Detroit, Interrupted: Defining the New American Urban Geography

In no other community in America has the current economic recession wreaked more dislocation than in Detroit. Over the last decade, Southeast Michigan has lost hundreds of thousands of highly paid manufacturing jobs through the contraction of the automotive industry. Unemployment remains the highest in the nation – the official figure for Detroit is near 24%, with estimates of real unemployment as high as 50%. This crisis exacerbates the problems of an urban center that has experienced over forty years of disinvestment, flight and blight. Population shrinkage as a result of declining service delivery, aging infrastructure and urban sprawl continues to bleed Detroit of its residents. A city of 1.8 million people at its peak is now estimated to stabilize at roughly 800,000 – 700,000 inhabitants. The city\’s financial resources are strained as the physical condition of neighborhoods continues to deteriorate from the impact of foreclosure and abandonment, threatening the health of historically stable neighborhoods while extending the conditions of blight and crime in others. Penetrating contamination from decades of heavy industrial production-particularly toxic are automotive painting and metallurgy facilities- has condemned or polluted large sectors of the city\’s core and inner suburbs. These factors have produced a sprawling, low-density city of 140 square miles that now operates with only half of its population base and about one quarter of its productive land area interrupted by abandonment and emergent landscapes. Detroit\’s development at the turn of the last century was built solidly on the principles of the middle class, where independence, ownership, family and technical vocation afforded a stark contrast from the predominately agrarian society from which many Detroiters migrated. The disinvestment in urban America over the last 60 years has significantly interrupted the American dream for many middle-class urban dwellers, creating cities and regions that are more race, age, and class divided than ever. So what is to become of a regional urban center that currently is too large for its local government to manage, has too much space to regain near term economic value, and too vast to maintain sustainable systems of infrastructure, neighborhood and community? What must Detroit do within the next 20 years to reposition itself as a leading edge American city once again? If Detroit was known for its innovation in the auto industry in the 20th century what will Detroit be known for in the 21st century? The Detroit, Interrupted studio will explore new definitions for the 21st century, \”new economy\” urban American city. In part one of the studio, students will create a definition for the \”shrinking city\” by examining Detroit\’s historic settlement patterns at the neighborhood, city and regional scale, mapping social, economic flows and forces and the flux of formal and emergent green networks, and evaluating the relevance of theories of urban form-making in order to propose a new urban framework or \”working surface\” for Detroit that allows for negotiations between contracting, expanding, temporary, and/or permanent development patterns. In part two, student will develop informal and/or disruptive interventions that fit within the new urban framework. Students may create design prototypes at the system, neighborhood, district or building scale that represent the transformational interventions required to reposition Detroit for 21st century. The studio will push the boundaries of current urban planning and design representation, favoring multidimensional and infographic mappings along with analytical case studies that derive generative strategies for design propositions, providing a core basis for both typological and specific interventions. Rather than acting as interventions for a specific space of time in Detroit, projects will explore Detroit\’s past, present, and futur