Dec 16, 201303:23 PMPoint of View

Big Ideas from the 2013 Bruner Loeb Forum Detroit

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Eastern Market is home to a six-block public market and over 250 wholesale and retail food vendors.

Courtesy Bruner Foundation

After the tours, participants gathered downtown for an opening reception, including presentations by architectural activist and educator Roberta Feldman (1997 Rudy Bruner Award selection committee member), psychiatrist and Root Shock author Mindy Fullilove, and Urban Land Institute senior resident fellow and former Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy (1999 RBA selection committee).

Feldman addressed the importance of “designing for and with people” in the process of rebuilding. Fullilove advocated for the connection of social systems with design, considering “placemaking” as the “creation of places to hold social capital.” She encouraged focusing on more than just the physical plan or “grid,” cautioning that shrinkage—both unplanned and planned—can cause “the dislocation and disruption of social milieu and the rupture of social systems” that affect the physical and emotional health of communities. Murphy concluded the evening by sharing a spirited narrative about Pittsburgh’s renaissance after hitting “rock bottom” 30 years ago, using it and the story of Horatio Nelson Jackson and America’s First Road Trip as reminders of the importance of collaboration, partnerships, and “taking some risk to see the future.”

The next day, our group reconvened at the Detroit Collaborative Design Center on the University of Detroit Mercy campus for presentations and work sessions. Six practitioners including Maurice Cox, Tulane City Center; Marc Norman, UPSTATE at Syracuse University; Peter Park, Peter J. Park LLC City Planning and Design; Chris Reed, Stoss Landscape Urbanism; Terry Schwarz, Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative; and Bob Shibley, Regional Institute/Urban Design Project at the University of Buffalo shared project case studies from legacy cities that demonstrated innovative approaches to rethinking land use to create sustainable urban neighborhoods and infrastructure.

Work Sessions at UD Mercy. The Detroit Collaborative Design Center at University of Detroit Mercy was host to Friday presentations and work sessions.

Courtesy Bruner Foundation

Norman, Park, and Schwarz addressed opportunities and challenges associated with surplus systems such as road and sewer networks, decommissioning existing infrastructure, and the development of new green spaces. Cox, Reed, and Shibley discussed examples of collaborative, community-driven visions that illustrated the value of broad planning frameworks, allowing for strategic, phased investment, and incremental, organic development. Reed underscored the fact that the “landscape can be an active force in remaking the city,” and that “transitional landscapes” can play a critical role by bridging the phases between vacancy and permanent development as well as addressing environmental remediation. The case studies were reminders that the implementation of projects—including small-scale, spontaneous, pop-up ones—is critical to demonstrate what is possible and generate demand for good design.

A case study presentation. Pictured is Terry Schwarz, director of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, discussing the Opportunity Corridor in Cleveland.

Courtesy Bruner Foundation

Focusing on the forum’s key goal of discussing innovative work in legacy cities nationwide, participants identified nearly 200 projects and initiatives addressing infrastructure and vacancy in their urban areas (including 13 legacy cities) and generated a comparable number of new ideas. Toni Griffin, director of the J. Max Bond Center, and Dan Pitera, (2009 RBA selection committee) director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (which designed 2009 RBA Silver Medalist St. Joseph Rebuild Center), led a wrap-up discussion that summarized the forum’s themes and takeaways that affirmed the value of focusing on vision and possibilities, trust and risk taking, and partnerships and networks that foster information exchange and dialogue. As Fullilove noted the evening before, “the possibilities are endless,” particularly when “manifesting the ‘we’ to restore a city’s greatness.”

Presenter Chris Reed, founding principal of Stoss Landscape Urbanism, and Jim Stockard, Loeb Fellowship curator.

Courtesy Bruner Foundation

The strong interest in and enthusiasm for the forum’s topic bodes well for plans to create an ongoing information-sharing network. Findings from this year’s forum will be incorporated into the Legacy City Design website, including case studies, other forum resources, and participating organizations and presenters. For additional information, including dispatches from the event, check out posts from the American Assembly’s Legacy Cities Initiative, the Loeb Fellowship’s LoeBlog, NextCity, and John Gallagher’s Learning from Legacy Cities recap.

Looking ahead, the Bruner Foundation and Loeb Fellowship will announce the Request for Proposals for our 2014 forum soon. Check out the Bruner-Loeb Forum website to learn more.

Anne-Marie Lubenau, AIA, is director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (RBA) for the Bruner Foundation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An architect and advocate for educating and engaging people in design of the built environment, she is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and was a 2012 Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

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