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

September 30, 2016

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.