdeasCity was the conference held at the Jam Handy, an event space in the New Center neighborhood. Opening keynote presentations were delivered by Detroit director of planning and development Maurice Cox, while Chicago-based artists Theaster Gates and Amanda Williams set the tone for the day.

Panel discussions focused on the power and importance of cultural production as a means of urban prosperity. Local experts such as filmmaker-writer dream hampton and community organizer Jenny Lee emphasized the need to change the narrative around what is, and what should be, happening in Detroit. This theme would permeate much of the day, as panelists, presenters, and fellows alike enlightened the crowd on topics often overlooked in the discussion of Detroit.

Fellows brought both knowledge from their home cities and newfound information to their presentations. Multiple groups advocated for the reexamination of current development plans. The first group situated the planned Gordie Howe Bridge to Canada, in terms of air, water, and soil, as it affected Fort Wayne, a Civil War–era site and recreation area in the Delray neighborhood. Fort Wayne is a First Nations burial site, heavily polluted by surrounding industry, but enjoyed for the water access it affords locals. “Having family in the area, I want to make sure that they are not forgotten,” noted fellow Stacy’e Jones, DJ and member of Liquid Flow Media Arts Center.

Another group took a look at the solar panel farm in O‘Shea, arguing that the recently constructed power station, built on former parkland, should have been envisioned as an integrated part of the neighborhood in a dense housing and agricultural mix. "We wanted to make sure we were reaching out to the community. There was a lot of tension in the room. The community was brought in at the very end of this process," explained Taylor Renee Aldridge, Detroiter and co-editor of ARTS.BLACK.

One design-oriented proposal looked at memorializing the spaces of conflict on the site of what is now Mies van der Rohe’s cooperative community, Lafayette Park. Formerly known as Black Bottom, a neighborhood for newly arrived black residents, the area was bulldozed and reset, tabula rasa, for Mies’s modernist project in 1946. “We wanted to recognize Black Bottom, because at this time there is no physical form of memorialization there,” fellow and Detroit writer Marsha Music explained. Against a backdrop of historical images of a thriving, and then destroyed Black Bottom, the group proposed non-affirmative monuments that encourage dialogue around the themes of immaterial culture, the social culture of street life, and the city’s churches. Group member Tommy Haddock observed that housing is what ties people to place, and that themes of belonging and removal can be reflected through the motif of house and home. An architect, Haddock realized some of the group’s ideas in a series of renderings that reference the visual language of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown.

Other groups addressed less physical ideas. One simply, yet boldly, proclaimed that their project was to return to their respective homes around the world to act as Detroit ambassadors, spreading their newly enlightened views of the city. “Architecture,” explained Paris designer Pinar Demirdag, “isn’t about telling what to build, sometimes it’s about telling what not to build.”

Ryan Myers-Johnson, a dancer and founder of Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts, noted that “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission when working with the City of Detroit.” Her group addressed the interaction of the city government, law enforcement, and non-traditional community-led organizations to propose a special project permit which would streamline the bureaucratic red tape surrounding the approval process for public events.

But what does this all mean for Detroit? There was obvious mutual respect and appreciation between residents and visitors and an atmosphere of profound but critical optimism at the conference and in the days leading up to it. The ambassador group had the most actionable presentation, as they will take their new perspectives back home, hopefully working from within their positions of influence to broaden others’ perceptions of Detroit and similar post-industrial cities.

“Idea” has roots in Greek, idein, meaning “to see.” So perhaps, as Grima stressed, the true point of the event was to see more clearly into the patterns and processes that shape the city. It’s worth noting that IdeasCity chooses “dysfunctional” cities for their forums. This would seem like a trap for offering prescriptive advice, yet  the organizers work diligently to make sure that prescriptions are on the menu, but not the de facto option. Although some groups chose a “problem” and proposed a “solution,” They were presented with enough insider information to dispense careful, thoughtful advice.

September will find Ideas City exploring Athens, where the event’s ethos will once again be put to the test.

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The Future is Green

Major investment coming to Detroit and Buffalo’s waterfront park projects
As Detroit and Buffalo get set to take on two transformative park projects along their respective waterfronts, both cities have been generously backed by a philanthropic organization aiming to enhance green space and bolster community engagement. Today, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced its pledge to invest over $1.2 billion in the cities by 2035 in honor of its founder, the Buffalo Bills’ late owner, and his centennial birthday. The Foundation is making a sizable donation to Western New York and Southeast Michigan—the two areas Wilson loved most—by committing a combined $200 million for upgraded parks and 250 miles of trails in the regions. A large chunk of that change will go directly to revitalizing LaSalle Park in Buffalo and West Riverfront Park in Detroit. With a design already envisioned by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) and David Adjaye, the latter parkland will give Michiganites long-desired, tangible access to the Detroit River. Though the 77-acre LaSalle Park has stretched across Lake Erie’s edge since the 1930s, it’s massive potential for further beautification and elevated programming could increase the quality of life for Buffalo residents and beyond. Dave Enger, president of the Foundation, stressed that community involvement is the key to taking on these monumental landscape goals. “Foundations don’t build parks, communities do,” he said. “Our vision is really to support these wonderful projects and the people that have the vision.” The design process is well underway for West Riverfront Park in downtown Detroit. Situated atop a former industrial piece of land, the 22-acre parkland will be a year-round destination for fishing, skating or swimming, sports, entertainment, and family gatherings. MVVA’s proposal was chosen over 80 other submissions in an international design competition to reimagine the park, which was transferred from private ownership to the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy in 2014. Since their master plan was selected earlier this spring, MVVA has worked alongside the Conservancy and the Detroit Mayor’s office to garner feedback from locals and find out their personal ambitions for the park. The firm’s principal, Michael Van Valkenburgh, said his team especially loved talking to people aged 60 and older about their childhoods in Detroit—the places they loved and why. For many, the secluded Belle Isle was the only locale they could go to enjoy green space and the river at the same time. But that’s about to change thanks to these new ideas for downtown. “Not every place in Detroit has what New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park offers—a way to touch the water and put your toes in,” said Van Valkenburgh. “Because Detroit is so vast horizontally, we knew needed to add shock and awe to the design to get Detroiters who were far away to come to the water. Michiganders feel defined by and proud that the state is surrounded on three sides by the Great Lakes. We thought giving access to the water, through this cove and beach creation, would be a big draw.” A construction start date hasn’t yet been announced for West Riverfront Park, but officials estimate it will be complete by 2022. Van Valkenburgh is sure the master plan will go through many design iterations before ground is broken and he’s excited about more community input. “I’ve been going to public meetings since 1990,” he said. “These have been the most uplifting public meetings I’ve ever been a part of. People come with a real sense that this park is going to be a big lift for the city. They really want it.” At the other end of Lake Erie is LaSalle Park in Buffalo. Though it’s a long-loved and well-utilized community treasure, city stakeholders agree that it could use significant improvements. In 1998, the city conducted a planning review to overhaul the expansive parkland and identify priorities for a new design and upgraded programming. That vision was never realized until the Regional Institute at the University of Buffalo began researching its history and surveying people through a project called Imagine LaSalle. A focus group even spent this summer exploring the park and visiting other famous green spaces in Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York for inspiration. “The feedback has been tremendous so far,” said Brendan Mehaffey, executive director for the city’s Office of Strategic Planning. “Part of the mayoral administration’s core values is inclusion so we’ve talked to people from all backgrounds including low-income individuals, young professionals, business owners, and more.” Community engagement is at the heart of both efforts in Buffalo and Detroit. Much like Imagine LaSalle, MVVA also transported a busload of teenagers to visit their Maggie Daley Park in Chicago, and other groups went to New York and Philadelphia. Mehaffey sees the connection between the two waterfront park projects, and the two cities in general, as vital to their respective successes. “The Detroit team is much further into the design process than we are, so we’re delving into their research to try and discover best practices for building our own LaSalle Park,” he said. “I think that commonality between us is part of what the Wilson Foundation’s statement is going to make to the country.” Enger also believes the two cities are inextricably important to one another—that’s why his organization has zeroed in on their combined futures. He emphasized that spurring economic development through green space is a key way to democratize the municipalities on a greater level. “Where else in the United States are you going to find world-class parks in post-industrial cities that overlook international border crossings and feature some of the most magnificent sunrises and sunsets?" he said. "We think the total leverage of this project will be far greater than what our investment will bring.”
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New Ideas

V. Mitch McEwen is the next curator of IdeasCity
Princeton Professor V. Mitch McEwen has been named the new curator of IdeasCity, a collaborative and creative platform run by the New Museum in New York City that “addresses challenges and opportunities arising in urban reconstruction,” according to the initiative’s website. McEwen will be working on the IdeasCity biennial, leading a platform for designers, artists, technologists, and policymakers to collaborate on ideas and solutions in exploring the future of cities. According to a statement from the New Museum, McEwen “will steer the framework for the 2018-19 cities and launch an open call for cities around the world to apply for the 2020-21 cycle." McEwen is the principal and cofounder of A(n) Office, a Detroit- and New York-based studio that explores topics of architecture and exhibition with partner Marcelo López-Dinard. McEwen received grants from the Graham Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts and has exhibited work as part of the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and the Istanbul Design Biennial. In addition to holding an assistant professorship at Princeton University School of Architecture, McEwen has taught at the University of Michigan, and Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. McEwen stated, “The New Museum, an institution founded by curators, has consistently advocated for artists as idea leaders. IdeasCity brings that ethos to the streets and a broader public to accelerate the kind of creative knowledge-sharing that opens new possibilities in our everyday lives. There’s a responsibility right now—at this seemingly precarious moment—to not be shy or afraid, but to be bolder than ever and make the most of the connections we have with each other.” McEwen tells AN that she is thrilled to collaborate with the New Museum team to curate the upcoming cycle of IdeasCity, which connects directly to the work she does as a designer and professor of architecture who “engages with the intersection of technology, ecology, urban culture, and spatial politics.” According to Princeton SoA’s website, “McEwen Studio projects in Detroit have produced a series of operations on houses previously owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority. These include a combined residence and flower incubator for an engineer at 3M, a strategy for 100 houses selected by the City of Detroit to densify the neighborhood of Fitzgerald, and an award-winning repurposing of a balloon-frame house titled House Opera.” McEwen begins the new position this month.
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Transit City

Metro Detroit still struggling to agree on regional transit plan
Despite the weekly announcement of new developments in Detroit, from stadiums to skyscrapers, the city still faces a number of systemic issues that continue to plague its large population of economically disadvantaged residents. One of these issues, the topic of much-heated debate in recent years, is transit. The 2016 election represented a chance for the entire southeast Michigan region to reinvigorate its mass transit system, but a “no” vote sent planners and citizens back to the drawing board in hopes of a second try in 2018. The Regional Transit Master Plan, put forward by the Regional Transit Authority of Southeast Michigan (RTA), was meant to unify mass transit in the four counties surrounding Detroit with $4.7 billion in new investments, raised from a new tax and available state and federal funds. The RTA was founded in 2012 to successfully achieve this, after nearly half a century of other failed authorities. Going back as far as the 1950s, transit has been strictly divided between the mostly white suburbs and the mostly African American Detroit. And while there are many indications that this was a racial issue when the policy was made, today it has become an economic issue that many believe can no longer be ignored. Detroit’s transportation needs are enigmatic in many ways. The city is in the top ten for least car owners per capita, while it does not even chart in per-capita spending on mass transit. While three in five Detroiters work outside of the city, often in low-paying jobs, three in four jobs in the city are filled by workers from the suburbs. This means that Detroit has one of the longest average commuting distances in the country, a bit over ten miles. Many areas of the city don’t have nearly enough jobs, some as low as 100 positions per 1,000 residents. All of this together means that the economies of the suburbs and the city are inextricably linked; reliable mass transit would be an undeniable asset. The Regional Transit Master Plan was designed specifically to address these disparities and provide more comprehensive service to the entire region. Regional bus rapid transit (BRT) routes would run from the suburbs to the city center, new routes would be developed in currently underserved areas, and a regional light rail would stretch from Detroit to Ann Arbor. One of the major aspects of the plan, which was also one of the most debated, was that it would no longer allow individual suburbs to opt out of the transit system. Currently 50 suburbs have no mass transit system, as they have opt- ed out of the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART). This is cited as being one of the main reasons for service gaps in outlying areas. Another is- sue facing opposition was the funding model, which included a new tax that would cost most taxpayers approximately $95 per year over the next 20 years. When the plan came up for vote in the November 2016 election, it was rejected by roughly 20,000 votes, losing 49.5 percent to 50.5 percent. The measure was approved in two of the counties, and came close in a third. Alone, the fourth, Macomb County, was able to sway the outcome. One year on, the RTA is still trying to figure out a path forward with the possibility of another proposal in 2018. Not waiting for that possibility, the suburban transit system, SMART, is launching its own extended BRT system to provide greater links to the city. Detroit has made recent transit headway also. The QLine, a new streetcar that was in the works before the regional plan and which relies partially on private funding, opened in 2017. Currently, discussions have started within the RTA concerning a new proposal. Early ideas have included reducing the area the authority is responsible for. The RTA has noted that roughly 28 percent of the “no” votes in the election came from more rural areas that would be less directly affected by a regional transit system. As the RTA was specifically established to build a regional transit system, enacting a plan is more than just a goal; it is do-or-die for the organization. If no plan is pushed forward, many fear the RTA will go the way of the numerous other regional planning authorities before it. While Detroit’s transit situation may be singular in its dire position, it is not the only metropolitan area that has seen a renewed interest in comprehensive mass transit. This was highlighted in the rush of dozens of cities to bid for Amazon HQ2. In Amazon’s request for proposals, it specifically stated that it was looking for a city with efficient, reliable mass transit. While this did not stop cities like Detroit from apply- ing, many will likely point to it as a reason Detroit will not get the call from Amazon. Even cities like Chicago, with well-established, well-funded mass transit, are looking to the near future for improvements. The 2018–2023 Regional Transit Strategic Plan, put forward by the Regional Transit Authority of the Chicago area, just finished an initial round of public input, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning is working on the On to 2050 plan, which includes extensive regional transit guidance. Chicago also happens to be a contender for the Amazon HQ2 project, and transit has been one of its major selling points. The path ahead of the Detroit metropolitan area’s transit future is currently very unclear. Even when suburban and urban agencies were able to come together behind a comprehensive plan, their constituencies thwarted them. While the city itself has enjoyed a recent spotlight surrounding new development, particularly in its downtown, any Detroiter will tell you that the city has a long way to go to match its prosperous past. Many hope that effective transit will also help bring economic opportunity to the many who have never had it.
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A Great Recoding

Ambitious “Well-Tempered City” explains what makes cities work, from ancient Mesopotamia to Lagos and New York City

As a certain New York real estate figure thrusts a set of unpalatable values down the national throat, another local developer’s ideas are entering public discourse for better reasons. Jonathan Rose is, in important senses, the Antidrumpf: a developer who views the building of communities as an ethically consequential profession. He applies knowledge from nature and intercultural history to benefit entire populations. He advocates resilient development in sane, mature, well-evidenced, and convincing terms.

One finishes The Well-Tempered City with respect for a substantial contribution to the urbanist literature—and with the impression that in an administration dedicated to planetary and institutional stewardship, not plunder and bluster, Rose would merit a cabinet-level appointment. (Interior? HUD? Energy? A polymath like Rose could lead any of these departments.) The Well-Tempered City stands alongside works by Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and Christopher Alexander, deserving influence and implementation.

The enduring fivefold path

With ambitious scope and explanatory clarity, Rose offers a unified theory of urban history grounded in five core concepts: coherence, circularity, resilience, community, and compassion. He also identifies nine variables critical to the rise of ancient cities: cognition, cooperation, culture, calories (energy), connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.

The alliterations may imply a professorial top-down scheme, but Rose infers the nine C-concepts from historical studies before elucidating how stagnation or resilience depends on “urban operating systems” promoting the five principles. Cities that manage resource flows efficiently, generate socially beneficial incentives, and respond to shocks have thrived (e.g., today’s Copenhagen or Singapore, the altitude-adaptive village of Shey, Tibet, or the flexibly organized cities of Islam’s golden age). Wasteful, dis- or over-organized, militaristic, and parasitic cities (e.g., imperial Rome) have ossified and decayed.

Rose distinguishes complication from complexity: the former merely reflects scale, while the latter describes volatile conditions where small inputs trigger large outputs. The acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), he contends, describes urban as well as biological systems. Design suited to a VUCA environment will avoid the oversimplifications of 19th- and 20th-century planning by incorporating feedback phenomena and by continually adjusting incentives, technologies, balances among market and public-sector mechanisms, and other determinants of civic well-being. Ecosystems’ cyclical resource metabolisms are particularly important, avoiding linear extract-and-discard economies.

Déjà vu will kick in for readers of Jacobs, whose Death and Life chapter “The Kind of Problem a City Is” drew on Warren Weaver’s observations about “problems in organized complexity.” To this foundation Rose adds a broad familiarity with global cultural practices, evolutionary biology, archaeology, cognitive science, and network theory: He has the intellectual discipline to be usefully interdisciplinary.

Discussing how the efficiency metric of energy return on investment (the ratio of usable energy generated to energy spent creating it) correlates with civilizations’ rise and fall, he notes how China’s recent agricultural practices resemble those that doomed Rome for a thousand years; how New York, Detroit, Lagos, and Baltimore have benefited from better data collection; and how a Big Mac takes seven times as much energy to produce as it provides to its consumer. One strong chapter, “The Cognitive Ecology of Opportunity,” links the neurohormonal threat response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to environments that traumatize children, exacerbated by exposure to neurotoxins such as lead, producing vicious cycles of maladaptation and social isolation. Tragic cases like Freddie Gray’s death in a struggle with Baltimore police illuminate interwoven civic and individual pathologies.

Taking the polis in for a tune-up

Rose’s master metaphor is the tuning system popularized by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, an advance beyond Pythagorean “just intonation” (grounded in astronomic-mathematical ratios and generating beautiful scales within each key, but unable to change keys without discord). Music from the baroque through bebop is inconceivable without it. Bach didn’t invent equal tempering; Rose scrupulously credits the discovery to Ming prince Zhu Zaiyu’s Fusion of Music and Calendar (1580), brought to Europe by a traveling monk and incorporated into German music theory by Andreas Werckmeister (1687), then into practice, gloriously, by Bach.

Conceiving harmony broadly, Rose looks to Mesopotamia for another key (if unfortunately named) concept. The societal codes that the Ubaid civilization (5500-4000 BCE) considered divinely ordained, known in Sumerian as meh, are the archetype for subsequent codes found across world history. Rose finds similar operating-system principles in Chinese nine-square geometric urban forms, Lübeck Law regulating trade in the Hanseatic League, and contemporary Smart Growth codes. Conversely, when civilizations embrace a poorly designed code—as when the Federal Housing Administration incorporated racist residential legislation into redlining, or when Chicago School economics ignores environmental externalities or network-scale Nash equilibria, in which choices maximizing individual benefits produce worse outcomes than coordinated choices do—disharmonies are inevitable: congestion, impoverishment, waste, and disease.

Socioeconomic reharmonization requires a comprehension of how codes handle inputs and outputs. Humanity’s mandate is thus to approximate nature’s advanced harmonies. Rose’s spiritually oriented conclusion points out how the Hebrew concept tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) has cognates across cultures. Humanity, he finds, has “evolved with an innate metacode” in which “altruism flows through every bit of a city’s interdependent social and cognitive ecologies, and is embedded in the morality of its systems.”

The audience that needs Rose’s analysis most drastically may be the least prepared for it. “Meh” in current parlance also names the shoulder-shrugging indifference of the incurious to anything beyond their truncated attention spans. Recent electoral results inspire little confidence that American society can decode principles observable in Uruk, Göbekli Tepe, and Chengzhou, and act on them purposefully. In his November 9 AIANY book talk, Rose emphasized how increasing immiseration in poorly built cities requires more comprehension of history and the sciences than partisan politics could muster: “I don’t believe either side of the election had the intellectual capital to deal with this.”

If Rose’s tempering theory omits anything vital, it may be a recognition of evil: Another synonym for the civic distempers flowing from greed and fear. Yet in accentuating the positive, the connectedness that has outlived such distempers, he reinforces our sense of harmony even in out-of-tune times.

The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life Jonathan F. P. Rose Harper Wave, 2016, $29.99

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Walking on Water

New plans revealed for Detroit’s East Riverfront
The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (DRFC), the City of Detorit Planning & Development Department, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation (DEGC) announced the latest plans to expand Detroit’s riverfront land for public use. SOM has been working on the strategic framework plan for the East Riverfront since the Spring of 2016. Six local firms, including McIntosh Poris, Giffels Webster, Kraemer Design Group, AKT Peerless, Rich & Associates, and E. Austell Associates, also provided significant consulting throughout the planning stages. “We’ve had tremendous input from the community throughout the planning process,” said Mark Wallace, president & CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy. “The East Riverfront is a special place for all Detroiters, particularly families and the elderly. This plan builds on the lessons we have learned since opening up the RiverWalk in 2007.” The plan calls for the transformation of the former industrial area into a public waterfront. One of the most significant aspects of the scheme is a large swath of the riverfront that will be designated as parkland, indefinitely free from development. This area includes three sites that were previously slated for private development. New greenways will also connect several east side neighborhoods to the RiverWalk. Surrounding streets will also receive improvements in the plan, including more bike and pedestrian-friendly amenities to better connect the neighborhoods immediately to the north. Much of the work is expected to begin in the next few months. The first steps will include streetscape and promenade improvements. Along with the announced plan, the DEGC released an RFP asking for ideas for the adaptive reuse of the Stone Soup Building. The city is hoping to redevelop the historic riverfront structure into a dense mixed-use project. “The riverfront belongs to all Detroiters,” said Maurice D. Cox, director of the City of Detroit Planning & Development Department. “Thanks to the involvement of hundreds of residents, we have principles that frame an international riverfront that can be accessed and enjoyed by all.”
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Designing Detroit

Detroit Creative Corridor Center receives $1 million grant
The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) is developing an economic development and civic engagement strategy with the help of a $1 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The DC3 stewards the City of Detroit’s UNESCO City of Design designation, which will play an important role in the center’s multi-year initiative. Using practices outlined by the UNESCO network, DC3 will work with the local community and creative industries to strengthen Detroit’s economy. The center believes that design is more than a simple luxury and that it plays a vital role in the socio-economic well-being in the city. DC3 engages designers from disciplines ranging from graphic design through architectures. “The Detroit City of Design campaign will include activities to raise public awareness about the value of design and creative industries, promote an international exchange of designers and ideas, and increase opportunities for Detroit’s creative community,” said Olga Stella, executive director of DC3 in a press release. “By breaking down silos between communities, business sectors, and creative disciplines, we will build a broad and diverse coalition to champion the role of design and creativity in driving equitable and sustainable development in Detroit.” DC3 will work extensively on a 10-year vision for the Detroit City of Design. The year-long planning process is supported by a $150,000 award from the Kresge Foundation. Another $100,000 award was presented by the William Davidson Foundation specifically to support the engagement of residents, creative practitioners, businesses, and local organizations. Along with the funding from the Knight Foundation, DC3 hopes to put Detroit’s design community in a unique position within the city and the country. “This initiative is a huge opportunity for Detroit to distinguish itself from other design cities by focusing on removing barriers to opportunity in Detroit’s creative industries and creating a benefit for the entire community,” said Katy Locker, Knight Foundation program director for Detroit. “We hope to advance a broad understanding of city design as a pathway for success, and demonstrate its impact on growing jobs and businesses, as well as creating the kinds of neighborhoods where people want to live.” Along with setting the groundwork a more robust design community, Detroit will be showcased internationally later this spring. DC3 and its partners, Creative Many Michigan and Akoaki, will all be a part of the upcoming Saint-Étienne International Design Biennial in Saint-Etienne, France, where they will present work internationally for the first time since the Detroit was named a UNESCO City of Design. The Biennial’s theme, the future of work, will guide DC3’s exhibition entitled Footwork: The Choreography of Collaboration. Curated by the Public Design Trust, the exhibition will examine the role of networked economies in Detroit.
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Winging It

A new book explores the formative ideas that shaped major American art museums

Kathleen Curran uses the erudite German term Kulturgeschichte for the kind of art museum display known more commonly as composite or contextual installation. Her research has unearthed the minutiae of U.S. museum history, adding to the extensive, existing publications about its European precedents.

The author starts with the well-known roots of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (called the South Kensington Museum when it moved to its first permanent building in 1857) in industry and the mechanical arts. Installation of the collections was based on materials and technique, and Curran fails to tell the reader that the change to a cultural, rather than a craft, display began to take place in the mid-1930s. 

In contrast with the V&A, museums in Munich, Berlin, and Zurich had adopted chronological arrangements of objects in period settings—also favored by directors and board members in the United States. Likewise, the Americans looked to national museums like the Musée de Cluny in Paris. Their interest in emphasizing the era of each gallery was guided by the Cluny’s unusual chronological arrangements, exhibits of sculpture and architectural elements in the period style of the rooms where they were exhibited, and illumination that heightened the historical emphasis.

Considering that early museum installations were not photographed, the author has done a good job in supplementing existing black and white illustrations with plans of the buildings under discussion. Within the text, figure numbers printed in red are helpful.

Upon its completion in 1902, the Boston Museum of Fine Art took the lead in what Curran describes as setting “the standards for the first great era of public art museum construction in the U.S.” Among other fine points, it is fascinating to learn that in contrast to the whirlwind visits of comparable trips undertaken by search committees today, the museum’s president, building committee chairman, and the architects they had chosen (Sturgis Wheelwright) spent three months in Europe, visiting every major museum and gallery there. Their investigation decided the group on the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt (Alfred Messel, 1906), a Kulturgeschichte museum, as a model.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City followed suit. In describing its beginnings, Curran brings to light the outstanding men responsible for it. Wilhelm R. Valentiner, a young and talented Dutch Rembrandt scholar almost single-handedly created the Met’s new decorative arts department, where he began to work in 1907 at the request of John Pierpont Morgan. Valentiner, was in turn influenced by the formidable Wilhelm von Bode, director of the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum in Berlin, whom he assisted for two years. Then and now—after a sensitive renovation completed in 2006—the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum is a touchstone of high-quality composite arrangements of decorative arts, painting, and predominantly, sculpture.

When it opened in 1910, the Met’s Wing of Decorative Arts designed by McKim, Mead and White was the first part of the museum building planned with direct reference to the objects it would contain. Based on the open court plan of the Musée des Art Decoratifs in Paris, the New York museum followed the ideals of Kulturgeschichte that were expressed throughout the Boston MFA.

Morgan’s relationship with Francis Goodwin (president of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, 1890–1919), another luminary in this constellation of brilliant museum enthusiasts, produced strong architectural similarities between the two buildings. I, for one, had never noticed that the Morgan Hall in Hartford (by Benjamin Wistar Morris) is almost an exact replica, although slightly smaller, of the Met’s Decorative Art Wing. 

A chapter devoted to midwestern art museums also contains riveting nuggets of information. One, for example, explains the origin of “period rooms” in Minneapolis (inaugurated in 1915), where Valentiner’s associate curator, Joseph Breck, was the first director. Breck was able to include paintings in his composite displays, something Valentiner had not been allowed to do at the Met. For the Minneapolis director “period rooms” contained objects selected to represent a specific period of art; they were not rooms transferred intact from historical houses.

According to Curran, Cleveland’s museum (1916), which turned out to be a condensed version of the Boston MFA, set the standard for a series of midwestern museums. The garden court in Cleveland, with walls designed to reflect the artistic periods of adjoining galleries, was particularly influential. An interesting issue raised in this chapter is the contentious relationship that developed at times between the museum architect and its staff, with critics divided as to which should take the lead.

Curran considers the galleries devoted to American art the greatest evidence of Kulturgeschichte’s impact. Beginning with the display of this country’s art at the Hudson-Fulton Celebration Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in 1909, she describes how Kulturgeschichte installations combined with elements of European national museums influenced the American Wing. Opened in 1924, the Met wing was among many near contemporary ones that “embraced historical rooms and composite displays as the preferred method for presenting life and art in colonial America.”

Fiske Kimball, the prodigious scholar of American history, enters the narrative here in his seminal role in the creation of the Metropolitan Museum’s American Wing. He exerted an equally decisive influence on the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he became director in 1925, and mapped out an alternation of period rooms and composite display galleries in a triumph of Kulturgeschichte.

Curran’s work on the invention of the American art museum calls to mind Mary Anne Staniszewski’s illuminating history of installations at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art. Curran’s concern is historical fine and decorative art; Staniszewki’s is modern art. For all those interested in museums and their origins, these behind-the-scenes accounts are deeply engaging, not least in their revelation of how what goes around, eventually comes around.

The Invention of the American Art Museum From Craft to Kulturgeschichte, 1870–1930 Kathleen Curran, Getty Trust Research Institute, $49.95

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Concrete Response

Detroit Resists fires back at Venice Biennale’s U.S. pavilion curators over community engagement
Detroit Resists is a community organization that submitted this essay, "Let’s get serious: “Community” and “Activism” in the Architectural Imagination," regarding the recent controversy surrounding the U.S. Pavilion at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale. We've published it here with links to The Architect's Newspaper's review and the curators' response. In their response to William Menking’s review of The Architectural Imagination, the curators of the exhibition, Cynthia Davidson and Mónica Ponce de León, call out Menking for “his egregious word substitution in one phrase.” Menking wrote that “[the curators] assert that the projects are entirely speculative and ‘offer no serious solutions for a city beset by real problems’.” The curators point out that they used the word “concrete” instead of “serious” in their original statement; while the projects in The Architectural Imagination were not “concrete solutions,” the curators argue, these projects were nonetheless “serious.” Regardless of how one parses the meaning of “serious” in relation to The Architectural Imagination, the curators invite us to read their “Response” as closely as they attempt to read Menking’s review. When we engaged in that reading of the curators’ “Response,” we also find some wordplay worthy of note. When The Architectural Imagination was launched in the summer of 2015, the project’s website announced a “Detroit Advisory Board.” In the “Response,” however, we read about “an advisory board of community activists.”  Who—or what—are these “community activists”? The Architectural Imagination’s Detroit Advisory Board was comprised of a Senior Advisor to the U.S. Department of State, an Associate Dean of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the Planning Director of the City of Detroit, the Executive Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, the CEO of Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, a Real Estate Manager of Midtown Detroit, Inc., and on and on… We submit that there is no conventional definition of “community activist” that would apply to any member of this advisory board and we are fairly certain that few—if any—members of this board would present themselves to any Detroit community as a “community activist.” Moreover, many Detroit communities know organizations represented on the Detroit Advisory Board as explicitly anti-activist. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy has been a driving force in the securitization of public space in downtown Detroit; despite the efforts of the National Lawyers Guild and American Civil Liberties Union to defend the right of free speech on the publicly-owned RiverWalk, the Conservancy has consistently and actively prevented activists and demonstrators from assembling there. Midtown Detroit, Inc. has choreographed the transformation of the Cass Corridor, once a center of alternative communities and activist organizations in the city, into the gentrified “Midtown.” Detroit Future City has scripted the displacement of some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities and most vibrant activist organizations for “innovation landscapes.” What prompted an advisory board with a decided leaning towards market-oriented neoliberal urbanism to be recast as “an advisory board of community activists” is a not uninteresting question, but we—just like the curators in their “Response”—are more interested in the effects of this rhetoric than the reasons for engaging in it. In reframing the members of their advisory board as “community activists,” the curators rhetorically annihilate authentic community activism in Detroit—activism that has been resisting emergency management, austerity politics, disenfranchisement, and ethnic cleansing well before and all during the course of their project—and they delete this activism from the architectural imagination that they so seriously want to advance. This annihilation allows the curators to co-opt the term “community activism” to describe philanthrocapitalism, public-private partnerships, corporate nonprofits, and the culture industry. In so doing, the curators invite us to occupy a world in which “community activism” is an appropriate name for the activities of the state, foundations, real estate development enterprises, and, presumably, the architects who serve them. This co-option of “community” and “activism” becomes vivid in a dramatic instance of word substitution in the curators’ “Response.” Consider, in one short section of that response, the way in which the words “community,” “business,” and “neighborhood” so easily replace one another:

From the beginning of this project we laid out a process that enabled the architects to meet with a number of diverse community groups. These organizations included members of business improvement districts that Menking erroneously claims were excluded from the process: the Southwest Detroit Business Association, the Eastern Market Corporation, Detroit Future City, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and others too numerous to list here. From these community meetings, the architects developed programs that recognized neighborhood aspirations and then they began to work on architectural designs. (Emphases added.)

Through nothing else than the magic of word substitution, we see meetings with philanthrocapitalist development groups becoming “community meetings” and “community meetings” offering revelations of “neighborhood aspirations.” Once again, the curators perform an annihilation by co-option: otherwise unrepresented “neighborhood aspirations” are here conjured up through some of the very entities that these neighborhoods are currently opposing. What is at stake in these word substitutions? We think that the stakes are high enough to qualify these substitutions as at least as “egregious” as Menking’s replacement of “concrete” with “serious.” Through rhetoric, magical thinking, and an arrogation of the right to profess upon communities to which they have no accountability, the curators place themselves and their project in the position of giving voice to a supposedly voiceless citizenry, a citizenry otherwise unable to contend with the socio-political situation in which they find themselves. Consider, then, these lofty words from the curators’ “Response”:

By putting architectural ideas and forms on the table for Detroit, The Architectural Imagination gives the city’s residents access to a high level of architectural design and language. This access empowers citizens to engage in discussions about the city’s future direction before that direction is decided by existing power structures.

In staging an exhibition of speculative architectural projects as a gift of “a high level of architectural design and language” to Detroit’s residents, we hear the echo of civilizing missions whose colonial authority is cast as educative and morally uplifting; in the claim that the exhibition of these projects “empowers citizens,” we see the imagination of an abject citizenry with no capacity to empower themselves; in the notion that “the city’s future direction” has not yet been decided by “existing power structures,” we see a disengagement from a city whose ongoing reality is, to a great degree, the attempted imposition of precisely that direction by precisely those structures; and in the claim that the speculative architectural projects in The Architectural Imagination “address inequality, sustainability, insecurity, segregation, and much, much more,” we hear an attempt to co-opt the work of organizations that are actually working with and for the communities dealing with those issues. In a final exercise of word substitution, let us substitute the imaginary “community activists” invoked by the curators of The Architectural Imagination with actual community activists currently resisting mass water shutoffs, mass foreclosures, mass evictions, racial injustice, police violence, food insecurity, education privatization, and other threats facing Detroit’s residents: We the People of Detroit, Detroit’s People Platform, Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, Black Lives Matter Detroit, Detroit Eviction Defense, Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, People’s Water Board, and many other groups—none of which the curators of The Architectural Imagination apparently saw fit to engage. When seen in the context of the work of these groups, we cannot understand the engagements with “inequality, sustainability, insecurity, segregation,” and the other issues the curators claim for The Architectural Imagination as at all serious. Moreover, we also believe that “architecture”—whatever that contested word is taken to mean—can find much more inspiration, agency, and relevance by learning from and working with communities and activists engaged in issues around inequality, sustainability, insecurity, and segregation than by claiming those engagements by little else than fiat. In the introduction to The Architectural Imagination published in the project’s catalogue, Cynthia Davidson approvingly quotes the following words of the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai: “The imagination today is a staging ground for action, and not only for escape.” If Davidson had turned the page in the book in which Appadurai wrote these words, she would have read Appadurai’s subsequent qualification of his claim: “It is important to stress here that I am speaking of the imagination now as a property of collectives, and not merely as a faculty of the gifted individual (its tacit sense since the flowering of European Romanticism).” With its celebration of the work of “visionary American architectural practices” and its tacit disregard for actually-existing communities, The Architectural Imagination advances just the model of imagination that Appadurai is writing against. We think, then, that The Architectural Imagination fails to meet its own standard for imagination. Seriously.