by Jerry ElengicalMar 15, 2023
Since the early 20th century, when Henry Ford set up the Highland Park Plant in Detroit, Michigan (United States), the city saw a massive rise in industries (especially automobile and its ancillary industries). Due to its central location, and proximity to the Great Lakes and railways, the city allowed easy access to capital and markets. Following this process of industrialisation, in the post-war years, the city encountered spells of migration—especially from the Southern states. This new influx of a black population in an all-white city led to unbalanced power dynamics, manifested most evidently in housing opportunities. Additionally, the decentralisation of the automobile industries away from cities and urban space in the 1950s, coupled with the construction of a federally subsidised highway and freeway system created an automobile city with a low-cost, low-quality central city having a majority black population; and white, middle-class suburbs as a result of middle-class and white flight. The resultant urban sprawl, coupled with an inadequate public transport system, also led to urban decay and a break up of functioning neighbourhoods and businesses.
In the aftermath of this deindustrialisation, through public and private investments the city is in the process of reviving its economic and social dynamics. Against the 20thcentury modernist trend of urban planning, which imposed rigid and large-scale developments, in the early 2000s, the neighbourhood unit emerges as one of the solutions to urban decay. Creating a distinct urban community in Detroit just past the northwest border of Corktown and Woodbridge, Core City is a four-square-mile neighbourhood with a population of just over 1200. Owning 22 acres of land, real estate development company Prince Concepts aims at integrating greenspaces with the built form to re-energise its urban centres. Two projects—Park(ing) and the Power Plant Building—together with three existing projects in the neighbourhood, True North, Caterpillar, and Core City Park, act as a hub of indoor and outdoor spaces that enable social interactions and utilise urban landscaping ideas.
Park(ing), for all its intents and purposes, is a parking lot catering to the Core City Park block and the tenants of the Power Plant Building. However, with the integration of a landscape of over 100 trees, and berms, landscape architect Julie Bargmann provides additional green public spaces to the neighbourhood. Sitting across the Core City Park, the lot accommodates 30 parking spots, under the cover of sumacs, and other evergreens. These shrubs, ranging from a height of two to four metres, stand almost hedge-like, on either side of the lots, providing a canopy under its extensive branches, reddish fruits and pinnate foliage. On the other hand, fast-growing, deciduous maple trees reaching heights of 33 metres, and characterised by their red fall leaves, adorn the lot as specimen trees. The driving path itself is covered with impervious pavers and granite to reduce the chances of flooding. The car park doubles up as a public park in the evenings.
In the evenings the park serves as an extension to the Core City Park and provides a space for people to accumulate, albeit without the scope to facilitate common activities.
Across the lot, on the north-eastern boundary of the Core City Park, the Power Plant Building project is an adaptive reuse project, which involves the renovation of this civic-style brick building with a means to enliven the otherwise disused structure. The first phase, completed in 2020, renovated the annexe portion of the building to accommodate Core City Fitness. The latest addition, on the floor above, is a commercial space, which houses the headquarters of an animation agency. On the ground floor, the agency occupies an alley-turned-kitchen. Therefore, the building, in its current state is a combination of old and new construction.
Historically, neighbourhoods have evolved organically, from smaller settlements to larger communities, with a scale compact enough to promote pedestrian movement and human interaction. Furthermore, mixed land-use, not only facilitates live-work-play environments but also prevents urban sprawls. Local markets in the neighbourhood also provide a sense of place, lending a unique identity to the place. The Prince Concept projects— designed with an aim to integrate green spaces within the built form, which form pockets of interaction for the public—do so in a planned and formal manner. While the parking lot has the scope to turn into a truly interactive public space, in its current state, with a lack of street furniture, food stalls, play areas, artwork, or any element that could expedite common activities, it fails to do so. It does, however, in combination with the Power Plant Building, deliver a sense of place—evoking the industrial history of the city.