More Detroit Future City: Urban Recalibration

First, I want to thank all the people who commented and e-mailed me related to the last post.  It gave me a sense of who’s out there checking out this blog.  I hope that through good writing and good stewardship of this blog I can entice you to become followers, and start engaging in good-sprited debate about cities and planning.
As soon as I can I want to leave the Detroit-specific stuff behind and start writing about shrinking cities much more broadly.  But I did have a point I left off and I had to address it.  I said that Detroit Future City, Detroit’s latest master plan, accomplishes two goals.  The first, brought up here, is that the plan recognizes the city’s assets beyond the auto industry.  This is no small feat in Detroit; for decades the economic and social cycles and rhythms of the auto industry defined the city.  But the second goal of the plan speaks much more directly to the issues confronting shrinking cities everywhere:
Goal 2: The Plan introduces land use typologies generally never seen in large cities, and, if implemented, can make the city become the leader in urban recalibration.  In the Land Use section of Detroit Future City, four new land use typologies are proposed for Detroit:
Green Residential – a low-density residential typology with a green emphasis where possible;

Green Mixed-Rise – another low to mid-density typology reminiscent of Le Corbusier’s Towers in a Park;

Innovation Productive – areas where vacant land is put to productive use like agriculture and forestry;

Innovation Ecological – areas where vacant land is left for conservation and preservation.

(all images courtesy of Detroit Works Project)
I will admit none of these are new ideas.  These are all either a new implementation of old ideas (see Green Mixed Rise), an acknowledgement of current realities (see Green Residential) or a representation of more recent thought on dealing with large amounts of vacant land (Innovation Productive and Innovation Ecological).  What is striking and innovative is their implementation in a major city.  I think this table, not included in the Plan but including numbers drawn from it, more clearly explains the amount of urban recalibration the Plan proposes:
Detroit Now
Detroit Future City Proposal (50 Years from Now)
Land Use
Land Use Percent
Land Use
Land Use Percent
Mixed Use
Traditional Neighborhoods
Green Neighborhoods
Look at those numbers closely, and another way of viewing this is that this Plan would reduce Detroit’s residential component from 58% of all land to 48%, a reduction of more than 20%.  Assuming that the Detroit Future City planners lumped what was once institutional land use into the residential category, the reduction would be even larger.  Furthermore, the Plan seeks to up the open space component of the city from 8% (just parks at this time) to 29% (parks and the new landscape typologies), increasing open space in the city 2.6 times!  
The Plan is admirable in its recognition of the realities facing Detroit.  I simply hope it gets a favorable review from City officials, particularly those who may be elected in Detroit’s November 2013 municipal elections.

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