- Project Name
- Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan
- City of Detroit
- 20,910,000 sq. feet
- Year Completed
- Shared by
- Miabelle Salzano
- Project Status
- On the Boards/In Progress
From the May 2019 Issue of ARCHITECT:
A master plan brings active public space to Detroit’s waterfront and, in doing so, reconnects downtown to the river.
As Detroit strives to recover from years of disinvestment and depopulation, one of the key challenges has been to identify potential assets upon which the city can capitalize in order to position itself once more as an economic and cultural hub. One such locus for rebirth is Motown’s long-neglected waterfront, and it is here that a team headed by Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has stepped in with a scheme to turn the former industrial zone into a standout urban amenity.
The Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan envisions a process unfolding over the next decade-plus, as ecological remediation efforts are carried out simultaneously with the construction and enhancement of parks, tree-lined thoroughfares, and other armatures stretching well beyond the river, connecting it with the historic city core and nearby residential neighborhoods. Facets of the scheme have already been put into place, with improvements to nearby streets that have rendered them more attractive as well as safer for foot traffic; landscaped corridors with ample bike lanes are in the works as well, integrating the city’s recreational and commercial spheres while providing healthy alternatives to automobile transit.
For a city long synonymous with the motor vehicle, the focus on walking and cycling may seem like a break from form—yet SOM’s approach has ensured that the changes currently underway were not merely imposed upon Detroiters: Extensive dialogue with citizens from all walks of life preceded the primary planning stage, and has remained ongoing as implementation has marched forward. Moreover, the plan seems firmly rooted in the city’s cultural and architectural identity, with targeted interventions that will spur development around classic Detroit icons like the Renaissance Center and the Guardian Building, filling in the critically under-built urban fabric while preserving the best of the city as it now stands.
Project: Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan, Detroit
Client: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Chicago . Philip J. Enquist, FAIA (Chicago consulting partner); Douglas J. Voigt, AIA (urban design & planning partner); Aaron May (project manager); Dawveed Scully, Assoc. AIA (senior urban designer); Rachel Momenee (senior urban designer and architectural professional)
Civil Engineer: Giffels Webster
Landscape Architect: Michel Desvigne Paysagiste; Inessa Hansch Architecte
Consultant: McIntosh Poris Architecture
Economics and Development Advisory Consultant: HR&A Advisors
Community Facilitation Consultant: E. Austell Associates
Transportation Planning Consultant: Giffels Webster
Historic Assets Evaluation Consultant: Kraemer Design Group
Environmental Assessment/Local Incentives and Tax Mechanisms: AKT Peerless Environmental Services
Size: 480 acres
This project won a 2019 AIA Institute Honor Award for Regional & Urban Design
Designed to broaden community access and propel investment along Detroit’s previously blighted waterfront, the Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan comes at a pivotal moment for the future of the city. Building on a 10-year, nonprofit-led effort to restore and preserve the land, the plan facilitates a new generation of authentic Detroit neighborhoods.
The desire for the plan arose from the transformation of the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department (PDD) in 2014. With the addition of seasoned, widely recognized urban design and planning leaders, the PDD partnered with community and nonprofit organizations to begin activating neglected areas of the city. In those partnerships, a 15-year vision for the waterfront emerged as well as the realization that its success would rely heavily on input and in-depth criticism from Detroiters.
With an overarching goal of providing deep connection to the Detroit River, long dominated by industry, the plan provides a starting point for redevelopment and lays out the series of phases needed for the long-term commitment to comprehensive transformation. It also identifies future strategies that can draw on existing initiatives to create riverfront destinations achievable in the short term. Improvements began in 2017, establishing the tone for future infrastructure and equitable real estate development. The redesign of a section of Jefferson Avenue—where automobile accidents involving pedestrians were a regular occurrence—creates a more friendly experience for those on foot or bike. In addition, the Joseph Campau Greenway offers a safe, green connection to the waterfront from a nearby highway.
Throughout the stakeholder-driven plan is an emphasis on nature and ecology, its open-space framework providing key strategies for environmental restoration and the pursuit of healthy lifestyles. Quiet, natural spaces mingle with active outdoor programming to provide a wide range of destinations while protecting the river’s delicate ecology by capturing and cleaning stormwater runoff. It also reduces the need for large parking structures along the waterfront, ensuring the permanence of the spaces.
In its incrementalism, the plan demonstrates how that approach significantly supports infrastructure and continuously builds to something bigger and better. By capitalizing on the city’s strengths, the plan reflects the needs of residents while mirroring Detroit’s transformative vision.
FROM THE ARCHITECTS:
Building on a ten-year initiative led by the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, SOM developed a framework plan for Detroit's East Riverfront District, which lies adjacent to one of the world's busiest international border crossings along the Detroit River. Designed to preserve more riverfront land for public use, generate greater community access to the Detroit River, and spur investment along the East Riverfront, the project seeks to continue the transformation of the East Riverfront area from a blighted, industrial area into a vibrant public waterfront accessible to all Detroit residents.
The strategic framework plan was realized after an intensive six-month program of community meetings, workshops, tours, and interviews. The plan outlines the addition of eight acres of park space to the East Riverfront and envisions keeping significant portions of the waterfront free from private development in perpetuity. The Beltline, a new greenway, will directly connect inland neighborhoods to the Detroit River, while the existing Joseph Campau Greenway will receive new lighting, paving, and landscaping. Improvements along Jefferson Avenue seek to reduce vehicular accidents, improve walkability, and beautify the corridor—improvements that are designed to boost local businesses and facilitate safer access to the waterfront.
Working with City of Detroit and the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, the project team included urban economic development specialists HR&A Advisors, landscape architects Michel Desvigne and Inessa Hansch, and local firms McIntosh Poris, Giffels Webster, Kraemer Design Group, AKT Peerless, Rich & Associates, and E. Austell Associates.