Erin Kelly (MLA 12) and Detroit Future City project The Buzz receive Knight Cities grant

As a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Erin Kelly (MLA ’12) spent a summer working with the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC) to help develop a 186-acre parcel of a depopulated Detroit neighborhood into a productive landscape. Now, as program manager at Detroit Future City, Kelly continues to address Detroit’s surplus of underutilized space. One of her latest projects, “The Buzz,” was named one of 32 winners in the Knight Foundation’s first-annual Knight Cities Challenge and was spotlighted this week by Smithsonian magazine.

“The Buzz” pairs Detroit barbers with landscape architects to develop designs that will transform overgrown, vacant lots around the city. The Knight grant will help fund facilitated design workshops to introduce local barbers and landscape contractors and teach them techniques in mowing and pattern-making. Their final projects will be showcased in a final “vacant lot mowing pageant” in September. 

“The bottom line is that land transformation in Detroit is going to take everyone,” Kelly says. “I’m excited to be part of an initiative that can open up this dialogue a bit by testing ideas on the ground, and bringing together some people and concepts that might not usually interact.”

Kelly is starting the conceptual process with a focus on the physical mowing patterns themselves. Recently, she came across a marker sketch she had made while at the GSD in which she described a landscape, in plan and in section, in terms of a haircut.

“Perhaps this idea has been incubating for longer than I realize,” she says.