In the Media

Detroit Future City’s proposal for large tracts of land and open space

To build Detroit’s future, first you have to tear down a lot of its past.

That’s the essence of a bold plan to revive the nation’s 21st largest city after decades of shrinking population, economic decline and a crushing bankruptcy two years ago that forced painful choices on the city leaders, investors, public workers, and residents.

With the city no longer facing financial catastrophe, investors have returned and Detroit’s downtown is enjoying a boom in new construction, including a series of commercial, retail and residential projects. A new sports complex is the centerpiece of a plan to revamp 45 blocks with new housing, stores, restaurants and public spaces.

But beyond the glass and steel skyline, much of the effort to revive the 140-square-mile city is centered on a massive effort to rehab or demolish tens of thousands of abandoned and dilapidated houses. In just the last two years, more than 10,000 demolitions have cleared the way for a series of neighborhood transformations aimed at redefining urban life in Detroit.

Initially, much of the focus is on simply removing the “blight” that has left some Detroiters stranded in desolate blocks surrounded by abandoned homes. In other sectors, entire streets are devoid of houses, with trees and grasses reclaiming the lots, resembling a rural lane more than an urban thoroughfare.

But today “we’ve watched the property values in those areas increase significantly as a result of not having the visible blight encroaching on then.” said Maurice Cox, Detroit’s city planner, hired two years ago to lead the planning effort. “But all of this land is our greatest asset. It has to be re-purposed.”

In some cases, that involves rebuilding “Main Streets” as the centerpiece of what city planners are referring to as “20-minute neighborhoods.”

“Our goal is within 20 minutes of your door you should be able to walk to all of the neighborhood amenities that people enjoy in complete neighborhoods — transit, grocery stores with fresh produce, restaurants, retail, and parks,” said Cox.

But much of Detroit has become too hollowed out to achieve that kind of residential and commercial density. Neighborhoods that have lost more than half of their residents pose even tougher challenges.

Proposals for the vacant left behind include new parks, biking trails, community gardens or a 10-acre solar array currently in the planning stages in the Plymouth neighborhood. Cox said planners are also considering connecting a 31-mile greenway loop that would traverse the city.

“We can’t make people move,” said Anika Goss-Foster, executive director of Detroit City Future, a think tank that has developed a comprehensive plan for the city’s revival. “What we are proposing for those areas where there are large tract of land and open space are alternative uses of that land but it can still provide a very high quality of life.

Click here to read the full article on CNBC.

In the Media

Data from survey proved invaluable in shaping the Detroit Future City plan

Detroit’s most immediate challenge was its required contributions to its major employee pension funds. Meeting that obligation would require drastic cuts to city services – police, fire, transportation, education – accelerating a half-century trend that saw the city’s population shrink from a peak of 1.8 million in 1950 to approximately 700,000 at the time of the Chapter 9 filing.

The odds of Detroit exiting bankruptcy without further degrading its municipal services appeared long, and some saw Detroit as a harbinger of future financial crises awaiting other American manufacturing cities – Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis – similarly burdened by debt and the flight of business.

Then something very special happened. A consortium of the city’s major foundations pledged to pay off the pension obligations, collecting a total $366 million, with almost a third ($100 million) contributed by The Kresge Foundation. The only string attached was that this money would be met by contributions from private sector companies, state government, and the public employee unions. The unions would give up various benefits, such as cost-of-living increases, and accept a 4.5 percent reduction in pension payments. This became known as the “Grand Bargain,” and the courts approved the plan. Detroit was on its way to emerging from bankruptcy, which it did on December 10, 2014.

Detroit’s quick exit from bankruptcy took people by surprise. In fact, many outside Detroit were not really aware that Detroit had emerged, financially whole and ready to do business. In a survey of national senior business leaders conducted by FTI Consulting in November 2015, only 24% knew that Detroit had exited bankruptcy, and 16% thought it was still in it.

The Kresge Foundation, which was founded in 1924 by Detroiter Sebastian Kresge – who co-founded the nation’s first 5-and-10 store (which would eventually become Kmart, with which the Foundation is not affiliated) – understood that Detroit needed to let the world know that it was it open for business. To help get the word out, and to assess the business world’s perceptions of post-bankruptcy Detroit, The Kresge Foundation turned to FTI Consulting.

Taking the Temperature of the Business Community

The Kresge Foundation is by far the biggest grant maker to Detroit, but Kresge Foundation President Rip Rapson knew that philanthropy would only take Detroit so far, and that exiting bankruptcy was only the first step to getting Detroit back on the road to prosperity. He knew perceptions had to change. Federal and state government needed assurance that their investments would be spent wisely. And the national business community needed to know that Detroit was a good place to invest.

That’s why The Kresge Foundation engaged FTI Consulting to measure the perception of Detroit among America’s business leaders, and compare those attitudes to other American cities. As a first step, in 2015 FTI Consulting designed and conducted an online survey between November 6 and November 15 of 307 American senior business leaders of large and mid-sized companies with at least 250 employees. These were leaders with direct influence on their companies’ high-level decisions, and operational responsibilities for contracting, purchasing, sales, and related functions.

Key Findings: Advantages and Obstacles

The Kresge Foundation released the results of the Detroit Reinvestment Index in April 2016. Rapson said the survey’s findings indicated that business was “very bullish on Detroit,” but noted that the city still had work to do to attract investment. Most notably, 84% of business leaders said they were confident Detroit can become great again, and 71% currently saw it as a good place to invest.

But business leaders also thought Detroit still had more work to do. It needed to offer lower taxes, demonstrate effective local governance, and generate a healthy municipal balance sheet.

Going forward, business leaders reported the keys to Detroit’s success would need to be (in descending order of importance):

  • A turnaround of the auto industry
  • Implementation of innovative approaches to urban development
  • The emergence of new industries
  • An economic recovery shared by all racial and ethnic groups
  • A commitment to financially sound budgetary practices

The survey also found:

  • When thinking about what makes a city an attractive place to invest, business leaders cite (in descending order of importance:
    • Low taxes
    • An effective local government
    • A clean municipal balance sheet (no major city debts)
    • High levels of community service
    • An effective foundation and philanthropic sector

The Motor Starts Up

The data from this survey has proved invaluable in shaping the Detroit Future City plan – a framework for Detroit, guided and supported by The Kresge Foundation – which will identify potential areas for job growth; devise alternative uses for vacant and abandoned buildings and land; develop the green spaces that a thriving, creative new workforce values, and seek to optimize the potential of all the city’s neighborhoods.

Click here to read the full article in the FTI Journal.

In the Media

Detroit Future City amongst Business Leaders to Speaks at Reap Summit on Orlando Blueprint’s Minority Business Success

Dr. Calvin Avant, the President of Unity in the Family Ministry, has announced Vernice Atkins-Bradley as an Orlando African American Business Leader who will speak at the REAP Community and Economic Development Summit slated for September 30TH and October 1st on the Orlando Blueprint.  The Orlando Blueprint was an agreement between government, the business community, and the city’s neighborhoods to utilize the development and construction of new facilities in the city to make significant and long-term impact in Orlando’s minority neighborhoods and the community at-large.  Atkins-Bradley was provided input into the design of Orlando Blueprint’s program and then became involved in its implementation.

Dr. Avant commented that the summit’s community engagement process is being designed in a similar way.  The business community, local government, and Pensacola and Escambia County neighborhoods are being asked to provide input in the development of the local blueprint for the acquisition of BP Oil Spill Settlement funds for community and economic development. Once the local blueprint is developed it is anticipated that jobs and business opportunities will follow for the minority community.

Vernice Atkins-Bradley has been involved in excess of $5.5 billion dollars in various real estate developments and construction of projects, spanning over 25 years. In her role as President/CEO of Votum Construction, a company she co-founded with Teska Dillard, she provides management oversight and directs all daily business operations, which includes but not limited to strategic planning to advance the company’s mission and objectives; generate revenue; promote profitability and growth for its employees. She serves as the Executive Coach to Senior Level Managers. She also develops and implements strategies to keep a positive image for the company and strong relations with clients as wells direct marketing and promote services performed by the company to obtain a competitive position in the industry.

Her business development strategies have led her company to be a partner in the construction of several notable projects in Central Florida; Projects such as Barry Law School – Legal Advocacy Center, Rock Springs Elementary School, Florida Citrus Bowl Rebuild, and most recently the Orlando Soccer Stadium. Prior to starting her company, Atkins-Bradley was employed by Turner Construction for nearly 11 years and spent the latter two years serving as their Southeast Regional Director of Community Affairs and Business Development.

The Pensacola-Gulf Coast Regional Equity to Achieve Prosperity (REAP) Summit will be held at the Pensacola Grand Hotel (formerly the Crown Plaza) in the Downtown area.  There will be local and regional speakers in addition to Atkins-Bradley.  There will also be a special guest speaker from Detroit, Michigan, Ms. Anika Goss-Foster the Executive Director of the Detroit Future City Project.

Click here to read the full article in The Pensacola Voice.

In the Media

30 Top Landscape Architecture Projects Earn 2016 ASLA Professional Awards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sept. 1, 2016 – The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) is excited to announce its 30 professional award recipients for 2016. Selected from 456 entries, the awards honor top public, commercial, residential, institutional, planning, communications and research projects in the U.S. and around the world.

ASLA 2016 Award of Excellence, Residential Design Category. DBX Ranch: A Transformation Brings Forth a New Livable Landscape by Design Workshop Inc. Photo: D.A. Horchner / Design Workshop Inc.

The winners will receive their awards at the ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans on Monday, October 24 at the New Orleans Ernest M. Morial Convention Center.

The following is a complete list of 2016 professional award winners:

General Design Category

Award of Excellence

Underpass Park, Toronto, Ontario by PFS Studio for Waterfront Toronto

Honor Awards
Framing Terrain and Water: Quzhou Luming Park, Quzhou City, Zhejiang Province, China by Turenscape for the Quzhou City Government

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park, Bishan, Singapore by Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Public Utilities Board / National Parks Board, Singapore

Converging Ecologies as a Gateway to Acadiana, St. Landry Parish, Louisiana by CARBO Landscape Architecture for St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission

The Metro-Forest Project, Bangkok, Thailand by Landscape Architects of Bangkok (LAB) for PTT Public Company Limited

The Power Station, Dallas by Hocker Design Group for The Pinnell Foundation

Corktown Common: Flood Protection and a Neighbourhood Park, Toronto, Ontario by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. for Waterfront Toronto in Partnership with Toronto Region Conservancy Authority (TRCA) and Infrastructure Ontario (IO)

Grand Teton National Park Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center, Moose, Wyoming by Swift Company LLC for the National Park Service, Grand Teton National Park Foundation and Grand Teton Association

Eco-Corridor Resurrects Former Brownfield, Ningbo, China by SWA for Ningbo Planning Bureau – East New Town Development Committee

Analysis and Planning Category

Award of Excellence

The Copenhagen Cloudburst Formula: A Strategic Process for Planning and Designing Blue-Green Interventions, Copenhagen, Denmark by Ramboll and Ramboll Studio Dreiseitl for the Municipality of Copenhagen

Honor Awards

Central Puget Sound Regional Open Space Strategy, Puget Sound Region, Washington by University of Washington Green Futures Lab for The Bullitt Foundation and The Russell Family Foundation

Rebuild by Design, The Big U, Manhattan, New York by Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects and Planners for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rebuild by Design

Memorial Park Master Plan 2015, Houston by Nelson Byrd Woltz for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, The Memorial Park Conservancy, and Uptown Houston

Baton Rouge Lakes: Restoring a Louisiana Landmark from Ecological Collapse to Cultural Sanctuary, Baton Rouge, Louisiana by SWA Group for the Baton Rouge Area Foundation

Bayou Greenways: Realizing the Vision, Houston by SWA Group for the Houston Parks Board

Communications Category

Award of Excellence

What’s Out There Guidebooks by The Cultural Landscape Foundation

Honor Awards

Roving Rangers: Bringing the Parks to the People by BASE Landscape Architecture, for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund

Activating Land Stewardship and Participation in Detroit: A Field Guide to Working with Lots by Detroit Future City, published by Inland Press

Click here the read the full article in AECCafe.

In the Media

Impact of ‘National Treasure’ status for Jefferson-Chalmers to take a while

Ray Cronk is a realist when it comes to improvements in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, where he owns a record store and a coffee shop.

It will take time “before this becomes a walkable, destination neighborhood,” he said, even with Jefferson-Chalmers being named a National Treasure by the private nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation this week.

That designation qualifies the neighborhood for the attention and resources of the nonprofit organization to preserve and improve its buildings, including help in qualifying for historic tax credits and turning them into cash for restoration, as well as small grants and expertise.

The impact won’t be immediate.

Jefferson-Chalmers is considered one of the few early 20th-century commercial districts that still survives in Detroit. Its mix of housing — from bungalows to three-story mansions — contributes to its potential to promote the city’s economic recovery. The neighborhood along East Jefferson Avenue near Grosse Pointe Park is a mix of occupied and vacant and blighted commercial buildings. It has benefited from city road improvements, which include a landscaped island and bike lanes. Neighboring residential streets range from vacant land to high-density older homes in varying states of repair.

“I sure as heck hope (the designation) has a positive impact, but it needs to fill out a little more,” said Cronk, who owns Hello Again Records and Coffee and (___). “I think it is an incredible distinction, but will (take time) before we see fruition of this recognition. There’s a music analogy: Certain artists are lauded for their talent, but they don’t sell a lot of records.”

Mary Lu Seidel, National Trust Chicago field director who also is project manager for Jefferson-Chalmers, said it will take three months or so for people driving or walking on East Jefferson to start noticing improvements, including the renovation of a former Kresge store, construction of a new Caribbean restaurant in an old bank building and the beginnings of a new roof on the historic Vanity Ballroom.

Credit for progress goes primarily to the long-term, ongoing efforts of Jefferson East Inc., the neighborhood’s business development organization.

“The National Treasure will allow the area to apply for small grants, but mostly it means its gets the National Trust’s time and talent regarding property reuse, historic preservation, national register requirements, and help with redevelopment and reuse based on other National Treasure projects,” Seidel said.

This is Michigan’s first National Treasure, and just one of 70 in the United States.

Jefferson-Chalmers was chosen, Seidel said, because it has good bones, a strong local partner in JEI and “is on the tipping point of becoming better or worse.”

The trust has singled out the Vanity Ballroom on East Jefferson and the vacant Guyton Elementary School on neighboring Phillip Street as ripe for restoration and reuse. They may qualify for historic tax credits, and help with tax-credit financing from the National Trust’s subsidiary, the National Trust Community Investment Corp. These can be coupled with additional tax credits, Seidel said.

The first idea for the Guyton school reuse is some type of housing. “In Chicago, we are turning public schools into housing. People think it’s a good idea to make these schools community centers, but those don’t make money. Senior or family housing or micro-apartments might be a better use,” she said.

The next step, according to Seidel and Josh Elling, executive director of JEI, is obtaining community feedback on what is preferred for the neighborhood. A Sept. 17 event called Jazzin’ on the River, an annual outdoor jazz festival at A.B. Ford Park, will be a forum for community ideas and concerns.

“And Josh and I will be meeting to talk about next steps,” Seidel said.

Other key properties for preservation on East Jefferson are a vacant bank building and an industrial building near Alter Road. “Those will have a visual impact for the neighborhood,” Seidel added.

Seidel does not anticipate large grants for the area now. “The National Treasure designation provides national visibility, but doesn’t guarantee anything,” she said.

So far, the Vanity has received $25,000 from the National Trust to conduct an environmental assessment and a structural study. Elling said the building, though badly deteriorated, is structurally sound but needs a roof, expected to cost $500,000 to $1 million. He thinks the building’s sentimentality with older residents (some of whom met their spouses there) could attract funding.

He said Detroit City Council approved transfer of the Vanity to JEI in July. Part of the transfer conditions included calling on local residents to help decide an appropriate use for the building. The goal is for the Art Deco-style ballroom to have a second life that celebrates a storied past that includes performances by entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and the Stooges.

Before getting the designation, Seidel met extensively with Detroit partners and stakeholders such as JEI, the city of Detroit, Detroit Future City, the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and Preservation Detroit starting in February 2015 to determine the potential and impact of Jefferson-Chalmers and other Detroit neighborhoods being named a National Treasure.

Click here to read the full article in Crain’s Detroit Business.


Latest 2016 E-Newsletter: A Focus on Neighborhood Planning and Welcoming New Team Members

The Detroit Future City (DFC) Implementation Office’s primary focus is to catalyze the DFC Strategic Framework’s 50-year plan and steward its recommendations.  To do this effectively, so all Detroiters can play an active role in this stewardship, the DFC Implementation Office has to design strategies from the macro, neighborhood to city wide, to the micro, from lot to block, levels.

Equitable neighborhood planning is an essential across all the DFC Implementation Office’s three priority areas, land use and city systems, community and economic development, and capacity building.  Whether leading the effort or providing technical assistance to others, the DFC Implementation Office elevates local and international industry expertise, and empowers Detroiters to participate in developing and implementing that vision for the community with the City’s policies and regulations.


In the Media

Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood gets National Treasure status

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is to announce this morning that the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood on Detroit’s far east side has been designated a National Treasure.

This will be Michigan’s first National Treasure, and just one of 70 in the United States.

The Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, with residential and commercial buildings built primarily in the 1920s, runs along East Jefferson Avenue from Alter Road to Conner Avenue.

The designation means the neighborhood will have the attention and resources of the national organization to preserve and improve its buildings, said Mary Lu Seidel, National Trust for Historic Preservation Chicago field director who also is project manager for the Jefferson-Chalmers project.

“Jefferson-Chalmers has good bones, a strong local partner (business development organization Jefferson East Inc.) and is on the tipping point of becoming better or worse. It has great assets and a strongly engaged community,” she said.

We’re looking to get involved in neighborhoods that suffered loss and disinvestment yet support rebuilding of the neighborhood in a way that benefits the community.

Seidel has been meeting with Detroit partners and stakeholders such as JEI, the city of Detroit,Detroit Future City, Michigan Historic Preservation Network and Preservation Detroit since February 2015 to determine the potential and impact of Jefferson-Chalmers and other Detroit neighborhoods being named a National Treasure.

Click here to read the full article in Crain’s Detroit Business.

In the Media

How Grand Rapids, other cities are prepping for next big storm

Getting rid of water that fell during a thunderstorm used to be a simple thing. The ground took its share, downspouts drained rooftops, and much of the rest found its way into gutters and storm sewers and on into the nearest body of water. The sun took care of the puddles.

That’s still the general idea, but things are more complicated today. A civil engineer, faced with a deluge from the sky, is likely to see opportunities, too – to relieve stress on sewer infrastructure, to keep it out of basements and other places where it’s unwelcome, to keep rivers and streams cleaner, even to enliven a boulevard with something other than yet another median strip covered with grass.

And there’s so much more rainwater these days, not overall, but all at once; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that “heavy precipitation” events, in which large amounts of rain or snow fall in a short period, are steadily increasing. Ask anyone in Louisiana, where near-apocalyptic rainfall in early August brought never-before-seen levels of flooding to Baton Rouge. Or ask the residents of Detroit, who were flooded by a 500-year storm in 2014 that dumped more than four inches of rain – over six inches in some areas – in 12 hours.

When that kind of rain comes down, every drop that can be diverted to a retention pond, infiltration basin or rain garden can keep a city’s sewer and stormwater system from being overwhelmed. And when that kind of rain isn’t coming down, these manmade structures keep pollutants, solid waste and other unwelcome substances out of a river or lake where a city draws its drinking water, swims or plays.

Around Michigan, municipalities are constructing so-called blue or green infrastructure, environmentally friendly installations to better manage resources and rainfall. The Detroit Future City initiative has a project to reduce runoff.

Click here to read the full article in Crain’s Detroit Business.

In the Media

Detroit banks on green infrastructure to rescue city from heavy rains

Detroit has a water problem. Or, more correctly, it has a stormwater problem.

Every time it rains, Detroit officials cross their fingers in hopes the city’s antiquated sewer system can handle the volume of stormwater that gets flushed into thousands of drains in parking lots and along city streets. In many cases, those drains are connected to sewer pipes that also carry sewage to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. When the system is overwhelmed with stormwater, which is happening with more frequency, the combined sewers end up discharging untreated sewage directly into local streams and rivers.

And during heavy rains, as residents have suffered through on at least three occasions this summer, basements also flood because they are hooked up to the same drains.

These combined sewer overflows discharge billions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Great Lakes each year, are the prime source of pollution in the Rouge River and are one of the main factors in the algae blooms impacting Lake Erie.

To alleviate the problem, you might say the city is turning to a natural ally. Rather than build more and bigger (and more expensive) pipes to capture the stormwater, the city is looking to nature to help out.
Fortunately for Detroit, the city controls large swaths of vacant land where these projects can be constructed. According to Gary Brown, director of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, the city directly controls about 40 percent of Detroit’s 138 square miles, giving city leaders a vast canvas for the new program, which began in earnest back in 2010.Under the direction of Mayor Mike Duggan’s office, the city is focusing on green infrastructure projects, including the elimination of impervious ground surfaces that don’t allow water to soak through, and constructing bioswales (similar to large vegetated ditches), wetlands, rain gardens and other methods that allow rain and snowmelt to more naturally filter into the ground, rather than running off into city sewers.

“We are jumping in feet first. We want to make this a hallmark of the mayor’s administration,” said Brown. “We don’t want to build anymore gray infrastructure.”

The move away from “gray” or traditional infrastructure – basically pipes – is definitely a change of philosophy for the city.

In fact, the original plan to deal with many of the combined sewer overflows (or CSOs) still in operation was to construct a massive underground tunnel 30-feet in diameter that would’ve had the ability to capture more than 200 million gallons of stormwater when it rains. It was also going to capture some of the remaining CSOs in Dearborn Heights and Redford Township, and be built along a seven-mile stretch of the Rouge River.

The project was supposed to be completed by 2015, and construction crews even began some of the preliminary work. However, in 2009, city officials scrapped the project because it was determined the estimated $1.2 billion price tag for the tunnel was just too costly for the city residents to absorb.

Instead, the city worked out a deal with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality that allowed Detroit to shelve the tunnel project in favor of green and blue infrastructure strategies over the course of two decades. The work, much of it recommended through the Detroit Future City initiative, drew upon two of the city’s most daunting challenges – a shortage of money, and miles upon miles of vacant or abandoned land.

Click here to read the full article in Bridge.