This article was originally published on Builder.
The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, City of Detroit Planning & Development Department, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation unveiled the final framework plan for the city’s East Riverfront District earlier this month. Titled “Your Detroit East Riverfront,” the plan was developed in 2016 during months of public engagement, meetings, and site tours to provide citizens the opportunity to participate in the planning process.
The final plan was developed from a winning proposal led by Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and McIntosh Poris Associates of Birmingham, Mich., with French landscape architect Michel Desvigne, economic consultant HR&A Advisors, and five other firms based in the Detroit area: Giffels Webster, civil engineer; Kraemer Design Group, historic consultant; Elnora Austell & Associates, community outreach; AKT Peerless, environmental; and Rich Associates, parking. This team was selected in April 2016 from seven finalists among 24 teams, and began work on the plan immediately.
McIntosh Poris Associates helped to win the project by assembling the group of six local experts familiar with Detroit and the waterfront. The East Riverfront District extends two miles from downtown, along the Detroit River to Belle Isle Park and north to Larned Street, including Jefferson Avenue. Among the challenges was to find ways of connecting neighborhoods north of the dangerous nine-lane wide Jefferson Avenue to the riverfront.
“Our big push was to make the riverfront a place for everyone,” says McIntosh Poris Associates principal Michael Poris, AIA. “This is an area that had been industrial, underutilized, and mostly private for many years, so we wanted to open it to the people. This plan makes the riverfront public for the first time in 300 years.”
The goal of the plan is to transform the blighted waterfront where the city began, which was developed as an industrial and warehouse district in the 19th century, into an exciting series of neighborhoods. The final plan provides a vision for creating more publicly accessible parks, connective greenways, pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets, and mixed-use developments.
During the 12 months of planning, Poris and other team members met with various stakeholders on numerous occasions to gather feedback. “Public engagement made a huge difference in the process by putting us in touch with what people really want for the area,” says Poris. “That helped to shed our preconceived ideas. We focused on involving people who live and work in the district, including citizens, property owners, philanthropic foundations, and neighborhood groups.”
The final plan concentrates on strategies for revitalizing, greening, and connecting the riverfront, including:
• Extending the current RiverWalk along the water’s edge to create a continuous park between Cobo Hall and Belle Isle.
• Doubling the number of parks and open spaces in the district and making them accessible to all Detroiters.
• Creating greenways to connect nearby neighborhoods across Jefferson to the riverfront. This network includes a new Beltline Greenway and improvements to the existing Campau Greenway to connect it to the river.
• Transforming Jefferson Avenue into an inviting, pedestrian-friendly boulevard with medians, separated bike lanes, improved transit, and sidewalks providing access to the riverfront.
• Improving streets and sidewalks to enhance mobility and safety.
• Providing economic incentive to help spur development in the district.