Category Archives: Urban Design

THE URBAN PLAYGROUND

THE WOODWARD CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT.  Downtown Detroit has authentic character, scale, and intangible intrigue that have captivated national and international audiences for decades.  Most recently, Downtown Detroit completed the Greater Downtown TOD Strategy – a solid plan built upon proven urban principles of mixed use, walkability and transit. High vacancies, along with a small, but growing number of successful independent businesses begin to offer an initial glimpse of the District’s Consumer. The TOD Strategy defines three simple user profiles: Continue reading

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Frenetic Urbanism

For a few days last week, the small urban triangle known as Capitol Park and the surrounding area was radically transformed for the filming of Transformers 3. Piles of rubble, explosions, robots, and a new streetscape were installed as part of director Michael Bay’s elaborate set. This sort of temporary urbanism is becoming more and more common as the Michigan film incentive draws site scouts to the area. In upcoming films, Detroit will be portraying Paris, the Soviet Union, Switzerland, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and many other U.S. cities. In recent months residents have witnessed rallies by the ‘Peoples’ Liberation Army’, dramatic life of a retired CIA operative, even stumbled upon a rogue NYC subway station at the Guardian Building. While it is exciting to experience the instant gratification of these fleeting installations, we should not to overlook the slow but lasting progress occurring in urban spaces like Capitol Park.
The Capitol Park Improvement Project, which calls for new paving, landscaping, lighting, and signage, has been underway since last year and is nearing completion. The park is bordered by Griswold, Shelby, and State streets and held the first State Capitol Building in 1837 when Michigan gained statehood. The site functioned as a transit hub from 1955 until the recent completion of the Rosa Parks Transit Center. Now the Downtown Detroit Partnership and the city of Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority have joined with the design firm Merz & Associates to return the park to a public greenspace.

Watching the simultaneous development of fast and slow urban interventions in Capitol Park, one wonders if its possible to coordinate the enormous investment involved in the staging of movie sets to lasting urban benefit. How can the creative freedom and imagination that go into these filmic vignettes be incorporated into planning models and similarly how can urban development projects partner with film crews to more permanently enhance the environments they engage?

 

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Detroit Transit, Part 1

 

Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night? – Jack Kerouac

Detroit is ironically the most and least likely place to discuss mass transit. Once the home of one of the nation’s most extensive streetcar systems, Detroit has become synonymous with decentralization, suburban expansion, and the dominance of the automobile.  Where human mobility was once limited by the location of rail lines, canals, and the limited travel range of other non-motorized forms of transportation, the car provided a universal form of personal transportation which could be used at virtually any geographic scale. Unfortunately, the success of the car came at the expense of all other modes of transportation, eventually leading Detroit and other cities toward an inefficient and unsustainable transit monoculture.

Recently, infrastructural failures in this country have gained national and international attention. With increasing national imperative, as well as efforts at the regional and local level, it appears mass transit is finally becoming a reality. High-speed rail development in Florida between Tampa, Orlando and Miami, and in California linking Sacramento, San Francisco and L.A., has been covered extensively throughout the media. Portland Oregon’s streetcar system has become a benchmark for urban transit in this country. And the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) has allocated substantial funds to the development of public transit systems, indicating a shift in support and investment toward sustainable car alternatives. As this transition occurs, however, it is important to consider not only the new forms of transportation infrastructure and technology that will be necessary, but also the relationship between these and existing development patterns. Continue reading

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chinaHAA : Design, China, and Details 02

One month ago, two of our employees trekked 24 travel hours across the globe to Hefei, China. Upon arrival, HAA commenced an innovative cross-cultural, cross-professional exchange. For the next two weeks, these employees will be working directly for the Hefei University of Technology within their architecture/design department. During this time, they will be posting illustrative photos that speak to Design, China, and all of the discovered Details. Continue reading

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chinaHAA : Design, China, and Details 01

A few weeks ago, two of our employees trekked 24 travel hours across the globe to Hefei, China.   Upon arrival, HAA commenced an innovative cross-cultural, cross-professional exchange.  For the next four months, these employees will be working directly for the Hefei University of Technology within their architecture/design department.  During this time, they will be posting illustrative photos that speak to Design, China, and all of the discovered Details. Continue reading

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