Detroit Re-Connected: Reparative Mobilities in the Motor City

Ten years ago, Detroit Future City, a citywide strategic framework plan was released, addressing six urban elements including economic prosperity, neighborhoods, land use, city systems, public land and civic engagement. Also, during that time, the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) took on an option design studio titled Detroit Interrupted:  Defining the New American Urban Geography, exploring the economic and social drivers that should inform new urban form patterns, densities, and city infrastructures.  Since then, the city has recovered from fiscal bankruptcy, invested in neighborhood stabilization and growth, and experienced new office, hotel, and residential construction downtown for the first time in decades. However, these trends are not being experienced everywhere and by everyone.

Detroit is home to the nation’s first urban (depressed) highway, constructed by raising existing neighborhoods in the name of “urban renewal”. These highways, I-375 and 1-75, plus the Lodge Freeway, form a spatial “moat” around the downtown. The historic grand boulevards that extend from the center of the city, Michigan, Woodward and Gratiot Avenue, today exist as shadows of their former stature boulevards due to the vast scale of urban removal that took place to create highway network.  Together these highways and boulevards have become dividing lines, separating neighborhoods by race, class, land use, and economic investment.

In an era for restorative justice, Detroit, like many other US cities, is looking to repair the harms of urban renewal by reimaging these highway systems as walkable streets and parkways that reconnect divided neighborhoods and communities. Civic leaders are now interested in advancing Detroit’s legacy mobility innovation to model new mobility infrastructures that are more inclusive, climate responsive and adaptive. City leaders believe that redesigning these infrastructures can right some of the wrongs produced by the uprooting and displacement of African American and Asian American businesses and community life in and around downtown Detroit.

Detroit’s street and highway network will serve as an experimental laboratory for designing new mobility infrastructures models that must also accommodate issues of climate, technology, economic and population flux, the future of work, public health and safety, and cultural identity.  The studio, Detroit Re-Connected: Reparative Mobilities in the Motor City, will use 3 city street and 2 highway reconfiguration typologies in Detroit to investigate various mobilities and address the following four design questions:

  1. What it means to be “mobile” to a Detroiter – to commute; to grow income and wealth; and to make choices about where to live, work and play?
  2. What are the expanded functionalities of the street public realm based on the changing nature of how we work, live, and promote health; changing climate and technology; establish in-person community and social capital; exercise democracy; support one another in crisis; and/or express our personal identities?
  3. How should adjacent development patterns be redesigned in response to the changing functions and technologies of the street public realm?
  4. How can street design and adjacent development produce restorative justice for displaced families, businesses, ecological systems that realize measurable equitable outcomes?

TThe first day of GSD classes, Tuesday, September 5th, is held as a MONDAY schedule at the GSD. As this course meets on Tuesday, the first meeting of this course will be on Wednesday, September 6th. It will meet regularly thereafter.