Outgoing U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced recently that Detroit's M-1 Rail project, aka the Woodward Light Rail Line, will receive $25 million in federal TIGER funding. The plans for this 3-mile long light rail system along Woodward Avenue will include 11 stops running from the city’s downtown to New Center. According to the Detroit Free Press, $100 million has already been raised of the light rail line's $140 million price tag. Officials said the first trains could be running by the end of 2015. Proposed M1 Rail Map:
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Detroit Mayor Dave Bing announced Friday that the city will close 51 parks. The Detroit Free Press’ Matt Helms has the full list of parks here, including an additional 37 parks that will receive limited maintenance. The closures are the result of massive cuts to the city’s parks and recreation budget due to the City Council’s rejection this week of a plan to lease Belle Isle to the state. Details of the council’s decision were evidently worked out late Thursday night, so the devastating cuts came as a surprise to many residents. The move recalls closures announced, but avoided, in 2010.
AIA Michigan is looking for a new executive director. The 126-year-old, Detroit-based organization needs someone to act as its “ambassador to the broader business and civic community.” Dennis M. King, the search committee chair, is accepting submissions at email@example.com until the close of business Friday, March 1. More information is available at aiami.com. (Image: Bernt Rostad / Flickr)
The Detroit Free-Press is reporting Belle Isle could become a state park. A public hearing is expected Thursday, and city council could vote on the plan as soon as January 29. Belle Isle is a 985-acre island in the middle of the Detroit River originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. While details are still being negotiated, it appears the plan could save the City of Detroit $8 million per year in operating costs. Though Detroit would still own the land, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would operate the island as a state park, charging motorists an $11 entry fee. Bicyclists and pedestrians would still get free access. The potential deal comes on the heels of some good news for Motor City urbanists. In addition to filling out the gaps in the city’s riverwalk, Detroit is moving forward with its M-1 Rail plan, as well as an ongoing $300 million renovation of its Cobo convention center.
Detroit’s stark unemployment and population loss have spurred plenty of ideas for redevelopment, from new manufacturing to urban agriculture. A recently unveiled piece of public art meditates on one thing the city has in excess: empty space. Once the country’s 5th largest city, Detroit is now 18th after decades of depopulation and disinvestment stemming from an eroding industrial base. Just when it seemed like population loss might finally bottom out, the city lost another 25 percent of its residents between 2000 and 2010. Empty Pavilion is a purposefully sparse figure made from bent steel tubing, foam and rubber—a formally inventive jungle gym that invites passers-by to traverse the gravel lot it occupies off 14th Street. Yet it is the pavilion, set in a painted profile of an absent house, that plays with the city. Recalling architectural elements in its weaves and makeshift chairs, Empty Pavilion is both an apparition of homes long gone and a canvas for expression among the city’s remaining urbanites. The pavilion was built by McLain Clutter, assistant professor at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture; Kyle Reynolds, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee; and University of Michigan graduate students Ariel Poliner, Michael Sanderson, and Nathan Van Wylan.
Much has been made of the decline of American industry and, more recently, the rise of small-scale urban industry, but one of the largest international manufacturers, Taiwan-based Foxconn, could change the industrial scene completely if it decides to build factories in the United States. The Guardian reports that Foxconn is considering Detroit and Los Angeles for potential outposts thanks to rising costs overseas, but the company infamous for manufacturing Apple products among others at its 800,000-worker-strong Chinese facilities would have to adapt to radically different American ways of working. It was early last year—after a string of workers committed suicide and a lethal explosion tore through a plant—when Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook asked the Fair Labor Association to assess Foxconn’s working conditions. Reforms where set in place that doubled Foxconn’s worker salary levels in China and cut overtime hours. The increase in costs in places like China has prompted the company to consider locations overseas. In September, plans were announced for a nearly $500 million factory to be built in São Paulo, Brazil where Foxconn will hire up to 10,000 people to make computer and some Apple products. The company also plans to open a new phone factory in Indonesia by the end of 2012. If built, Foxconn's new U.S. factories and work standards would be altered for the American workforces, who won’t likely work for China’s low wages or live in work dormitories. Instead of manufacturing products that rely heavily on hand labor, the American factories would primarily build flat screen televisions, which use a primarily automated process. Company officials would not comment on the possible expansion into the U.S., but did say American engineers will be invited to its Chinese facilities to learn about its manufacturing process.
Not long after the Detroit Design Festival, Detroit’s design enthusiasts have another event to celebrate: DLECTRICITY begins today and runs through Saturday. The “contemporary light art festival” features 35 local, national, and international artists who will illuminate historic structures in Midtown Detroit. Buildings including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Michigan Science Center, and the Detroit Public Library will become canvases for 3D video mapping, laser displays, and light sculptures. Click here for a full schedule and map of the events.
Following the many interesting developments in Detroit these days, one gets a sense that the city’s post-industrial landscape is fertile ground for innovative design. A boutique hotel made of shipping containers seems to back up that trend. Collision Works, as the project is called, touts the structural merits of shipping containers. “Shipping containers are considerably more durable than standard construction, can cost less, and most importantly are about 30 percent faster to build,” writes project founder Shel Kimen. Similar plans for low-income housing in Detroit built from shipping containers were scrapped during the recession. And there are other precedents—Steven Flum, who designed a development made of shipping containers in 2007, will advise the project. Distill Studio’s New England “Box Office” has been successful in attracting tenants since it was completed last year. The firm’s Joe Haskett told Core77 they didn’t set out to design a building from containers, but it reduced the project’s environmental footprint and its bottom line. Even so Haskett said he worried it would be written off as folly. Good design made sure it wasn’t. Likewise some may view the graffiti-splattered renderings from the Detroit Collaborative Design Center and worry the conceit reinforces “ruin porn” stereotypes of their city. KOOP Architects’ design will factor into the final verdict on that, as will the future of the project's Eastern Market neighborhood. They plan to break ground in spring 2013.
Starchitect Daniel Libeskind will help judge this year’s Detroit by Design competition to design public spaces along the Detroit River. AIA’s Detroit Chapter is a sponsor of the competition, which will focus on the area between Cobo Hall and the Renaissance Center, and between Jefferson Avenue and the Detroit River. The site includes an entrance to the tunnel to Canada, the Port Authority Building, and Hart Plaza—a 14-acre space at the heart of downtown. Submissions are open through November 30. If Libeskind and the other jurors like your design, you could win $5,000 and a trip to the Motor City.
It looks like Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Towers in Detroit may avoid the auction block a little longer. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) foreclosed on the high-rise apartment buildings in February, and HUD had planned to put them up for auction this month (albeit with a litany of multi-million-dollar renovations required of the lucky winner). Detroit exercised its first right of refusal on that course of action, wary of the iconic towers falling into the wrong hands. New York-based Northern Group bought the buildings in 2008 for $16 million in cash, but stopped making payments on its loans by 2010. The towers were transferred to HUD soon after. Now the city’s group for planning and facilities is seeking a private owner to bring the buildings back from disrepair.
For many years much of Detroit’s riverfront was an industrial utility, characterized by derelict manufacturing sites. But efforts to reclaim public spaces on the waterfront have made considerable progress in recent years. Now a $44 million boost from the federal government and the state of Michigan ensures transformation along the Detroit River will continue. Planned projects include the redevelopment of Mount Elliott Park, improvements to Gabriel Richard Park, and an expansion of Detroit’s RiverWalk. The walk is currently not continuous between downtown and Belle Isle, but the new funding aims to close some of the gaps. $29 million comes in the form of federal highway money, while $15 million is from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. Detroiters haven taken to Yelp in recent years to express their support for the ongoing project. “To the skeptical first time visitor of Detroit,” wrote one visitor from New York last year, “RiverWalk is a shining symbol of what the city is actually made of.”
Detroit Mayor David Bing is making good on his pledge to demolish 10,000 derelict buildings in the city by the end of his first term in 2013—his administration has already taken down 4,500 abandoned structures, with another 1,500 demolitions planned by the end of September. (Five more came down this morning, and Curbed Detroit was on the scene to document the demolition.) Now the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, is expected to announce state support to help raze more buildings in the name of public safety. With an initial focus on Detroit’s east, southwest, and northwest sides, the governor’s administration is currently identifying neighborhoods for a pilot program. The Michigan Land Bank, Detroit Public Schools, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority are among the many agencies and private sector actors involved in the effort to reclaim Detroit's wealth of abandoned and unused land. Neighborhood stabilization and economic development have been at the core of many of Bing’s proposals as mayor. But with Wayne County facing a $155 million budget deficit, efforts to transform Detroit's well-documented decline will have to do more with less.