Detroit has joined 16 other cities designated by UNESCO as a City of Design as part of its Creative Cities Network. Detroit is the first U.S. city to be named a City of Design, and one of only five other cities in the U.S. to be inducted into the Creative Cities Network. Detroit’s application for inclusion in the UNESCO program was submitted by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3), the creative industries advocacy organization responsible for the Detroit Design Festival. Detroit has seen a renaissance in its downtown, as it draws on its own historical background as a city of design and manufacturing. According to DC3, “Metropolitan Detroit is home to the highest number of commercial and industrial designers in the country.” This results in the creative fields being the third largest employer in Detroit, only behind healthcare and general business, with over 12,300 individuals working in the creative fields. As part of the application DC3 produced a film with local director/filmmaker Stephen McGee to highlight the diverse breadth of the Detroit design scene. The short film includes scenes of the much talked about Detroit watch makers Shinola, the quickly revitalizing Detroit Riverfront, Detroit-based architecture firm LAAVU, and the much lauded College of Creative Studies, along with over 40 other architectural and design highlights from around the city. https://vimeo.com/140651533 Founded in 2004, the UNESCO Creative Cities Network’s goal is to “promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.” Along with design UNESCO recognizes cities for six other fields including Crafts & Folk Art, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Music and Media Arts. Detroit joins 116 other cities, including this year’s class of 47 cities from 33 countries, as part of the Creative Cities Network.
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The Detroit Design Festival is underway, featuring 30 design events and 500 designers through Sunday, September 28. Panel discussions, art installations and flash-mob style gatherings are all on the docket for the six-day festival, which is sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) launched the festival in 2011 “in an effort to develop the economic potential of the city’s design and creative talent,” according to a press release. Corporate sponsors like Toyota have teamed up with the local AIA chapter to celebrate designers both celebrated and unknown. Read more about the festival on its website, where you can also find a full schedule of events.
As Detroit nears the one year anniversary of the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, creative professionals in a busy downtown corridor are the target of a Washington, D.C.–funded “innovation district" that hopes startups will rev Detroit's stalled economic engine. Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley's book for the Brookings Institution, The Metropolitan Revolution argued that since Congress is frozen, cities must save themselves. In a follow up report, the authors argued for the creation of “innovation districts” to encourage startups and business incubators. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan last month announced the city’s first such district would comprise a stretch of Woodward Avenue from the riverfront to New Center. The area has previously been branded a “creative corridor,” and already enjoys a growing startup culture—most of it formed organically. So what will the new designation change? Perhaps nothing by itself. But as Crain's Detroit Business reported, clusters of young professionals are happy to have the spotlight:
"The thing we have realized is that we actually have districts within this creative corridor geography," said Matt Clayson, director of DC3, a partnership between the College of Creative Studies and Business Leaders for Michigan. "There is a certain density of creative practioners [sic] that we did not have four years ago. That's a good 1,100 creative workers. Four years ago, no." … When Patrick Thompson was looking to open his interior design studio — which is well known for designing the Detroit Institute of Arts' Kresge Court — he was interested in being in Midtown. He didn't realize there was a creative cluster forming, but he liked the activity on the street and wanted to be around other design businesses. So when a first floor retail spot in The Auburn building opened, he moved in last summer. "As a landmark alone, it's been great," he said. "Everyone is starting to know this area. It's a pretty high-profile area, so it's been beneficial for our business being there."The three clusters with the most activity at the moment, writes Amy Haimerl for Crain's, are around Grand Circus Park, near Cass and Canfield Streets, and near DC3 and TechTown Detroit in the city’s New Center neighborhood. Mayor Duggan convened a 17-person panel to chart more innovation clusters around the future and help guide growth in existing creative communities. As must be noted with any story of rebirth in Detroit, the city’s challenges are beyond the ability of any one intervention to overcome. But “innovation districts” are far from the only solution proposed for Detroit’s problems. Immigration reform, perhaps tied to a special city-specific Visa, has been touted as a potential shot in the arm for the struggling city. And transit improvements, especially along Woodward Avenue—which now has national attention—are a long time coming.
The Detroit Design Festival kicks off today, celebrating the city’s resilient design community with five days of events, installations, lectures and workshops. “It is a call to action for the community,” reads the festival’s webpage, “to improve quality of life in and around Detroit.” Among the sights this week is an inflatable structure named Spacebuster first designed for New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture. It will take up residence outside Mies’ Lafayette Park Friday. A full schedule of the events, which take place through Sunday, is available here. The kick-off party is tonight at 6:00 p.m. at 3011 W. Grand Blvd.