This is the first of an occasional series of guest columns about the challenges that Detroit's vacant land poses and strategies to find uses for it.
Jazz, Motown, pop, rock, techno, hip hop -- it goes without saying that Detroit has a rich music history. Our music has always reflected our great city. Perhaps now our great city can reflect a piece of our music. We need a little syncopation.
In music, syncopation means to take weak, less dominant musical notes, and make them stronger. In Detroit, something akin to this process has been happening organically over several decades.
As the vibrant economy of the mid-20th Century has been weakening, new forces of change have emerged -- residents, churches, community associations, nonprofits and others have taken it upon themselves to start shifting us away from the status quo.
Through the process of Detroit Works Project Long Term Planning, we can work together to guide the shift to become a city that works better for our entire community. We can create a syncopated Detroit that will amplify the weaker notes, giving them room to grow, and reinforce a new balanced city that builds on our greatest asset, the people of Detroit.
When it comes to land use, the single family home and the large industrial site were the dominant urban notes of 20th Century Detroit. We already know that with the losses in population and industry, these land uses have given way to vacancy. Surveys suggest that there are approximately 20 to 40 square miles of undesignated open space (i.e., vacant land and buildings) within Detroit's 139 square miles. This range spans almost the size of Manhattan (22.9 square miles) to nearly the size of San Francisco (46.9 square miles).
The question has always been: What do we do with this land? DWP Long Term Planning suggests we need to analyze data, but also look to Detroiters for guidance. For years, they have been creatively using this land like a musician composes a song. They have been taking the weaker notes that exist in our city and making them stronger by transforming them into the sites for community spaces, festivals, art parks, rain water collection, markets and urban gardens and farms. For example, the residents of Brightmoor transformed a one-story single family home into a stage for an outdoor theater.
All land has value -- social value and cultural value, in addition to economic value. Throughout the city of Detroit, people are innovatively using the vacant land and illustrating it as an asset versus a liability. They are creating productive landscapes -- spaces that engage the public while also enabling a diverse economy of products and services.
The result is a new land use where something is made, a service is provided, the environment is healed, jobs are created, and people have a place to play.
Detroit Works Project Long Term Planning wants to strategically take these emerging notes and make them stronger and, in turn, build a 21st Century equitable and ecological city for all people -- a richer Detroit for Detroiters.
Dan Pitera is executive director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy and the Detroit Works Project's Long Term Planning Civic Engagement Lead.
Full Article Compliments of The Detroit Free Press Here: http://www.freep.com/article/20120401/OPINION05/204010483/Guest-commentary-?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|s