The Detroit office of the Australian firm Spackman Mossop Michaels looks to transform a quarter square mile area by addressing every publicly-owned vacant lot and house in the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project Area. The strategy will focus on removing blighted structures, beautifying vacant lots, and creating homes for new residents in order to contribute to overall stability, increase property values, and improve quality of life.
Neighborhoods in Detroit are dealing with the impact of blighted and vacant properties in their communities. Spackman Mossop Michaels was commissioned by the City of Detroit to envision a bold new way to address distressed neighborhoods by focusing on the landscape of the entire area rather than addressing blighted properties on a lot-by-lot basis.
The Fitzgerald Project Area, located within the Fitzgerald neighborhood in North Detroit, was selected for this pilot project because of the concentration of publicly-owned vacant lots and homes. Currently, the vacancy rate in the neighborhood is around 50%, with over three-hundred vacant parcels in the square mile area. The plan is made up of four primary initiatives: the Ella Fitzgerald Park, a new community park with access to the Fitzgerald Greenway, which connects the two universities on either end of the neighborhood; the Landscape Stewardship Plan, a public-private partnership to develop affordable housing; and the Productive Landscapes Initiative, a public-private partnership to encourage market-driven landscape-based businesses.
Those initiatives also serve as opportunities to provide employment. The Green Conservation Corps, in partnership with the Greening of Detroit, hires local residents to work on low-maintenance landscapes, ensuring that the spaces are well kept over the long term. The project also renovates dozens of houses currently owned by the City of Detroit, converting them into renovated homes for families and demolishing those that cannot be saved.
Early on, the City of Detroit committed to a transparent process in which neighborhood residents are involved in every step of the project. The community takes part in the selection of the Community Development Team, which implements most of the plan and simultaneously addresses multiple interconnected issues, including landscape strategies, workforce development, crime reduction, and affordable housing.
The Request for Proposal for a Community Development Team aims to rehabilitate 115 of the existing structures to create affordable housing; the Landscape Stewardship Plan uses the same development team to implement and maintain landscape interventions on the 200 or more vacant lots in the neighborhood.
Of the 373 parcels of land, fifty will be used towards creating new public community spaces in the new Ella Fitzgerald Park and the Fitzgerald Greenway, and over two-hundred will be part of the Landscape Stewardship Plan. Analysis and inventory of the existing land assets in the Fitzgerald neighborhood determined the best uses of these vacant lots. Factors such as size, distribution, adjacency, ownership status, and community character were compiled and evaluated. Out of this process, Spackman Mossop Michaels developed lot treatment typologies and strategies for unbuilt and underutilized land that deploy sustainable maintenance strategies and contribute to neighborhood stabilization and revitalization, with the aim of encouraging a positive identity and improving environmental performance.
DATE: 2016-2017 / LOCATION: Fitzgerald neighborhood, Detroit, Michigan / SITE AREA: 160 acres / CLIENT: City of Detroit / STATUS: Built / Design team: Wes Michaels, Elizabeth Mossop, Emily Bullock, Liz Camuti, Jane Satterlee, Katie Boutte, Matty Williams / COLLABORATORS: Dan Pitera, Ceara O’Leary, Sarah Hayosh (Detroit Collaborative Design Center), Larry Weaner, Ethan Dropkin, Rebecca Kagle (Larry Weaner Landscape Associates), Lauren Hood (Live6 Alliance), Maurice Cox , Alexa Bush, Dave Walker , Cecily King, Kim Tandy, David Williams, Arthur Jemison (City of Detroit ), University of Detroit Mercy, Marygrove College, Detroit Land Bank Authority, The Greening of Detroit, Fitzgerald Community Council College, Core Block Club, San Juan Block Club, Bethune Fitzgerald Academy / IMAGES: Courtesy of Spackman Mossop Michaels / spackmanmossopmichaels.com