Dec 16, 201303:23 PMPoint of View

Big Ideas from the 2013 Bruner Loeb Forum Detroit

Big Ideas from the 2013 Bruner Loeb Forum Detroit

Detroit, with vivid reminders of its industrial heritage, was the setting for the 2013 Bruner Loeb Forum.

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This post is part of a series written and curated by RBA that focuses on placemaking in American cities. The blogs offer a detailed look at the 2013 award selection process and site visits, case studies from past award winners, and highlights from events such as the Bruner-Loeb Forum.

Last month, 108 participants—architects, landscape architects, planners, educators, nonprofit leaders, policy makers, and others interested or working in cities—gathered in Detroit for the Bruner Loeb Forum. Our focus was Legacy City Design. The event was sponsored by the Bruner Foundation and the Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design—in partnership with the American Assembly, J. Max Bond Center for the Just City, and Detroit Collaborative Design Center. The day-and-a-half annual forum was the platform for a lively exchange of information and ideas about design and planning in America’s “Legacy Cities.”

The term “Legacy Cities” was coined in 2011 during an American Assembly meeting; it was also held in Detroit. That event attracted 80 US and European representatives to discuss the challenges facing older, mid-sized metropolitan areas struggling with post-industrial population loss. The participants, as described in the resulting report, Reinventing America’s Legacy Cities: Strategies for Cities Losing Population, employed “legacy” as a descriptor “that invokes thoughts of both extraordinary inheritances and obsolete relics…suitable…for a group of American cities that have rich histories and assets, and yet have struggled to stay relevant in an ever-changing global economy.” Having lived and worked in Pittsburgh, the term resonated with me, particularly in light of the Steel City’s remarkable transformation over the past 30 years.

Materials from the Legacy City Design Forum

Photograph: Bruner Foundation


This year’s Bruner Loeb Forum topic was our most expansive to date, involving multiple cities and partners. We took this approach because we believed that discussion of the subject was critical to the health and vitality of our cities and that making connections between policy, design, and community sectors was also crucial. Our planning team engaged leaders from community design centers working in several legacy cities to ensure the forum’s content remained as close to the ground as possible in terms of what was taking place in practice. We wanted attendees to see and experience relevant urban challenges first hand and to spend time with people involved in small- and large-scale planning and development strategies nationwide.

The forum opened with a series of mobile workshops that included stops in Brightmoor and Eastern Market, where community members leading infrastructure and vacancy initiatives gave brief presentations and led discussions. During a stop at Eastern Market’s Trinosophes, a gallery and performance space, Dan Kinkaid, executive director of Detroit Future City, gave an overview of the compelling two-year project that “blended technical expertise with that of the community”—including more than 30,000 conversations and 163,000 interactions—to create a shared vision and framework to guide investments in Detroit’s future.

Dan Pitera, executive director of Detroit Collaborative Design Center, discusses local community development and greening initiatives on bus tour during our mobile workshops.

Courtesy Bruner Foundation

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