The 2010 United States Census numbers have been released and are being sifted through and analyzed at every level and by all types of interested groups. The numbers direct us to ask numerous questions about the findings. What are the trends and emerging areas? What is growing, who is shrinking? Who wins, who loses and so on. As expected, the shift of population from the Midwest to the South and Southwest continues, as has occurred for the last half century. During that period, the two biggest cities in the Midwest, Chicago and Detroit, lost around a million people each, others like Cleveland and Buffalo lost half their population. States have lost people and political strength as Congressional seats move south as well. For those who call the Great Lakes region home, it's a sobering reality and cause for concern. However, in spite of the numbers, there exists towns, cities, counties and states that hold assets that few would disregard and most would dream of owning. The question is, for those who choose to see a half-full glass, how do we move toward a new day that enhances those things that make the Great Lakes region special, while working diligently to address its challenges.
One important step is the simple issue of the Midwest region's perception. There are many ways in which to segment the continental United States. Based on the major centers of population and economic activities, there are actually only four major mega-regions within the continent. The most significant is the East Coast, often referred to as the Northeast or the Atlantic Coast. The second most populated mega-region is the Midwest, typically identified as the Great Lakes, or more negatively the Rust Belt. The third is the West or Pacific Coast. Lastly, what has been the fastest growing mega-region in recent decades, the South/Southwest, is affectionately called the Sun Belt. For many years the American Midwest has been compared to the Southwest in a number of ways. The so-called Rust Belt has consistently been the loser of population as the Sun Belt gains. Initially, as a place for retired northerners to go and escape the winter weather, the Sun Belt has now become a permanent home to many aging Americans.
What's in a name?
One thing that is interesting about the monikers of these two mega regions is how they have been defined and how they have stuck over the years. So, what's in a name? It seems a bit biased to have one region be identified with a positive element, the "sun" (synonymous with growth, health, warmth, etc), and the other linked to a negative term, "rust" (synonymous with decay, deconstruction, things beyond their peak, etc). Some may see this issue as trivial, overly sensitive, even irrelevant. However, any psychologist will report that if you tell someone that they aren't worth much, that they're old, or falling apart, that it will have an effect on their performance. For years, we have, in reality, been telling the people of the Great Lakes region that they live in a place of decay as we refer to the area as full of "rust". So why not change the associated name to a positive connotation so that it is on par with the Sun Belt, an upbeat term. I suggest that we take advantage of, arguably the Midwest's greatest asset, the largest body of fresh water in the world. Why not kill the term Rust Belt, and start telling everyone that we are living in the "Lake Belt".
As the Sun Belt region has grown significantly in population, many questions have arisen about whether or not the quality of the built environment has truly been enhanced with its expansion. Many would argue that, with the impressive growth of places from Florida to Arizona and Nevada, that sprawl, inefficient development, lack of historical built form and concerns of diminishing sustainable resources (water) will dramatically alter this mega region in the coming years. As the future comes into view, the Sun Belt will find it challenging to continue to grow.
Additionally, there are increasing questions about the potential of a continuing draw from the rest of the United States. In fact, the growth and in-migration from the American Northeast and Midwest has already begun to slow while the migration from Mexico has continued. Some stresses are already surfacing, for example, high foreclosure rates and plummeting property values have been disastrous in many Sun Belt cities, worse than their Lake Belt counterparts. Another issue is one of demographics. As the Sun Belt has drawn many of the 75 million Baby Boomers from the Northeast and the Lake Belt, the question is, will the 83 million Millenials (the children of the Boomers) go there as well?
Studies show that this giant wave of young people seek to live in culturally rich environments, that are sustainable, walkable and full of character. The Lake Belt has plenty of places like these, cities with classic tree filled neighborhoods, authentic traditional downtowns, dense pedestrian-oriented places and plenty of fresh water. As the Sun Belt is witness to increasing challenges, the Lake Belt is also retooling. After years of a declining manufacturing base, it now is concentrating on developing many of the assets that are deeply rooted in most of the cities of the Great Lakes Region.
In fact, the Lake Belt is full of assets that most of the country does not have. There are too many to mention, but some key components of the region are oriented around education and medical facilities. With high-level universities such as Michigan, Cranbrook, Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Purdue, and Carnegie Mellon, just to name a few, the quality of the educational community is without question. As far as medical facilities, a U.S. News & World Report 2010-11 study listed the top 14 hospitals in the U.S., and five were located in the Lakes Belt (the Sun Belt had no hospitals listed in the top 14). In other areas of change, the region has an extensive and developing high tech industrial and a refocused engineering and manufacturing base that is rapidly evolving. Other assets include the Great Lakes region's numerous, world class, cultural institutions, like the art museums of Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland, and numerous symphonies, operas and other museums. Additionally, Lake Belt natural assets include the largest fresh water coastline in the world, hundreds of miles of sandy beaches (over 200 miles in Michigan alone), mountains, waterfalls and great sand dunes. Lastly, the region is full of walkable, sustainable cities, with traditional neighborhoods and downtowns, established infrastructure and close proximity to fertile farms and fresh water for those who are interested in healthier and slow food networks.
With a focus on many of these areas as economic drivers, including education and medical institutions, high tech development, new manufacturing and engineering advancements, entertainment and tourism, jobs will become increasingly available within the region. Add into the discussion that the cost of living in much of the Lake Belt is below many parts of the U.S., and it is easy to see how the region's collective assets could be attractive, especially to the Millenial demographic. The Lake Belt of North America has been an important part of the continent for centuries. Now, as the country and the world is starting to recognize the need to live a lifestyle that embraces sustainable practices, recognizes walkable, pedestrian-oriented communities, long-standing cultural institutions, and a critical mass of people, the Lake Belt is well positioned for its next phase.
The "Great Recession" that engulfed the country over the last couple of years has injected a new required way of thinking into our municipalities. Cities, villages, townships, counties, and states have all been forced to look themselves in the mirror and ask, "How can we move into the future in a very different, efficient, and effective manner?" There are many areas of a municipal budget that can be evaluated for economic efficiencies. They include services such as police, fire, waste management, public works, building department, inspection, clerical, maintenance, and planning, just to name a few. A significant amount of these costs are related to staffing, or the people who are required to make a city function on a daily basis. Costs can vary depending on the amount of employees, how much they get paid, what benefits they have, whether they are unionized, etc. Streamlining a municipal budget can be achieved by altering any one of these elements or by outsourcing or privatizing.
As we are currently witnessing, coming from the leaders in Lansing, addressing these items in one way or another is often difficult, politically charged and unpopular. Change is always challenging regardless of whom it affects and how deeply. However, there are other significant aspects of government costs that are often overlooked and, if thoroughly analyzed, could assist in balancing these illusive budgets. Every year, cities, counties and states spend enormous amounts of tax dollars on physical infrastructure and facilities. These are the assets of a municipality, which include, parks, buildings, streets, parking lots and other properties. Maximizing the efficiencies of a cities' physical assets can have an impact on its bottom line, often leading to an increase in the quality of its built form.
Considering the current challenging economic environment, most building and land owners in the private sector are examining their assets and procedures to uncover new ways of working. Municipalities need to aggressively follow their lead and identify maximum efficiencies by rethinking their own properties. Every square foot of property comes with a cost. Buildings needs constant observation, maintenance, and enhancements, and interior spaces need to be conditioned for winter and summer seasons. Land areas need to be maintained, green space and landscaping requires watering, cutting and pruning while paved areas need to be patched, sealed, plowed in the winter and illuminated every evening (often when no one is using them). All of this comes at a high cost, both in terms of money as well as energy/resources.
Where is the Waste?
In general, municipalities are chock full of areas to rethink. Land use is one, as most communities own large and small parcels of land, many of which are unproductive and cost money to maintain. A detailed analysis of all land owned by the municipality should be conducted to establish an inventory. With a review of future planning needs, it can be determined as to how these parcels will benefit the community in time. If there are no foreseeable uses of the property, then selling it would make sense, resulting in a revenue gain to the city and the cost savings of upkeep.
Streets are also a considerable expense to governmental bodies and their maintenance can be one of the largest portions of an annual budget. Nationally, a complete rethinking of our street infrastructure is in order. For example, streets are often wider than they need to be. Typically, they have a singular function – to move cars, which is generally inefficient. When it comes time to rebuild a street, narrowing them can achieve many positive results, including slowing traffic and making adjacent areas more walkable. Also, smaller streets equate to less concrete or asphalt, less maintenance, potholes to fill and snow plowing. Additionally, a city should have a goal to provide an environment that encourages walking, riding a bike, taking transit and minimizing auto dependency when developing its street system. As for police intervention, a slower street can lead to less need for speed patrolling and limited car crashes. In summary, a Complete Street that is an appropriate width accommodates pedestrians, bicycles and transit, results in maximizing the infrastructure while creating a valuable asset – more bang for the buck.
Codes and zoning can be valuable tools in creating maximum efficiencies for cities. Antiquated ordinances need to be re-examined for increased parking requirements, densities, mixes of uses and other physical guidelines. These changes can result in the placement of buildings within closer proximities, which make land use efficiencies easier to achieve. Municipalities can assist in guiding private development to be more efficient and, more importantly, can use these tools to lead by example with their own policies.
Parking is a good example as lots are typically more expansive than they need to be and municipal parking requirements have traditionally been far too generous. In many cities, commercial spaces require huge amounts of parking that often sit empty 360 days a year and, if lucky, are used only for a few days during the Christmas season. In the summer of 2010, the first nationwide count of parking spots was conducted by civil engineers from the University of California, Berkeley. Their findings were that there are over three parking spaces for every car and truck in the U.S., or some 800 million spots. In most cities, zoning ordinances are requiring excessive parking allotments for public and private uses, many far beyond what is actually needed. To address this, current strategies like shared parking allow for less space requirements when uses take places during different times of the day. These concepts need to be embraced and applied to zoning requirements in order to diminish the excess use of land and ultimately save costs.
Other areas to reconsider include park and green spaces in cities, which are usually considered an asset. However, green spaces don't always significantly contribute to the quality of the community; often times they can be detrimental. It is important to keep in mind that the quality of green space should be a priority rather than simply the amount of space. A small pocket park in the right location can be an overwhelmingly positive asset to a city, drawing thousands of users in a year. Conversely, a large green space that is the wrong size and in an inappropriate location can be a burden with little value for users.
Buildings can also be a source of great inefficiencies and financial liabilities as they are often too big for their intended uses and can include multiple spaces that are often left empty. To remedy this issue, municipalities should move to identify under-producing buildings and consider selling them as one option. Another approach is to explore potential consolidation – the joining of facilities, equipment and infrastructure. This is a logical approach for inefficiently used structures and equipment, and is being strongly encouraged by the government in Lansing. A thoughtful study to join the use of facilities can be a positive move for the cities involved.
These are only some of the ways in which municipalities can become more efficient and help to meet their budget requirements. Moving forward, there are many ways to address outdated and costly ways of working, while increasing the quality of the environment for which we live. There is a growing need to evaluate the efficiencies of all space, both with buildings and their internal square footage as well as overall land and park areas. We should question the way these spaces are being used with a view toward the future. With a critical eye, we can examine past uses, identify significant functional changes and look for opportunities to carve a new path to a different way of working. A spatial and land use audit, done by an architect, urban planner or other building design professional can provide additional insight, resulting in the determination of strategies that can be applied to become a more effective governmental body.
Most of these issues are also applicable to institutions as well and private land holders. Whether in a hospital complex, cultural institution, university, large corporation, or in a shopping center, the need for efficiency is an increasingly important issue and can help to balance a budget, or more importantly keep an organization solvent.
In the first half of the twentieth century, the American lifestyle was relatively compact and dense. In general, people lived in towns and cities, used transit, owned fewer cars, and larger families resided in smaller houses and apartments. Additionally, citizens fully utilized civic spaces like parks, squares and streets for most of their daily activities. They engaged the public realm. After World War II, the population of the country grew rapidly and began to develop in an increasingly isolated and introverted manner. The auto culture brought decentralization, cities began to sprawl and there was less orientation toward walking and transit. The 1950s also brought with it the rise of the private and yet "public" space, most notably, the American shopping mall phenomenon. These places, often referred to as "grey spaces", are neither fully public nor private, and evolved as the only "public" places available in many of the new suburbs.
The typical American lifestyle began to take on a very different form as the inefficient use of land (land area per person), rapidly increased. Many new suburbs were built on farmland and neglected to build public places, created limited park space, and had no town centers. As older traditional towns developed into new car-oriented municipalities, the quality of public space also diminished, and the lack of a real sense of place became evident for the people of many American communities. Simply using more land rarely equated to a higher quality of places for people.
Workplace square footages have also experienced growth over the last few decades. The amount of office space per worker, for example, had increased, resulting in additional infrastructure costs for businesses and municipalities. These workspaces, often lacking in density, have increased the amount of land used per occupant, since a significant amount of post-war office spaces are located in car-oriented environments that require large parking lots. The result has been an increase of spatially inefficient buildings leading to questions about the need and quality of built space for the users.
As the amount of the usable public realm decreased as a percentage of the population, personal space conditions changed as well and housing began to take on different characteristics from the pre-war era. Over time, the average size of the family began to shrink, while housing (square footage) became larger and oriented toward the inside and the rear. Designs for new houses incorporated garages that faced the street and covered the majority of the front façade. By doing this, they lost their front porches and gained a rear deck. This resulted in a blatant disconnect from the street and sidewalk, if one existed at all, since many new housing developments didn't provide pedestrian sidewalks or any accommodation for walking. Houses built in this manner, and their occupying families, physically turned their backs to the street and therefore, the community. Concurrently, the size of lots increased as well without adding much to the function of a smaller lot, just more grass to mow and water. Internally, spaces such as the great room or den became the place for all activity while the living room was used once a year at Christmas time or for special occasions. Within the average family dwelling, more space was often a priority over efficiencies and quality.
Since the beginning of our current century, there has been a change in priorities with respect to the use of space and the need for placemaking. This has been fueled by overall trends that have established a demand for sustainable environments, an awareness for walkable and pedestrian orientation and the increase of technological advancements. Additionally, and maybe most importantly, land use and space alterations have also been highly influenced by the Great Recession and the need for financial efficiency. Over the last three years, it has become very apparent that the way that we all live, work and play is significantly changing.
After decades of continual growth, 2008 saw the beginning of a decline in the average square footage of homes in the United States. In 1970 the size of the average home was 1,400 square feet, with the peak being reached in 2007 where the average had risen to around 2,400 square feet. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) recently announced that they expect homes to average 2,150 square feet in 2015 (after a U.S. economic recovery) which is a 10% decrease from the 2010 average. All indications are that people are interested in smaller homes that are more efficient, driven by desire as well as by economics. The future will find residential users having a distinct interest in efficiency over extravagance.
Office and workspaces are also becoming smaller and more efficient, driven by the quality of space and cost considerations. Innovative business models for workspaces are becoming clearer. Technology has had a major impact in the work environment where, home offices, office hotelling, video conferencing and remote access computing have transformed the need and quality of the workplace. This has been recently accelerated by laptops, smart phones and iPads, leading the workforce to seek quality places to work because their "office" is mobile. In today's world, a civic square, a park bench or a coffee shop can be as productive, if not more, than the same 70-square-foot cubicle that traditionally would be occupied day after day for many years. The result of this transition will require less stationary, conventional office space and increases the need and use of the public realm. This illustrates a rise in the demand for placemaking to accommodate these new ways of working.
Serious lifestyle changes surround the typical American and they are resulting in a paradigm shift toward a decrease in our personal private space and an increase in the public realm. Grey spaces and third places are assisting in the blending and blurring of the live, work and play environment. Other ways in which this new way of living is manifested can be seen with the reestablishment of the coffee house as a public place. On any given day, a coffee shop will be filled with a mix of people recreating and working in an environment where the line is blurred between professional and casual. Across the country there are numerous examples of the reinstatement of placemaking that is occurring as infill parks and civic squares, recreational areas and dog parks are being added to communities. These public realm enhancements often provide efficient uses of land to the benefit of many, creating a real value to an environment.
Other areas where the public realm is being increased is with civic infrastructure. We are experiencing a national movement to build Complete Streets in every community. These will incorporate all transit options, such as bikes, buses, light rail and walkability. Complete Streets are often achieved by taking underutilized streets that may be oversized and only accommodate auto activities, and redesigning the same streets into highly efficient public places.
I have participated in creating this exchange of space for place in much of my urban design work, where I have designed downtown districts, commercial corridors and neighborhoods to increase the public realm and create additional civic assets. Developing usable and quality public places from underutilized land areas can be achieved in a variety of ways. On the Toledo riverfront we designed unique public space as an urban beach to be built on abandoned industrial land. In Toronto, we replaced salt storage areas with multiple parks, squares and mixed-use housing. Other urban design strategies found us designing public spaces and walkable streets in place of huge underutilized commercial parking lots. And in other cities, we proposed parks and pedestrian paths where parking lots and alleys existed.
As we move forward into the next decade of this century, there will be increasing demand for places for people in our communities. However, we will be required to use less land while creating high efficiencies. Many Americans will welcome this approach as more great places will be created, as less space will be wasted. In the end it will result in the focus on the quality of the public realm in exchange for quantity of space that doesn't work well for its users. A positive shift that is long overdue.
While traveling over the years, I have recognized that globally, people know the name Detroit, but not necessarily Michigan. Around the world, my experience has shown that Michigan has a very limited reputation. Internationally, individual states do not carry a huge awareness factor. Surely, a few states are quite well known, like California, Florida, Texas and New York, for example, but ask a guy from Antwerp what he thinks of Tennessee and you’ll probably get a blank stare. Now, Nashville on the other hand, will probably bring about some recognition. In our increasingly global society, most individuals relate to city regions or Metros (the overall regional population that is statistically connected to the primary historical city) more than they do states, provinces or other zones. People commonly pair the city with its country, for example, Tokyo, Japan; Paris, France; Johannesburg, South Africa or Toronto, Canada. To the nation and the world, when referring to activities, businesses or events in our region, most outsiders will know us as Detroit, USA, not Michigan or Southeastern Michigan. Additionally, they typically wouldn’t know of Troy, Trenton, Southfield, Livonia, Birmingham, St. Clair Shores, or Redford. In the end, we all are Detroit, and as residents, business people we are deeply connected and rooted here. Our strength is with unity and with our brand. Therefore, we should embrace the region as “Detroit” and work to make it better – it is in our best interest. I do not believe we should exchange the name Detroit with Southeastern Michigan any more than we should call Pittsburgh "Southwestern Pennsylvania", or Denver "Central Colorado". We have our brand, it is internationally known, I suggest that we use it and work make it stronger.
I know that we have probably all heard this message before in one way or another, but I do think that it means more now than ever. When answering questions about Detroit from my national peers, I had to begin with corrections. Many of their comments were based on misinformation, most likely from articles that didn’t have the whole story or reports that may have presented one side or were incomplete. Then, I would add the “rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey would say, completing the picture regarding issues about our business climate, urban farming, the auto industry, etc. I found it important to clarify, but it also made for some intriguing dialogue. Most importantly, what I found was that people are very interested in what Detroit is all about. We are an intriguing place; unique things happen here and have for over a century. Love or hate us, the world is taking note of who we are and what happens here. Some would say that it is better to be discussed, for whatever reason, than forgotten. This is a great opportunity for us, as professionals we are in a unique position to contribute during this transformative period, in molding the future of our region.
In these challenging times, we have an opportunity to step up our efforts to make the Detroit region a leader, not a follower, or worse, irrelevant. Within the city of Detroit we see strong, new leadership. Mayor Bing, a renewed City Council, and the school board’s Robert Bobb are all challenging the status quo. This is difficult and daring, but the right thing to do. These changes are going to set the stage for a new, improved core city. It is a lesson for the region and all of its individual communities. We need to focus on re-examining and re-evaluating our status quo, and be willing to face opposition to create a healthier outcome.
We can go on and on about our troubles, but what about the assets? Over the years, I have personally toured many seasoned travelers through Detroit and the region. What I have found is that there is a consistent gap between Detroit reality and reputation. When you start adding together all of what we have to offer it builds up quickly. From our incredible architectural and planning heritage, natural elements, neighborhoods, to our educational and cultural attributes, it is actually easier to impress that we might think. Even the size of the region is often misunderstood, where Metro Detroit (at over 5 million people) is bigger than greater Toronto and about the size of the entire country of Denmark. I see these things as a solid foundation to build upon.
As members of the Detroit community, we need to assist in leading this region to its next plateau. I strongly suggest that we all focus on identifying the positives in our region and help to enhance them while creating more. Pessimism helps to set the stage for failure. A leader recognizes the realistic elements of a situation and proceeds with optimism. We should all work as problem solvers in the communities where we live and work to move “Detroit”, as a whole, forward. If we work as a unit, while being innovative and efficient, we will have a bright future.
Throughout the Midwestern region, cities and urban areas are poised to have greater significance than they have in the recent past. Community values are in demand, trends indicate that people want to live in urban, walkable areas, with parks and bike paths, public safety, good schools, and various other amenities. Cities that can provide this type of environment will be better positioned to retain and grow residents and workers, and will be more viable and vibrant civic places than those who cannot provide these assets. This comes at a time when municipalities are severely challenged by decreasing property values, increased vacancies, loss of population, higher fuel prices and the loss of revenue sharing from the state. As many of us experience our personal lifestyles undergoing a transformation, our cities and towns will be required to transform as well – for better or worse.
When a municipality is struggling with declining revenue for whatever reason, there are three options available to pursue in order to maintain or increase the services that are provided to the community. One option is to increase taxes, the second is to cut some aspect of its services. Both of these options are obviously highly unpopular with residents and will likely result in some political fallout for the civic leadership. The third option is to maintain or increase revenues. This is easier said than done however, with careful planning and innovative strategies in place, there are logical and effective ways to make this happen.
A Citywide Efficiency Strategy - Filling In Development Versus Building Out
Often, municipalities, institutions, developers and land owners, overlook the potential and value of existing buildings and underutilized parcels. This is particularly important at this time, due to the significant increase in vacant and partially leased building that dot our landscape, and the need to be efficient and uncover new revenue opportunities. There is increasing interest in the intensification of existing communities that have an established infrastructure, plentiful resources and are well located. This is especially true when the cost of a long-distance commute is becoming a factor in lifestyle decisions due to the increased price of gas. Development teams are beginning to recognize the potential of repositioning existing buildings and parcels and their actual built-out value. Additionally, mixed-use infill and adaptive re-use types of development will encourage a quality of life that is active twenty-four hours, seven days a week and provide aspects for living, working and playing collectively within the city.
The path to repositioning under-producing properties should be led by municipalities and the development community. There is an apparent need for district rezoning in most of our cities. Revising zoning so that it allows for more flexibility and a mix of uses, can lead to new and innovative users that can fill empty spaces. Whether in a downtown, an industrial or manufacturing district, or a commercial corridor, large vacancies and abandonment have become common realities of the real estate in almost every American city. Many of these areas have little hope of reestablishing their former uses and occupancies with the same kind of tenants. By repositioning these aging and under-producing districts, cities can guide new development that can transform outdated and inefficient structures into fresh and exciting places.
This type of activity is already starting to occur and there are plenty of examples in Metro Detroit. Along Detroit’s riverfront, there is the Elevator Building in Rivertown, a one-hundred-year-old manufacturing building that is now home to small, start-up incubator businesses focused on design and technology. In Troy, an old commercial building now houses The Barkshire, a day-care for dogs. In Birmingham, an empty industrial building has been transformed into Goldfish Swim School for babies and kids; and in Northville, an out-dated concrete block structure has become the Tipping Point Theatre.
The opportunities are great and the results are exciting contributions to the built environment. But possibly more important is the fact that these tired old and empty structures have become active, revenue producing pieces of the urban landscape. A plan for repositioning an out-dated district through alternative zoning, an overlay of existing zoning, or a plan encouraging mixed-use and flexible zoning, all can be transformative tools that can have an extensive impact on a city. Let’s start to rethink our existing environments and reposition the Detroit region by using new ways of building.
Tomorrow: It's Detroit, Not Southeast Michigan
Detroit has a great history of multi-disciplinary design, especially during the last century. The region has significant examples of planning, architecture, innovative engineering and manufacturing that have influenced and inspired people
internationally. Many of these creative individuals have had leadership positions in their fields and have helped to make Detroit a place recognized for design innovation.
In 1806, Judge Woodward created a city plan for Detroit after a significant fire. Over 200 years later, this plan continues to be recognized as a great vision for urban planning. Even though much of the original plan was not realized, what was completed created one of the most interesting and unique downtown plans of any in North America. The vision of the Woodward plan was recently strengthened with the creation of the Campus Martius Park, which was part of the original 1806 plan.
During the turn of the last century, a young Finish designer named Eliel Saarinen planned a campus that initiated one of the greatest educational communities
in the world, Cranbrook. Today this planned community is known throughout the world and its inspiring planning aspects are studied extensively. This campus for multi-disciplinary design is a place where some of the best architects, industrial designers and artists in the world have been educated.
Eliel Saarinen then planned the Detroit riverfront, which lead to a revised plan by his son Eero Saarinen for a riverfront civic center incorporating a city
hall, convention center, arena and a large public space. In the late 1950’s, this plan was considered innovative, and architects and planners of the worldtook note. Much of that plan, in concept, has been implemented as the Cobo Convention Center, Hart Plaza and the City County Building.
Another significant planner, Charles Blessing was internationally known as the head of Detroit City Planning during the 1950’s and 1960’s. He initiated
innovative urban designs like Lafayette Park where he brought to Detroit, world-class architect Mies Van Der Rohe to design the project. Blessing also established
a unique approach to planning with the integration of multiple hospitals at the Detroit Medical Center and was recognized for his 3-D plans for the entire city,
the first of their kind anywhere. The Detroit Planning Department was noted internationally as a forward-thinking group and attracted talented architects and planners who wanted to work for Blessing. Once again, Detroit was studied for
innovation, creativity, and the willingness to challenge the norm of the day.
Architecturally, Detroit designers were innovative in the early 20th century as creators of structures that helped to usher in manufacturing expansion. Detroit
architect, Albert Kahn designed structures that accommodated the technologies of the time and established a precedent for industrial buildings with his unique use of structure and natural light. These buildings were constructed around the world and created precedents that have inspired architecture to
current day. At Cranbrook in the 1950’s, Eero Saarinen was attracting talented designers to his firm from around the world including Cesar Pelli, Kevin Roche, John Dinkeloo and Gunnar Birkerts. Here in Detroit, his design team created some of the most important architecture of the century, including the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the TWA Kennedy Airport Terminal in New York and Dulles Airport in Washington D.C.
Beginning in the 1960’s another Detroit architect, Minoru Yamasaki, was designing significant buildings around the world. Among these projects was
the iconic structure of New York’s World Trade Center, which was also designed here in Detroit.
Industrial designers in Detroit create products that are used throughout the world. With the headquarters of three of the biggest automobile corporations in the world located within the Detroit region, automobile design and engineering innovations are a daily occurrence. These designs are part of common culture
of our country and the world. Where do those auto-designers come from? Detroit. Today, Detroit’s expanding College for Creative Studies (CCS) is a
world leader in transportation design. It is recognized internationally as a place where industrial designers are educated. Currently, CCS is undergoing a vast expansion that will establish its place as a premier school for the creative arts and industrial design.
As for the Cranbrook connection to this discipline, industrial design has a great legacy. For example, furniture designers Charles and Ray Eames and Florence Knoll are graduates of the educational community and are responsible for many of the
furniture design icons of the century. An additional dimension of industrial design in
Michigan is the industry leaders of Herman Miller and Steelcase. These two companies are located in Grand Rapids, about a two and a half hour drive west of
Detroit. Internationally known for industrial design products, this is another example of creative importance in the area.
With a history of planning and engineering innovation, and precedent setting architectural and industrial designs, Detroit has a significant legacy as a creative center. We should understand this place in history, embrace it and encourage its future growth. As we begin to recognize the importance of the creative sector in economic generation for a city, Detroit can use its historic connection and
established institutions to build from.
The State of Michigan needs to factor into this initiative and support the creative sector and its potential for economic growth. Clearly this is an economic opportunity that can assist the State in the need to diversify from its manufacturing base. With focused design-oriented initiatives and a concentration of design as an economic engine, Detroit can again become a leader by developing innovative solutions within multiple disciplines.
Green is in - green this, green that, sustainable movements, movies on global warming, bottled water bans, paper not plastic, electric cars, increasing
train ridership, SUV attacks – the hot-button topics of the green movement seem endless. Today, it is "cool" to be green in our country and beyond. America is working to be more sustainable and increasingly efficient in its use of energy on
multiple levels. Overall, this is a very good thing with positive results, but where is the line between talk and action, inconsequential versus significant change?
As the general public in the United States becomes more concerned about the environment and our effect on it, the focus of most actions to curb the
problem of excessive energy waste appears to be mostly with minimal band-aid “fixes” resulting in what can be called micro-sustainability. To achieve a significant impact on our environment, Michigan and the country needs to orient efforts toward macro-sustainability or lifestyle changes in our homes, businesses, municipalities and in Lansing.
We Need Real Change to Become Truly Green
In many ways, we are all getting so engulfed in the issue of conserving that we might be losing sight of the bigger picture. For example, regarding the
movement to buy more energy efficient light bulbs.
There is a lot of discussion and promotion of new "green" lights bulbs, and across the country people are off to the store to buy these more efficient products for their homes and businesses. Of course, this is a good thing and we should all find ways to conserve energy – every little bit helps and I am not suggesting that we ignore these small and easy actions to save energy.
However, what is the real savings from these bulbs? And, other than the act of buying the bulb and replacing the standard one, we really haven’t done much.
Additionally, if you are driving your SUV 8-miles to and from the closest Wal-Mart to get it, you are cutting into the overall energy gain from your new efficient bulbs. The issue to note in this example is that it is very easy to engage in this
type of green initiative – no change in everyday life, just a simple action, no hardship. But, recall the saying "no pain, no gain." There are numerous stories
about the little energy saving fixes that ultimately use up more fossil fuels in other ways.
Another example is new hybrid cars that reportedly use much more energy to make than a typical gas-only automobile. Also, people are drinking bottled water
in mass, a supposedly healthy option, but the actual plastic containers that water comes in use a great deal of energy to produce and end up in a land fill when discarded. Even the creation of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings located in the middle of suburban sprawl should be questioned as to their real overall energy savings. The list of these well-intentioned actions with mixed-results goes on.
Many of these “good” deeds intended to be more energy efficient and healthy are often band-aids for the bigger problem – excessive energy use and waste.
These actions ultimately do very little to reduce our individual carbon footprint – the amount of carbon dioxide that each of us contributes to the environment.
This is mainly because we do these things without altering our current lifestyle, which is a way of living that is generally inefficient and wasteful in regards to energy use. These are all actions that are like fingers stuck in the failing dyke of energy waste. They add up to slight changes in our overall system – resulting in “micro-sustainability” or being green in a limited manner.
This may make us feel better, like we are helping the environment, however, we risk the lack of taking broader actions in our communities and with our lifestyle that can lead to a more established effect on the amount of energy use.
Real change and a significant reduction of our carbon footprint can only be achieved if we alter our daily lifestyle at many levels; this is the basis of macro-sustainability. This is about types of green-minded initiatives that are more global in nature and ultimately have a greater impact. An approach of this kind is the key to making a difference when it comes to being green.
Instead of an emphasis on changing your light bulbs, change the house you live in, instead of driving the same amount of daily miles in a fuel efficient car, take transit and drive much less – or possible have one less car in your family. Make moves in the municipality that you live in, pressure the city officials to change zoning ordinances that promote more efficient uses of land, less stringent parking requirements and to become more pedestrian-oriented. These types of changes can make a huge impact on the landscape in our Michigan communities, save resources and increase the quality of life.
Macro versus micro changes in our daily lives will save daily car trips, valuable time and money and will result in a lifestyle that correlates to trends that are in high demand – a walkable society.
Frankly, this means living in more urban and pedestrian-oriented communities, downtowns, traditional neighborhoods and in transit-oriented developments.
Macro-sustainability is a means to establish not only more efficient energy use, but will also create additional alternatives in our daily life. Americans
like options, by partaking in these initiatives the potential to commute by utilizing multiple methods creates a transit choice, which is better than not
Changing from an auto-oriented lifestyle to establish a more walkable environment is one of the most complete ways to become green. This lifestyle change can allow you to promote a sustainable environment, while simply living your everyday
existence. Then if you put in a more efficient light bulb – it will be a bonus.
Macro-Sustainable actions that can provide for more substantial energy use changes. Get involved in your community, educate and promote zoning ordinances that make the place that you live a more sustainable environment.
Municipalities should consider:
• mandating sidewalks throughout the city – on ALL
streets and to all front doors
• encouraging the creation of bike paths
• minimizing parking requirements and promoting shared
• establishing mixed-use zoning and higher land uses
• have a policy to promote adaptive re-use or
renovation of historic structures
• encourage LEED certified buildings- only if they are
integrated with sustainable urban design policies
Meanwhile, you should consider these changes to your personal life"
- minimize drive trips (lowering our VMT – vehicle miles traveled) and the overall use of the car
- live in a smaller home on a smaller lot or in multi-unit buildings like lofts, this diminishes the need for "stuff"
- buy less quantity and more quality goods
- diminish the amount of "stuff" to store
- move your home or office into mixed-use areas or into a downtown where less energy is used, less land and have less daily maintenance
As the world becomes smaller, or flatter as some would say, the identification of our place within it becomes increasingly important. The global economy allows us
all to interact in ways that we may not have dreamed in recent years. To participate in this changing circle of activity, whether financially, technologically, creatively or with entertainment, we need to speak the terms of global business leaders. I am not referring to English or German or Spanish as a common language but to a more universal concept - identification by place or location.
The global economy interacts from city to city, and that is how the world's players see each other. In the eyes of the world’s business movers and shakers, a person is from Hong Kong, from London, from New York, from Buenos Aires. Increasingly people are integrated with the city they are from and this connection is the way we are perceived in the global environment.
When there is discussion about activities in other parts of the world, you hear the name of the city and the country. For example, Tokyo, Japan - Paris, France
– Madrid, Spain – Shanghai, China - Toronto, Canada – Cairo, Egypt. You hear very little about the region, province or state that they are in; most people
wouldn’t be able to name a city’s region. To adhere to global terminology standards, American cities should also be identified with city and country ie; Boston, USA, San Francisco, USA and Detroit, USA - no need for the State identification.
Why is it that Americans commonly inject the State into the discussion, often dropping the city name altogether and using only the name of the State? This is contrary to global standards. You often hear an American say, "I’m from Michigan," but when communicating internationally, that doesn’t typically help someone in Jakarta or Kiev. However, the chances are that they probably know the name Detroit and one of its identifiable characteristics like the automotive
industry, Motown, Cranbrook Academy, the Henry Ford Museum, The Tigers or even the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
Having traveled abroad extensively in recent years, I find that many people of the world don’t know much about our individual States – other than California, Florida and maybe Texas – they identify with our cities. I always use Detroit as an identifier and I have yet to get a question about where it is – people know Detroit. However, Michigan to most of the world is a more abstract place, they may have heard of it but do not know where it is or what its known for, other than cars, which is really Detroit’s identity.
We need to accept the global reality; Detroit is the face of Michigan, our calling card. As I sat in Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport a few weeks ago, I overheard flight calls to Berlin, Lagos, Athens, Beijing and Detroit – but not one for Florida, Massachusetts or Minnesota.
Its all about Cities
The global economy doesn’t see Michigan –it sees Detroit; it doesn’t think Illinois – it thinks Chicago; it doesn’t know Georgia – it’s Atlanta. Typically, the titles of our cities mostly refer to the region where the major city is the physical and
historic center. As we all know, the term Detroit is used to refer to the overall region, which includes approximately five million people. That includes Livonia, Mt. Clemens, Pontiac, Plymouth and so on – it’s all "Detroit."
The population of Metro Detroit is 55 percent of the State’s total – over 1 of every 2 people in Michigan call Detroit home. Trends indicate that urban regions are strengthening in importance and are even finding ways of becoming more
integrated. For example, the Megaregion of Bowash (a compilation of the American Northeast – Boston, Providence, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C) is getting to be more of a single integrated urban conglomeration. People live, work and play in numerous cities as if they are one. Many office workers in Manhattan live in Philadelphia, Providence residents spend the evening in Boston for dinner and a show and so on.
Megaregions are the next new branded economic zones, and they are starting to materialize across North America as the U.S. population rises. Developing Megaregions include the Southeast, the Southwest, the Northeast, Southern California, Northern California and the Great Lakes which indicates that Detroit will be a part of an urban grouping that runs from Toronto to Milwaukee including London, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Chicago. Again, the urban zone is at the heart of the discussion, not the State. This is mainly due to the fact that economic generation and the population base is primarily in urban areas.
Population and Economic Generators
Washington-based Brookings Institute recently put together an initiative called the "Blueprint for American Prosperity" which highlights the issue that cities are more important to our country’s success and health than most American’s think. The strategy identifies that although the States are important, the top 100 metropolitan regions make up most of the economic strength of the United States.
The findings indicate that the top 100 urban regions are where 65 percent of
the country’s population resides. Additionally, within these regions, almost three quarters of the Gross Domestic Product is created and it is also home
to nearly 80 percent of America’s well established "knowledge jobs."
Brookings indicates that our economy is all about these 100 regions – our urban
centers. In Michigan’s two largest metropolitan regions, Detroit and Grand Rapids, nearly 70 percent of the State’s population resides. If 3 out of 4 people in Michigan live in either Metro Detroit or Grand Rapids and most of our economy is based there as well, shouldn’t these two regions receive three quarters of the financial resources from Washington D.C. and Lansing?
Accept the Identity of the City
To allow the United States to grow economically and within the world economy, we need to nourish our economic generators and the places where the majority
of people live and work. The States and the Federal Government of America should seek ways to embrace and enhance America’s urban regions and acknowledge them as our most important asset.
The sooner we see and accept the significance of the City as an identifier, the more suited we will be to compete in the national and international market. As
most businesses understand the need to brand themselves in order to compete with businesses at every level and location, primary cities of the world will need to do the same to find their place and prosper over time.
State of Michigan leaders should embrace and focus on their primary urban regions and allot resources to make them stronger. When the State loses focus by distributing too many resources in too many directions, the critical mass is difficult to establish and the efforts usually falls short. Michigan will win if Detroit succeeds, but without a strong Detroit, the State will never find true prosperity.
Live a Pedestrian-oriented, Walkable Lifestyle
Some people judge the quality of life in an environment by its walkability or the condition of its pedestrian-orientated infrastructure. Another gauge of this lifestyle quality is the potential to live "car-free" or to what extent you can reduce your dependence on the automobile. Unquestionably, the Detroit transit situation should be improved and the need for an enhanced bus or new light rail system is evident and long overdue.
However, the current system does provide a basic level of service that will allow the potential of minimizing car trips. The Woodward Avenue route for SMART (Detroit’s regional transit system) is very dependable and is one of the most utilized in the overall system. A $1.50 bus ride from Birmingham to the Detroit River takes between 40 and 50 minutes and the bus comes every 15 minutes during most of the day.
As an example, a SMART ride from a loft in Downtown Ferndale near Nine Mile Road to an office in Detroit’s New Center would take 20 minutes. This includes no parking, no gas costs, no potential accident and a nap. As another scenario, you could live in a house or loft in the Downtown Royal Oak area and take a 15-20 minute SMART ride to Birmingham for dinner and a movie. The conditions for these situations exist today and, with current increasing ridership trends, are likely to get better.
Additional walkable lifestyle potential can be achieved with a decision to reside in one of the many pedestrian-oriented environments along Woodward Avenue. As an example, the choice of living in the Greater Downtown Detroit area (Downtown, Midtown, New Center), Ferndale, Royal Oak, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Berkley or Birmingham, to name a few, can result in establishing a real walkable lifestyle. This location decision will allow for the ability to walk or bike to many daily-required trips as an option to using the automobile.
A Case Study: Birmingham
As an example, I will share a personal scenario. My family and I have lived at the edge of Downtown Birmingham and near Woodward Avenue for many years. My daily commute consists of a 2-minute walk to the enclosed bus stop on Woodward Avenue. I then take a 40-minute bus trip while listening to the radio (I especially enjoy the traffic reports – extra fun on rainy/snowy days) or my iPod, and grabbing a nap. Arriving at my Guardian Building office, I walk 1-minute from the bus drop-off on Woodward Avenue to the building lobby. Going home – I do it all in reverse.
A typical Saturday Morning may consist of an 8-minute walk to a Birmingham coffee shop via one of a few bakeries for a fresh scone or croissant. After reading the newspaper and chatting with a friend (I run into an acquaintance almost every trip into town), I walk to the jewelry store to get a battery for my dead watch and wait 5-minutes while its changed. A few minute walk to the local shoe store to pick up a pair that I had re-soled. Next is a 2-minute walk to the drugstore to pick up some aspirin, a few office supplies, and a candy bar. Then I walk next door to the video store to get a movie for the weekend. Another stop, Borders bookstore, to browse the magazines and the new non-fiction selections - add a 4-minute walk from the video store. Now one more place, a 2-minute stroll next door to Papa Joe’s Market for some fresh items for the refrigerator or Sunday dinner.
Saturday evening often consists of a family visit to town – including my wife, 7-year old son, 3-year old daughter and sometimes our dog. The evening begins with a stroll through the neighborhood with sidewalks and beautiful mature trees, to one of our favorite restaurants and maybe a movie afterwards. Many nights, especially in the warmer months, we will get some carry out food and wander to either Shain Park or Booth Park and sit at a picnic table while the kids play. Achieve all of this without a car or even hiking boots.
Walkability is Within Reach
For those people who seek a walkable lifestyle it is important to realize it is currently achievable along Woodward Avenue’s linear urban condition. You can live, work and play without the requirement of car use in Metro Detroit as the options to walk, ride a bike and take transit along Woodward Avenue currently exist. The use of a car will be minimized and the trip lengths can be very short, given the limited distances to all of the amenities along Woodward Avenue. The region’s best historic urban places, neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants, civic activities, theaters, and shopping are all along this linear urban pedestrian experience. Take advantage of it in its current state and encourage its enhancement for our future success. It is the most important street in the State of Michigan – that is why its designation is M-1.
The Assets are Numerous
From the Detroit River and the city’s foundation over 300 years ago, to the downtown of Pontiac, the amount of physical assets along Woodward Avenue add up to an amazing collection. These community attributes include elements of aesthetic, economic, educational, artistic, and lifestyle importance.
Starting from a unique riverfront view of an international border (no other major city in North America can boast this) here are some of the assets of our Detroit Linear Urban Experience:
• Downtown Detroit – the assets are too numerous to mention but include a significant job base, a riverwalk, major corporations, three major league sports teams, dozens of entertainment venues including Casino’s and the Fox Theater (a national leader in attendance), lofts, restaurants and on……
• Towers - the third largest collection of pre-war skyscrapers in the world (The Guardian Building is like no other)
• Campus Martius – a year-round, pedestrian-oriented central square (voted one of America’s best urban spaces)
• Midtown (lofts and historical building conversions, restaurants, shops, galleries)
• Symphony Place – Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall (world class orchestra – DSO)/ The Max, Detroit School for the Performing Arts, lofts and new retail (over $200 million of investment on one city block).
• Detroit Medical Center – the region’s premier university/medical complex
• Wayne State University and College for Creative Studies – over 30,000 students
• Detroit Institute of Arts - $160 million renovation by architect Michael Graves– a world class facility
• Cultural Facilities – Detroit Science Center, Detroit Historical Museum, Main Library
• New Center – Fisher, Kahn, Cadillac and Argonaut Buildings – Architect Albert Kahn’s architectural gems
• Henry Ford Health Center – One of the Michigan’s best medical centers
• Boston-Edison District/Shrine Cathedral – Beautiful historic neighborhood and the recently renovated and expanded Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit’s main Church and religious center
• Highland Park – Downtown
• Palmer Park/Woods – Detroit Golf Club, recreation park, historic neighborhood within spectacular mansions.
• Ferndale – Funky Downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment, residential lofts
• Pleasant Ridge – beautiful neighborhoods with pre-war housing, sidewalks, tree-lined streets, parks
• Detroit Zoo – zoological park with specialty exhibits
• Royal Oak – Cool Downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment, theater, comedy club, residential lofts
• Huntington Woods – beautiful neighborhoods with pre-war housing, sidewalks, tree-lined streets, recreational center
• Berkley – Fun downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment
• Beaumont Health Center – highly regarded medical facility
• Birmingham – Posh Downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment, theater, residential condos/townhomes
• Bloomfield Hills – exclusive estate housing, tree-lined streets, large wooded landscape
• Cranbrook Educational Community- internationally known creative environment – art and science museums
• Pontiac – Entertaining Downtown – the urban hub of Oakland County – shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, residential lofts
Compare Detroit’s Woodward Avenue to Other Cities and Their Linear Urbanism
There are many other cities that have linear urban development patterns that can give us a comfort level with the concept of Woodward Avenue as a continuous amenity.
Los Angeles – Wilshire Boulevard [15 miles]
Urban Districts: West from Downtown Los Angeles to Midtown to Beverly Hills to Century City to Westwood to Brentwood to Santa Monica
Chicago – South to North Shore [10 Miles]
Urban Districts: North from Burnham Park to South Loop to The Loop to The Magnificent Mile/North Michigan Avenue to Old Town to Lincoln Park to Wrigleyville
New York City – Broadway [10 Miles]
Urban Districts: North from Wall Street to Tribeca to Soho to Greenwich Village to Chelsea to Times Square to Midtown to West Side to Upper West Side to Columbia University
Toronto – Yonge Street [10 Miles]
Urban Districts: North from Harbourfront to Downtown to Wellesley to Yorkville to St Clair to Eglington to Lawrence to North York
Paris – Grand Axis/Champs Elysees [12 Miles]
Urban Districts: West from Place De La Bastille to The Louvre to Place De La Concorde to Rond Point Des Champs Elysees to Arc De Triomphe to Place De La Porte Maillot to La Defense
Detroit – Woodward Avenue [15 Miles]
Urban Districts: North from the Detroit Riverfront/Downtown to Midtown/University/Cultural to New Center to Highland Park to Palmer Park to Ferndale to Royal Oak to Berkley to Birmingham
Detroit is the oldest city in the American Midwest, dating from 1701. For centuries, the economic generator and focus of the State of Michigan has been Detroit. Ultimately the city is a sum of its parts and since its beginning, Woodward Avenue, which was once a trail then a road and now avenue has been integral to its success. Now, as we begin another century, and as the State and the Region are faced with redefining themselves for future prosperity, this important spine is a lifeblood to gain and retain the talented workforce that the State requires to survive and thrive.
From The Detroit River’s bank to Pontiac is approximately 25 miles. When you document the amount of live, work and play, 24-hour, 7-day a week activities that are within a 15 minute walk from that north/south spine, along its length, it is easy to understand the importance that Woodward Avenue can play into the future of our State. The primary section of this linear urban spine, the portion with most intense level of economic activity, takes place from Detroit to Birmingham, which is just over 15 miles. Collectively, this unique element, a 15-mile linear city, is an economic generator and has become an answer to the question of what is "cool" and prosperous in Metropolitan Detroit.
With an alarming numbers of young, talented, educated people in Michigan choosing to leave the State because "there is nothing for them here" and few people from this important demographic, choosing to come here from outside of the State, the leadership in Michigan needs to establish a new system and refocus efforts to curb our "Brain Drain." This talent loss needs to be immediately addressed. One way of achieving this is to provide expanded employment opportunities and to create an appropriate quality of life - these are the two main factors that this group seeks. Opportunity relates to job and economic growth and quality of life relates largely to the built environment.
Many of the answers for what this young group is demanding already exists along Woodward Avenue. From universities to jobs, from employers in office towers to tree-lined residential streets, from world-class museums and cultural organizations to entertainments centers and historic downtowns, the opportunities and lifestyle is already established and should be touted and enhanced. Wherever possible, leaders in Lansing and the Woodward Avenue communities should direct resources to strengthen the already established assets that can be a place that this creative, young talented group will find worthy of buying into. We must do this, lest we grow old in a State without a new generation to take the keys.