October 2015 E-Newsletter: DETROIT OPPORTUNITY SITES: DFC Participates In Industrial Adaptive Reuse Research Initiative

The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office was one of several Detroit-based partners that participated in a recent German Marshall Fund (GMF) research trip through the Ruhr Valley, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands.  The five-day initiative, from October 18 to 22, examined how former industrial sites and facilities are being adaptively reutilized.

Detroit has over 6.1 square miles of vacant industrial sites and facilities. This initiative is intended to inform Detroit project leaders and officials about the means, methods, and rationales that could influence a wide-range of projects in these areas. This includes –financing, partnerships, and policies that drove them, and design strategies that brought them to life.

“This experience illustrates how large-scale mining sites, steel facilities and iron foundries can not only be reutilized, but can also be transformed into competitive assets celebrating culture, supporting economic development, and creating a new narrative for their city. These are long-term efforts, but there are catalytic efforts we can and must advance now.  It will continue to be an important part of our body of work at DFC,” said Dan Kinkead, DFC’s acting executive director.



Learning From Europe to Advance Innovative Redevelopment

The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office was one of several Detroit-based partners that participated in a recent German Marshall Fund (GMF) research trip through the Ruhr Valley, Germany, and Amsterdam, Netherlands.  The five-day initiative, from October 18 to 22, examined how former industrial sites and facilities are being adaptively reutilized.

Here are a sample of photos taken by partners.










GMF 10

GMF 11

In the Media

5 ideas for creating a shared regional vision for southeast Michigan”

On Tuesday, Oct. 27, a group of metro Detroiters gathered in the basement auditorium of the Detroit Institute of Arts to hear a panel of experts discuss something that’s long eluded the communities of southeast Michigan: how to create a shared regional vision that will help us attract and retain talent, jobs, and tax base in an increasingly competitive global landscape.

The discussion was the sixth and final event in Detroit Future City’s “Ideas for Innovation” series, which the nonprofit hopes will reinforce the ideas laid out in its 50-year strategic framework for development in the city of Detroit.

5 ideas for creating a shared regional vision for southeast Michigan

Matthew Lewis. October 29, 2015. Metromode

In the Media

Turning to “Paradise” for equitable growth in Detroit

In the first half of the 20th Century, two areas on the northeast side of Detroit’s central business district teemed with African American residents, retail businesses and entertainment venues.

The crowded neighborhoods of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley were two of the very few areas blacks were allowed to live, yet they provided economic opportunity and empowerment to people in an important way. That is, within that community blacks were able to launch and grow businesses and employ other people of color.

Detroit’s Paradise Valley and Black Bottom neighborhoods were once the epicenter of African American business and entertainment.

Even so, the business district that emerged was an integrated place where white Detroiters also came for services, food, and great entertainment.  No doubt, part of the appeal of the place for everyone was the rich cultural environment. It drove activity and revenues just as much as the services and amenities that were offered.

In other words, people went there for their cultural fix, demonstrating even then that there is a quantifiable economic value to cultural amenities. They create what we now call “a sense of place.”

When Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s, in order to make room for I-75 and I-375, places were lost, economic opportunities were lost, but the cultural legacy survived.

Now, more than 50 years later, the city is experiencing the most dramatic urban turnaround since New York City flirted with bankruptcy in the 1970s. Global manufacturing companies are taking advantage of the high concentration of automotive production and transportation infrastructure by building or expanding. Downtown and Midtown have become coveted residential districts as companies have moved in or expanded. Small business entrepreneurs are starting up or growing their firms in other key neighborhoods across the city.

However, not all communities are benefiting from this growth. Income inequality impacts every facet of life in the city, from educational attainment to health outcomes.

As economic developers, we have to address that inequity as we encourage new investment. If we don’t, we are building a tower without a foundation – it will be an economy of disparity that can’t be sustained.

Fortunately, Detroit is uniquely poised to address this threat locally and serve as an example to the rest of the country in how to grow a sustainable, inclusive economy. The development of the Paradise Valley Cultural and Entertainment District is a very good example of our “next idea” to create equitable and inclusive economic growth.

So what’s the Next Idea?

Over the last seven years, an ambitious plan has been developing to revive the spirit of Paradise Valley in a small downtown neighborhood not far from the original location. It is both a celebration of what was and a reflection of what Detroit should be — a city where entrepreneurs of all ethnicities are welcome and have equal opportunities for success.

Since 2008, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has directed the investment of $15 million into streetscape and building improvements in the area. The DDA has also actively sought tenants for the buildings it owns in the neighborhood that reflect the contributions of African Americans to Detroit and American culture.

… the model of Paradise Valley’s revival shows how government should not just provide basic services, but take significant steps to grow our economy in ways that promote equity and inclusion.

For instance, the Arts League of Michigan occupies the Harmonie Club Building, an African American-owned architectural firm is an anchor tenant in another building, and the Michigan Chronicle is moving into its own building in the district.

Now the project is moving forward to bring in private sector investment to complete the concept of a multi-use, multi-cultural neighborhood that honors the original Paradise Valley and Black Bottom, but does not try to replicate them. As it succeeds, it will be an important demonstration of the fair and sustainable approach that DEGC, city officials and our private and philanthropic partners are taking to revitalize Detroit.

Paradise Valley flips the way that urban markets are viewed.

It’s much deeper than a slogan such as “Black is Beautiful.” We are creating an environment that fosters a different way of thinking about ownership, entrepreneurship, and opportunity. We are aggregating culturally diverse businesses, creating job opportunities for segments of our population that may be overlooked by mainstream companies, and bringing new dimensions to the downtown business landscape.

As it moves forward, the process will force potential developers to reflect on an array of questions that examine social impact, economic return, employment opportunities for Detroiters, how people want to live, creative reuse of space, honoring the past while looking forward, and how to diversify the business mix downtown.

In short, the model of Paradise Valley’s revival shows how government should not just provide basic services, but take significant steps to grow our economy in ways that promote equity and inclusion.

It shows how city government should make value judgments to influence, inform, and prod the private sector to be more innovative, aggressive, and inclusive.

These are principles that will guide us as we work building by building, block by block to revitalize and re-invent a great American city.

Rodrick T. Miller is president and CEO of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. This essay emerged from Detroit Future City’s “Ideas for Innovation” series of community conversations. 

Turning to “Paradise” for equitable growth in Detroit

Rodrick T. Miller October 26, 2015. Michigan Radio’s Big Ideas

In the Media

Detroit to take stage at world’s top architecture show

In a cultural coup for Detroit, the U.S. State Department has chosen the Motor City to be the entire focus of the American pavilion at the 2016 Venice Biennale, the world’s premier exhibition of architectural innovation.

Beginning next May in Venice, Italy, the U.S. exhibit, one of dozens of national exhibits on display, will be curated by the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and feature the work of 12 architectural teams chosen from around the nation.

The 12 teams will produce conceptual designs for four Detroit sites: The Packard Plant, the Dequindre Cut and Eastern Market district; West Vernor Highway in southwest Detroit, and the U.S. Postal Service building and adjacent land near downtown between West Fort Street and the river.

By showcasing imaginative solutions to what these mostly underused sites may become, the U.S. hopes to offer innovative ideas for global cities in the 21st century.

Andrew Zago, a Detroit-born architect now based in Los Angeles who will submit work for the Biennale, said the Venice event, held every two years, provides a critical opportunity for the world’s architects and designers to think about Detroit and other post-industrial cities in new ways.

“It’s a big deal,” Zago, who has worked frequently in Detroit, said. “I think it’s theinternational architecture event. It’s where you see everyone.”

The 12 teams, consisting of dozens of designers, recently visited Detroit to see the four sites and meet with community members. They are now working on their projects, which are due to be submitted to U-M by the end of January. Taubman College Dean Monica Ponce de Leon and her co-curator, Cynthia Davidson, executive director of New York based nonprofit Anyone Corporation and editor of the architecture journal Log, will then choose which parts of each team’s work to send to Venice.

Ponce de Leon and Davidson met at a previous Venice Biennale in 2012 and decided to submit an application to the State Department for them to curate the 2016 show. The architecture Biennale is held on alternate years with one focusing on art on the other years. As many as 200,000 people may visit the architecture Biennale over several months next year.

Ponce de Leon and Davidson said they decided to focus the 2016 U.S. pavilion on Detroit.

“For us It was very important that Detroit be that city because of Detroit’s rich history of invention,” Ponce de Leon said. “And because of it’s rich history of invention it really has all the he right ingredients for architects to speculate about the city of the 21st century.”

Although Detroit has already been the focus of global attention in recent years, in many ways the city remains prey to cliches about Rust Belt failure and what can be done about it.

Davidson said that the 12 teams are expected to offer imaginative solutions for how architecture can recreate urban sites, especially in the context of open space of which Detroit has so much and which is part of each of the four sites.

“We don’t want 12 new museums for Detroit. We want new ideas about what is a program in Detroit in the 21st century,” Davidson said.

Dan Kinkead, an architect and acting director of the Detroit Future City Implementation Office, served as an advisor to Ponce de Leon and Davidson on a committee that helped pick the four sites to be the focus of the work. He said the forward-looking nature of the assignment gives architects freedom to think about the city’s needs far into the future.

Detroit to take stage at world’s top architecture show

John Gallagher, October 26, 2015. Detroit Free Press

In the Media

Ideas to repurpose 4 Detroit sites to be shown at 2016 Architecture Biennale in Venice

A global spotlight will shine on ideas for repurposing four Detroit sites in an exhibit at the 2016 Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, next spring.

The exhibition — called “The Architectural Imagination” — will feature the Packard Plant, the Dequindre Cut, the downtown U.S. Post Office building, and a vacant Detroit Public Works Department yard at Vernor Highway and Livernois Avenue in southwest Detroit.

The University of Michigan‘s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning applied to and was chosen by the U.S. State Department to represent the U.S. at the 2016 exhibition, which runs May 28-Nov. 27.

Cynthia Davidson

Beyond cachet for Detroit, the event promises creative designs for public spaces and may raise interest from architects and investors.

Since summer, 12 architectural firms from throughout the country have been quietly meeting with community, government and business leaders in city churches and offices to gather information about the sites. Now they are at the drawing board creating plans for what these sites could be. What they produce will be exhibited in four rooms at the prestigious Venice exhibition.

The sites and architects were chosen by a Detroit advisory board and two curators — Monica Ponce de Leon, dean of the Taubman College and founding principal of MPdL Studio in Ann Arbor; and Cynthia Davidson, executive director of New York City nonprofit Anyone Corp.

“It is very prestigious, but also puts UM (and Detroit) in the center of the conversation about architecture and 21st century cities,” Ponce de Leon said.

Monica Ponce de Leon

In the summer, Ponce de Leon, Davidson and the board came up with 20 Detroit sites, gradually reducing them to four.

Ponce de Leon said they wanted to be sure to choose sites that would have global interest. “Detroit can help create models that can be helpful to cities worldwide,” she said.

More than 250 architectural firms submitted portfolios to work on the project. “We reviewed these carefully to ensure diversity and multiple points of view,” Ponce de Leon said. From there, they narrowed it to 12 firms, two of which are in Michigan.

V. Mitch McEwen and Marcelo Lopez-Dinardi of A(n) Office in Detroit and New York is one of the firms. An assistant professor at the Taubman College, McEwen also works out of a space in TechTown.

Lopez-Dinardi and McEwen were assigned the DPW yard.

“It’s not just architecture we are tasked with but the activities that could happen there,” McEwen said. “It’s a daunting exercise, but I’m hoping the design … can be useful for conversations moving forward.”

This vacant Detroit Public Works Department yard is another site that will be highlighted next year in Venice, Italy, for the “Architectural Imagination” exhibit.

Thom Moran of T+E+A+M in Ann Arbor and his three partners were given the Packard Plant for their assignment. “Our ambition is to trade a new image that helps people imagine Detroit architecture not as ruins, but as material resources for building a new future,” Moran said.

Moran said the plant was “cutting-edge at the time it was built — a testing ground for using reinforced concrete.” Now, he said, the architects would like to use some of the materials on site to “translate them into a new way to do construction.”

Each Detroit site will have a room in the exhibition, which will consist of 3-D models and drawings and video animation.

“Detroit has captured the imagination of a lot of folks,” said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy and a member of the exhibition’s Detroit Advisory Board.

Other board members include Maurice Cox, Detroit planning director; Dan Kinkead, acting executive director of Detroit Future City; Thomas Sherry, principal of 313Creative; and Lawrence Williamson, real estate manager for Midtown Detroit Inc.

Ideas to repurpose 4 Detroit sites to be shown at 2016 Architecture Biennale in Venice

Marti Benedetti, October 24, 2015. CRAIN’S DETROIT BUSINESS

Press Release

Detroit Future City Brings Together Regional Leaders at the DIA

The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office is hosting several industry and thought leaders from Southeast Michigan and nationally to address the importance of regional collaboration for the final event of the six-part Ideas for Innovation series.  The event, The Making of a Shared Regional Vision, will take place on Tuesday, October 27, 6 p.m., at the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) Lecture Hall.  Ideas for Innovation is funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


“Many of the imperatives laid out in the DFC Strategic Framework can best be realized for Detroit if we can steward strong regional collaboration and cooperation,” said Dan Kinkead, DFC Implementation Office Acting Director. “The Making of a Shared Regional Vision is fitting to end our Ideas for Innovation series, as it will address issues pertinent to the City’s advancement in all areas we’ve discussed in the previous five events, but through a regional lens. “


The event will open with remarks from Annmarie Erickson, the DIA’s COO, who will discuss the museum’s tri-county millage support. The following speakers will give brief presentations and participate in a panel discussion:

  • Hunter Morrison, Director of Vibrant Northeast Ohio (Vibrant NEO) will bring lessons learned from Cleveland and how planning a future together can lead to a vibrant and sustainable region
  • Michael Ford, CEO of the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) will speak about building a coalition around regional transportation in advance of the 2016 ballot for millage.
  • Ponsella Hardaway, Executive Director of Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES) will address the social dynamics of regionalism and role of faith based community.
  • John Austin, Director of Great Lakes Economic Initiative will relay how the Great Lakes are key to our global competitiveness as a region.

Ideas for Innovation has brought together more than 800 attendees to discuss topics ranging from developing an open space network to equitable growth. The five events evoked conversations around the DFC Strategic Framework’s priorities by featuring renowned local and national thought leaders and subject matter experts. All events were followed by a publication that laid out specific actionable ideas garnered from the events.

“Knight Foundation’s mission is to foster informed and engaged communities, and DFC’s Ideas for Innovation has been an excellent platform to advance these efforts for Detroiters,” said Katy Locker, Detroit program director of the Knight Foundation. “We’ve been thrilled to see how many Detroiters have engaged in these events, and the action-oriented recommendations that DFC has been able to document for future efforts in our city.”

The Making of a Shared Regional Vision will be followed by a reception. Registration is available here.

About Ideas for Innovation

“Ideas for Innovation” was established to provide a platform for collaboration and discussion on Detroit’s future.  The Making of a Shared Regional Vision is the final event of the six-part series funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The first five events were attended by over 800 people in total, and centered on A Case for Open Space, Strengthening the City’s Neighborhoods, Opportunities for Innovation, the Making of a Great City, and Equitable Growth.


In the Media

Detroit Future City Issues Field Guide For Residents

The Detroit Future City project has issued a field guide for city residents.  Its purpose is to give ideas to Detroiters about how to re-form empty lots or back yards into spaces that can improve the city and the environment.

Dan Kinkead is the Acting Executive Director for Detroit Future City.  Erin Kelley is theDFC’s Manager of Innovative Landscape Programs.

They spoke with WDET’s Jerome Vaughn about the field guide, the landscaping tips it includes, and how they hope it helps residents improve their neighborhoods.

Detroit Future City Issues Field Guide For Residents
Jerome Vaughn. October 12, 2015. WDET.

Press Release

Detroit Future City Releases Field Guide Tool to Help Detroiters Transform Vacant Land

Detroit – Detroiters, who have long been challenged with the liabilities of vacant land in their neighborhood, will now have a user-friendly tool developed by the Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office and a range of partners to help guide their efforts to transform these vacant lots into assets.

The DFC Field Guide to Working with Lots is available online and in print and offers step-by-step instructions, guidance and resources to transform vacant land into a variety of landscapes.

“The DFC Implementation Office opened two years ago with a mission to improve quality of life by engaging and empowering Detroiters through participatory processes that yield innovative and impactful pilot programs and tools. The Field Guide is a great example of how we are achieving that mission,” said Dan Kinkead, DFC Implementation Office Acting Executive Director.

“While our office has made great strides to advance the shared imperatives laid out in the DFC Strategic Framework from a systemic level, the Field Guide puts the tools to fulfill those imperatives in the hands of Detroiters.  It’s an equitable and actionable guidebook to improve our neighborhoods by improving physical appearance, contributing to a more resilient natural infrastructure, and stimulating job growth and economic opportunity.

The Field Guide was developed over the past year as the DFC Implementation Office engaged an array of community partners and stakeholders to help inform its content.  This robust process was designed to ensure the Field Guide reflects the needs and aspirations of Detroiters and true conditions of the city’s land.

Andrea Perkins, community planner and engagement specialist for Black Family Development, served as member of a stakeholder review group for the Field Guide.  She said, “DFC brought all elements of the Field Guide, from design and content to implementation strategies, to the table for feedback from stakeholders. Because of this dedicated engagement process, the Field Guide provides comprehensive details that address and complement unique, neighborhood characteristics across the city.”

The DFC Field Guide to Working with Lots provides a suite of materials that takes users through step-by-step instructions to help transform lots.  The materials include:

The 74-page printed Field Guide with the following sections:

  • Work together – tips on how to collaborate with neighbors and where to connect with resources for the lot project.
  • Get organized – understanding the lot, its qualities, assets and challenges, including mapping the block, testing the soil, assess sun and shade, and budgeting.
  • Lot designs – 34 lot design reference cards that illustrate the different designs for various types of lots, and include considerations for skill level, time and upkeep, storm water reduction, and budget.
  • Make connections – Information about resources in the community that can help the lot attainment and transformation process.

The 34 lot designs:

  • After working through the Field Guide and deciding from the reference cards which design/s are best for the users’ lots, the lot design pamphlets provide more explicit instructions on how to construct the lot.  These are available in print or online.

The Field Guide website (www.dfc-lots.com):

  • The Field Guide website includes all of the above information, as well as user-friendly tools like the “Discover Your Lot” quiz, a glossary of terms and the lot designs that can be downloaded. The website will also have images and updates on local examples of other organizations, groups and residents working with land in Detroit, including examples of where designs from the Field Guide are being built.”

To complement the Field Guide, the DFC Implementation Office has also developed an informational pamphlet called “A Little about Lots” to create greater awareness of the value and opportunity for vacant land reutilization in our communities. The pamphlet defines green infrastructure, and how it can be used to transform vacant land into spaces that make Detroit healthier in many ways, from providing cleaner air and water to job opportunities.

“The Field Guide underscores the important role the DFC Implementation Office plays in stewarding improvements in Detroit,” said George Swan, DFC Executive Committee Chair. “It’s a critical extension to the contributions the office has made to other major green infrastructure efforts, including helping the City of Detroit secure $9 million in federal funding and providing technical assistance for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.”

The Field Guide is funded by Erb Family Foundation, whose mission is to nurture environmentally healthy communities in Metro Detroit to help restore the Great Lakes Ecosystem.  In addition to supporting ongoing blight elimination and side lot disposition efforts, the Field Guide contributes to the formation of an innovative Open Space Network.

John M. Erb, President of the Erb Family Foundation, said, “The Field Guide will help to cultivate Detroit’s inherent green infrastructure, reducing harmful impacts on the Great Lakes while working to stabilize neighborhoods.  This begins to also integrate socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable facets of private enterprise and individual stewardship.  We’re excited to now see the Guide translate into implementation.”

DFC’s project leader for the Guide, Erin Kelly, noted “we’ve already catalogued nearly thirty implementation projects that will be utilizing the Guide and lot designs by the end of the fall planting season.  Along with our partners, we plan to provide insight and support to those implementing the designs.”

Initial implementation efforts, including a mini-granting process, funded by the Erb Family Foundation, will be announced in the coming weeks.  It’s anticipated that the Field Guide will be updated with user feedback for a second edition in early 2016.

The Field Guide print edition is available at the DFC Implementation Office, 2990 West Grand Boulevard, Suite 2, Detroit, 48202, and for reference at every Detroit Public Library branch across the city.   For more information and questions, call 313-294-LOTS or email field-guide@detroitfuturecity.com.  Also, engage on Detroit Future City’s social media through following #DFClots and hashtags for each lot design, for example #summersoilbooster or #8mileraingarden.

The DFC Implementation Office will have a number of engagement opportunities in the coming months, where community groups, suppliers and residents can learn how to use the Field Guide and train others to use the tool.  These opportunities will be posted to the DFC Implementation’s website at www.detroitfuturecity.com/events.



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In the Media

New Detroit Field Guide Released to Help Residents With Vacant Lots

After decades of population loss, many of Detroit’s neighborhoods are faced with an overabundance of vacant lots where houses once stood. Even the city’s healthiest, densest areas aren’t immune. Over 23.4 square miles of the city — 16.8 percent of Detroit’s total area — is vacant land, and that excludes parks and rights of way. That number is expected to exceed 30 square miles as anti-blight demolition efforts are realized.

But tearing down neglected houses only addresses blight in the short term, as the lots that are left behind can quickly become overgrown and attract illegal dumping.

“What many folks have come to recognize is that the city has a tremendous supply of vacant land that contributes to blight and works to destabilize neighborhoods,” says Dan Kinkead, acting director of the implementation office of Detroit Future City (DFC), a nonprofit that created a strategic framework for Detroit’s long-term development. “We have vast areas of the city with moderate vacancy. These are also places with high concentrations of children and elderly people. These are places where quality of life needs to be improved.”

The problems associated with vacant lots stem from a lack of stewardship. While the city has made efforts to encourage residents to become stewards of vacant land over the years, most notably through an initiative that sells side lots for just $200 to adjacent homeowners, few tools have been in place to help those buyers care for lots in a sustainable way. But today, Detroit Future City released “Working With Lots: A Field Guide,” one of the first aids for residents and community groups that are caring for and beautifying lots in their neighborhoods, transforming them from liabilities into assets.

New Detroit Field Guide Released to Help Residents With Vacant Lots
Matthew Lewis. October 5, 2015. Next City.