Posts tagged with "Detroit":

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Detroit designers head to France for design biennale

More than 40 Detroit design firms and organizations will be featured in La Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne 2017. The 10th iteration of the international design show will take place throughout the month of March, and is entitled "Working Promesse." Detroit will be represented in three independent-but-connected exhibitions; the show has taken the future of work as its theme. Over 60 Detroiters will travel to France to present work, perform, and participate in panel discussions. A Detroit gift shop and “Detroit-style” coffee shop will be set up to serve Detroit dishes to the international crowd. One year ago Detroit was named a UNESCO City of Design, the first and only in the United States. Since then, organizations have capitalized on the designation by raising the profile of Detroit as a center for design. One of those organizations—the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3)—will play a leading role in the Biennale. “As a result of the UNESCO designation, we have this unique opportunity to elevate Detroit’s perspective to a global audience,” said Olga Stella, executive director of DC3 in a press statement. “This is just the beginning of future collaborations between Detroit and other international cities on the pressing issues that face our communities.” For the Biennale, DC3 will present Footwork, which will look at the unconventional collaborations between Detroit’s corporate, grassroots, and civic design organizations. The exhibit will be curated by Public Design Trust and will include experimental processes and products including the upcycling furniture prototype Future Foam, developed by Thing Thing. Other work by students from the College for Creative Studies and collaborations with corporate groups such as Henry Ford Innovation Institute, Carhartt, and Detroit Bikes will be featured as well. Akoaki Studio will create a carte blanche exhibition entitled Out of Site, which will address how Detroit’s residents are reinventing how they live and work. In a series of full-scale installations, artist and musicians will work with DetroitAfrikan Music Institution and French musicians. La Biennale Internationale Design Saint-Étienne will be held in Saint-Étienne, France, from March 9th through April 9th.
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Shipping container “Globe Theater” proposed for Detroit

Angus Vail, a rock music business manager from New Zealand, wants to build a Shakespearean Globe Theater in Detroit. But rather than a heavy timber and plaster structure, like the 16th century version, he wants to build it out of shipping containers. Working with New York-based Perkins Eastman, Vail has conceived of a theater in the round that could host everything from Shakespeare to punk rock, both of his passions. Near the same dimensions as the original, the Container Globe would be constructed primarily out of 20-foot shipping containers. These containers would be cut to provided box seating, while additional 40-foot containers would make up the thrust stage. Walkways and stairwells would surround the seating, also like the original layout. The entire structure would then be wrapped in a flexible steel mesh. Vail has experience in working with containers, including a performance and arts pop-up in Jersey City. His career in the music industry has also given him insight into another possibly of the Container Globe: It could be mobile. Like many large stage shows, the Container Globe would be able to be broken down, packed up, and shipped to its next engagement. Vail says the main advantage of this is that it can be brought into under-served neighborhoods, where access to the performing art may be lacking. Initial renderings show the Container Globe in front of Detroit’s vacant Michigan Central Station. While Vail has named a handful of possible locations for the project, Detroit seems to be at the top of the list. And through the plan is to make the theater mobile, it has not been ruled out that it would be a permanent structure, with multiples of it built around the world. Currently, the team working to bring the Container Globe together is planning a crowdfunding campaign for early this year. A gallery exhibition is also in the works and set to open on February 2nd at ORA Gallery in New York, a gallery dedicated to New Zealand art and design.
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Two Detroit art deco icons to be redeveloped and preserved

Two of Detroit’s iconic art deco buildings are getting some much-needed love from their new owners. The Fisher Building and the Albert Kahn Building in the New Center area will be getting an injection of $100 million in redevelopment, according to the Detroit News. The Fisher Building is a National Historic Landmark and on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The 30-story building was completed in 1928, and was credited with helping spur the development of New Center. Designed by Joseph Nathaniel French of Albert Kahn Associates, the original plan was to construct a three-building complex of two 30-story towers and one 60-story tower. The Great Depression hit shortly after the completion of the building, dooming that plan. It is said that French took cues from Elial Saarinen’s second place design for the Chicago Tribune Tower when designing the Fisher Building. Along with the highly ornate 2,089-seat Fisher Theatre, the building also includes a three-story barrel-vaulted lobby which is decorated in mosaics and tiles made of 40 different types of marble. The new owners, development company The Platform, plan to focus on bringing more retail and hospitality back to the building. Also owned by The Platform, the Albert Kahn building, named after its architect, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well. Located near the Fisher Building, the two buildings are connected by two underground pedestrian tunnels. Currently, the building is laid out as office space, 30% of which is full. The plan for the building's redevelopment includes bringing retail back to the base and converting the upper levels into over 150 new rental apartments. Detroit-based Albert Kahn Associates, current tenants in the building, will continue to have its main office after the renovation. The redevelopment of these two buildings is in anticipation that surrounding neighborhood, which has seen recent growth, will soon look to the New Center area for more space. Along with available building stock for redevelopment, the under construction QLine (Detroit’s future light rail) will also run directly from New Center to the downtown. Other developments in the area include an outpatient cancer center to be built by Henry Ford Hospital and the expansion of the Motown Museum. While many details, including tenants and specific designs, have not been released yet, it is anticipated that construction will begin the Fisher and Kahn buildings in mid-to-late 2017.
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Detroit engages with its community to solve its raw sewage and storm water problem

The City of Detroit is solving one of its major problems with the help of one of its other problems. Detroit is experiencing combined sewer overflow, a messy, and often downright dangerous event that happens every time it rains too much. But by leveraging the abundant city-owned vacant land, Detroit may have found a way to alleviate at least some of the overflow.

Detroit, like many cities its size, has a combined sewage and rainwater sewer system. This means that when it rains, water is flushed into the same pipes that lead to the city’s sewage treatment plant. But when it rains too much, this system can be overwhelmed, leading to massive discharges of untreated sewage into the waterways around the city. These sewer overflows pollute the Great Lakes and often flood residents’ basements with sewage. The raw sewage, filled with bacteria, chemicals, and prescription drug waste, also contributes to dangerous algae blooms in Lake Erie (though soil erosion and fertilizer runoff are also major causes).

In cities like Chicago and Milwaukee, which have partial or fully combined sewer systems, there are epic underground caverns and reservoirs to tackle the overflows. Detroit has been catching up, investing approximately $1 billion in new wastewater treatment facilities that have reduced the volume of its sewer overflows by 90 to 95 percent on average.

To take care of the rest, Detroit is turning to a more grassroots approach. One of the major issues of rainwater in any city is that so much of the ground is impermeable, forcing the water into drains instead of just soaking into the earth. As the City of Detroit controls nearly half of the land within the city limits, it has decided to actively ensure this land is permeable. Aside from simply breaking up many square miles of surface pavement, the city is working with communities to build bioswales, rain gardens, and marshlands. 

Joan Nassauer, a landscape architect and University of Michigan professor, has already implemented a set of aggressive water retention prototypes. Working with a team of university researchers, she devised a system that is now in a pilot phase. After the Detroit Land Bank demolishes homes, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department excavates the large holes formerly occupied by the houses’ basements, fills them with sand and stones, and tops them with hardy, short plants. Each resulting bioretention garden collects stormwater from the street, stopping it from entering the overburdened drains. 

For Nassauer, the gardens presented quite a design challenge: Her experiences taught her that green infrastructure in financially-stressed neighborhoods is successful and accepted by the community when it looks well-kept. So the gardens had to be low maintenance without looking wild. Moreover, an overgrown garden might create visibility and safety concerns. The plant varities Nassauer selected—such as St. John's wort, bergamot, coneflower, yarrow—are all showy but short: They remain visually appealing without growing too tall and requiring attention. Four test sites were built in Detroit’s Warrendale neighborhood; each can hold over 300,000 gallons of storm water per year. 

In legacy cities like Detroit, Nassauer said, there’s simultaneously an “opportunity to design super-efficient green infrastructure and immediately make people’s neighborhoods better places....” But much hinges on political will: In Detroit, Nassauer’s challenge to coordinate among institutions was greatly aided the mayor’s office and political climate. “There are political forces and a lot of citizen energy [going] toward taking Detroit to a new level of desirability for a place to live and work,” she said.

Along with Nassauer’s prototypes, the city’s flood mitigation plan is heavily based on the 2012 report Detroit Future City. Among other things, the report recommended changing the way the city thinks about infrastructure. Rather than focusing on hard infrastructure—roads, sewers, bridges—the report encouraged “landscapes as infrastructure.” The benefits of the plan are varied, but one of the main advantages is the community-based nature of improvements. Not only can the public see the improvements, but they are able to enact their own changes within the system. Multiple nonprofits have taught residents how to construct rain gardens, while other groups already working in vacant lots to cultivate land for food production. More formal projects by the city include permeable sidewalks and streets, improvements that can be made when streets are already in need of repair.

Detroit has set a goal of 2029 to reform its water situation. It is not expected that this plan will completely solve the city’s issue, but it represents a positive shift in its relationship with its sewer system. And who wouldn’t prefer a flowering rain garden to sewage-filled waterways?

This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.
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Detroit neighborhood named a National Treasure

Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers District has been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The early 20th-century commercial district is the first neighborhood in the National Trust’s new ReUrbanism initiative. Built primarily in the 1920s, Jefferson Avenue on Detroit's Lower Eastside was once a key commercial district for the city. In the past 40 years the Jefferson-Chalmers District, like much of Detroit, has struggled with economic instability due to loss of manufacturing jobs and population. The area currently has a significant number of vacant properties, many of which are in desperate need of maintenance. Jefferson-Chalmers is Michigan’s first National Treasure. The area is home to many of Detroit’s more historic 1920s structures, including the iconic Vanity Ballroom. This portion of the community, located along the along the Detroit River, also includes a series of canals. Recent years have seen an increased commitment from residents and business owners to revitalize the neighborhood. The Trust’s goal is to encourage urban areas to utilize their current built assets to realize affordable, sustainable, and livable cities. The ReUrbanism initiative follows a set of ten principles, which range from “Cities are only successful when they work for everyone” to “Preservation is adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse is preservation.” The "Heart of Louisville," Kentucky, has also been included as a National Treasure in the ReUrbanism initiative. Another program within the National trust is the Preservation Green Lab, a research guided initiative to reimagine uses for old urban buildings and blocks. Research conducted at the Preservation Green Lab led to a report and recommendation to list the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, while project managers in the neighbor outline a path forward. Using big data, mapping, spatial analysis, the initiative bridges the gap between preservationists, developers, and policy makers. The Preservation Green Lab takes the positions that reusing and retrofitting vacant and underused buildings is key to helping cities become more sustainable, economically and environmentally.
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Detroit’s Heidelberg Project to transform into artistic village

Of Detroit’s many enigmatic urban spaces, perhaps the most notable is the Heidelberg Project (HP). The urban art project is comprised two blocks of vacant lots and abandoned houses filled with found objects and brightly painted surfaces. Now 30 years into its existence, HP Founder Tyree Guyton is changing the project’s direction. The Heidelberg Project’s mission “is to inspire people to appreciate and use artistic expression to enrich their lives and to improve the social and economic health of their greater community.” At the heart of the project is the belief that, “citizens, from all cultures, have the right to grow and flourish in their communities.” In order to expand on these ideals, Tyree Guyton is planning to disassemble the entire project. Guyton’s hope is to transform the one-man project into an arts-focused community project called Heidelberg 3.0. This will not be the first time that the HP has been dismantled. This is just the first time it has been done on purpose. The city bulldozed the project twice in the 1990s. Since its inception, the project has had its ups and downs, politically, economically, and critically. Funded primarily by donations and fundraising, the project has moved from a pilgrimage site of outsider art to a world renowned site of cultural expression. An estimated 200,000 visitors from around the world come to the Heidelberg project every year. The ever-changing project will slowly evolve over the coming years, with the familiar menagerie of old toys, painted signs, and discarded household items slowly disappearing. Eventually, the two blocks will be developed into a “Funky Artistic Cultural Village,” which will include indoor art and educational classes in the four houses within the project. The full vision of the new Heidelberg 3.0 has not been released, but it promises to be colorful.
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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.
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Detroit Design Festival announces events schedule

The Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) has announced the schedule for the sixth-annual Detroit Design Festival (DDF). Entitled “Designing Detroit’s Future,” this year’s festival will highlight the city’s recent designation as a UNESCO City of Design. One of 22 cities named City of Design, Detroit is the only U.S. city with this designation, bestowed last December. “We are thrilled to host the Detroit Design Festival celebrating our new designation, Detroit City of Design,” said Melinda Anderson, DDF Creative Director. “[the festival] will also incorporate a new Design Summit where local and international leaders will help us further embrace and promote the design strength that resides in Detroit.” The five-day festival, open from September 21 to 25, will span across the city with installations, talks, and interactive events. Before the full festival, though, a UNESCO City of Design event will be held on September 8. This will include a design crawl through some of the city’s many design studios. The full festival will include discussions and lectures at University of Detroit Mercy, University of Michigan, and Lawrence Technological University, as well as nightly performances throughout the city. Daylong workshops and demonstrations will also be happening each day of the festival. Wayne State University and the Museum of Contemporary Art will be hosting events and installations, while corporate sponsors Lear, Chrysler, and Ford will also host events throughout the week. Detroit Creative Corridor Center, the festival's presenting sponsor, is a partnership between Business Leaders for Michigan and College for Creative Studies. The mission of DC3 is to encourage economic development through Detroit’s creative sector. Since its inception, the Detroit Design Festival has hosted more than 500 design events in over 150 venues throughout the city. More than 100,000 attendees have engaged with fashion shows, lectures, installations, and exhibitions. For more on the Detroit Design Festival, visit their website.
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What role should architects and outsiders have in reimagining Detroit?

There is often a barrier to entry when it comes to talking about Detroit. No matter how empathetically one approaches the subject, there is the distinct possibility of being accused of insensitivity. Detroit has been through, and continues to go through, some of the most difficult urban issues in the country. And, naturally, many Detroiters are downright tired of outsiders coming in and proposing “solutions” to the city’s ills. So when it was announced that the United States Pavilion for the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale would focus on the city, it was not surprising that some would take issue.

The United States Pavilion is explicitly about Detroit. The pavilion is organized by the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning and curated by Mónica Ponce de León, former dean at Michigan and current dean at Princeton University, and Cynthia Davidson, editor of the journal Log. Titled the Architectural Imagination, the two curators charged 12 design firms to speculate on four sites throughout Detroit—the former Packard Automotive Plant, the U.S. Post Office on Fort Street, and city-owned sites in Mexicantown and the Dequindre Cut. The firms range from lesser-known talent to well-known names like Stan Allen and Greg Lynn. All firms were given free rein to imagine what program and form should go on their sites. They met with city and community representatives to discuss their projects and gain a better understanding of the sites. Overall, the exhibition is fairly typical of what one might expect to see in a show about architecture, with large models and drawings filling the pavilion. (See our review of the pavilion and de León and Davidson's response.)

Before the exhibition opened, well before any of the designs were revealed, criticism was leveled against the show. Most notably this critique came from a group called Detroit Resists. Remaining anonymous, Detroit Resists released a statement linking architecture, and the institutions that generally support building, to some of the systemic issues that plague Detroit: mass water shutoffs, evictions, gentrification, and spatial racism. The group accused the organizers, and indirectly the participating firms, of political indifference.

And Detroit Resists was far from alone in its skepticism, if not in its fervor. The conversation of Detroit and its relationship to contemporary design and architecture is a popular one. The U.S. Pavilion is not the first, and will not be the last, to speculate on Detroit. The general criticism of any design proposals produced for the city is that the egoism of the designers and their lack of connection to the city mean that they could not possibly contribute to the betterment of the people of Detroit.

One could not have a conversation about the possible designs without also having a conversation about whether it was even appropriate to talk about architecture and Detroit together. Just weeks before the Biennale opening, New York’s New Museum hosted a weeklong workshop titled Ideas City in Detroit. The workshop brought together Detroiters, other Americans, and international designers and architects to discuss and think about the city. Similarly, the U.S. Pavilion participants engaged the community in conversations throughout the design process. A great deal of the conversation in that week, and in the concluding public forum, revolved around the role of outsiders in the reimagining of Detroit. Ideas City made very few proposals for the city, though. Instead, it reserved most of its actions to discussion and listening. By most accounts—from Detroiters and others—the event was productive.

Yet the skepticism of the U.S. Pavilion is not what is at issue. Rather, it is the preemptive cynicism and dismissive posture that came with that skepticism. To say that architecture, from within or from without Detroit, is inherently a negative for the city, is to negate any possibility of it being anything else. Having a serious conversation about architectural ideas means admitting that Detroit is not a war-torn wasteland, because it isn’t, and engaging with architects means accepting Detroiters as urbanites as much as any other city dwellers.

Now that the pavilion is open, we are able to look at the projects and judge whether they are doing the harm of which they have been accused. Proposals range from complex abstractions of information gathered from the community to complex postindustrial tech complexes. Others take on community gathering spaces, and yet others reimagine infrastructural amenities, such as urban farm space and material reclamation. Now is the time to carefully read the projects and decide whether they live down to the allegations of cultural insensitivity that were laid against them.

Detroit, like all cities, is inseparably linked with architecture, old and new. No matter how badly, or well, things are going, architecture is part of the city-making conversation. It will never heal the ills of any city. It is not a solution or a means to specific ends. Yet to dismiss the possibility of architecture is to close the conversation on the built environment. And though it is naive to think that architecture won’t be used for nefarious purposes, it is cynical to think that it has to be used as such. Where exactly it fits into improving the postindustrial city, or the racially segregated city, is still unclear. But there are people working on it.

The U.S. Pavilion, The Architectural Imagination, will be open from May 28 through November 27 at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy. More information on Detroit Resists can be found at detroitresists.org

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In quest for street success, Detroit invites architects and planners to tear down zoning red tape

The City of Detroit has opened its zoning rules to public critique in a quest to remove barriers to developing vibrant commercial districts. This week, the city launched Pink Zoning Detroit, a call to action for architects, landscape architects, policy analysts, planners, and preservationists to test the city's zoning and land use codes for red tape–laden areas that hinder development in commercial zones. The reforms are aimed at stakeholders like small business owners, for example, who find it taxing to navigate cumbersome city bureaucracy for approvals and correct permits. Over the course of six months, three interdisciplinary groups will generate ideas for mixed-use commercial corridors around the city. Those ideas will be tested against Detroit's zoning laws to find obstacles and help city agencies make reforms that facilitate better commercial space. The teams' research, design, and analysis will culminate in a series of recommendations next spring, and pilot "pinks zones" to test the modified regulations could be pinpointed by summer 2017. The project is funded by a $75,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Detroit Free Press reports. Along with the just-launched initiative to creatively re-use vacant lots, Pink Zoning Detroit hopes to be a model for other cities looking to reform staid land use rules that can impede development. “For us, it’s just kind of crazy that the urban life that we want is actually inhibited or stymied by the very rules that are supposed to enable them to happen,” Maurice Cox, director of the city’s Planning and Development Department, told the paper. “We turn this upside down and say: ‘Let’s visualize the reality of this urban life that we want. Let’s look at where our current regulations don’t allow it and let’s just change the rules.’ This process will get us that.” Cox cited the city's West Village neighborhood as a real-world ideal: Agnes Street, its commercial spine, is an inviting allée graced by restaurants, shops, and bike parking. Other pink zoning targets are two block chunks of West and East Warren avenues, and a vacant lot at the intersection of Gratiot Avenue and the Dequindre Cut. Applications for teams are open now through September 16. Prospective applicants may apply here.
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Redevelopment may finally begin at Detroit’s Packard plant

Redevelopment of Detroit's long vacant Packard Plant my finally begin this September. The 40-acre site, located on Detroit’s east side, is owned by Spanish developer Fernando Palazuelo’s company, Arte Express Detroit. As reported by the Detroit Free Press, the 10- to 15-year multi-phase development hinges on the City Council passing a tax-freeze plan for the site. The tax freeze would prevent property taxes from going up for the property for the next 12 years if approved. The City Council is expected to vote on the measure the in early September, after their summer recess. The first phase of the redevelopment is targeted at the former Packard corporate offices. The 20,480-sqaure-foot building at the north end of the complex would be restored to office space for small firms and a job training center for Arte Express Detroit. Arte Express has secured the estimated $12 million for the project and is ready to begin if the tax-freeze passes the city. The second phase of the project is planned to be a recreational complex. The third phase includes redeveloping a five-story building into live-work spaces, art galleries, and a restaurant. Phase four will involve a collaboration with Dimitri Hegemann, owner of famed Berlin nightclub Tresor. The redevelopment will be in a seven-story building, and include a nightclub on the lower floors, a restaurant, a hostel, and a spa. The entire development is expected to cost nearly $500 million. It would represent one of the largest developments in Detroit in decades. Palazuelo bought the 3,500,000-square-foot plant in 2013 for $405,000. After Packard closed down in 1958, it slowly vacated until the complex was completely empty in 2010. Vandals and scrappers have left the buildings in decrepit condition. Recent years have seen the site used by movie and television productions for post-apocalyptic backdrops. The Packard plant has often been the site of architectural speculation. Recently it was one of the four sites picked by the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. Teams presented projects that ranged from urban farms and innovation centers, to a construction materials recycling center.
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Detroit releases RFP to redevelop hundreds of vacant lots

The City of Detroit is working to rehabilitate 100 vacant houses and 257 empty lots in northwest Detroit. The Housing and Redevelopment Department has issued two Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in order to find developers for the sites. One of the RFPs, the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, targets the 100 houses. The other, a Productive Landscape Development RFP, seeks landscape development options for the 257 lots. Suggested programs for the empty lots include community gardens, orchards, meadows, and space for urban agriculture. Park and green space developed by the RFP will be maintained by the Parks and Recreation Department. Landscape architecture firm Spackman Mossop and Michaels (SMM) worked with the city and the community to outline a framework to develop new productive landscape projects. The SMM plan outlines three phases to the landscape redevelopment: Vacant parcels will be converted into a public greenway and neighborhood park that will be redeveloped and maintained by the City and “Neighborhood Hubs,” smaller social spaces maintained in partnership with the community; larger clusters of vacant lots that can be redeveloped into productive landscapes, whether for crop production, orchards, or other uses to be proposed through this Productive Landscape Development RFP; and individual and highly dispersed parcels that can be redeveloped into lower-maintenance meadows through the Housing Developer RFP, or for compelling proposals, could be developed by the Productive Landscape Developer of Development Team. Aside from the parcels in the first category which will remain publicly held, the framework plan allows flexibility. The Housing Rehabilitation RFP focuses on rehabilitating “salvageable, publicly-owned structures.” Houses that are beyond repair will be demolished. The lots left behind will either be transformed into low-maintenance landscapes, or they will be attached to neighboring redeveloped houses. The Fitzgerald Revitalization Project is part of the larger Livernois/McNichols Corridor Revitalization Initiative.  The initiative aims to transform northwest Detroit through coordinated projects addressing physical social and economic concerns. The Fitzgerald Revitalization Project represents one quarter square mile of that larger plan. Detroit recently demolished its 10,000 vacant house in front of the press and public. At that event Mayor Mike Duggan commented on 2,000 houses are currently being renovated in the city. Jason Cole, Executive Director Michigan Minority Contractors Association also discussed plans to rehabilitate 1,000 more houses.