The old Regent Park was physically dull and disconnected. Today it is brimming with enthusiasm, knowledge sharing, talent development and an enterprising spirit.
The Daniels Corporation led by president Mitchell Cohen, in partnership with Toronto Community Housing and supported by former mayor David Miller launched this phased transformation in 2005. Regent Park is an outstanding example of an asset-based, capacity-building initiative designed to promote true health.
Among its many positive qualities, this mixed-use, mixed-income community communicates a sense of abundance rather than scarcity. It demonstrates that Toronto’s public projects need not be rigid and mean.
Entrepreneurial partnerships – rather than traditional sources of funding - will be a prime ingredient for ongoing success. Regent Park radiates a can-do spirit and makes me believe it will offer a wealth of ideas for renewal projects around the world.
Jenenne Whitfield, executive director of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit spoke at OCAD University and the University of Toronto today. Both events were sponsored by the U.S. Consulate General. The U of T event was co-sponsored by Spacing magazine, with Q&A facilitated by Spacing editor Shawn Micallef.
Jenenne explained why this project has been working for 26 years on so many levels (despite ups and downs) to improve life in the complex city of Detroit.
Watch this fascinating summary of the project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6w6WGokjTU
These four ”natural ingredients” of the Heidelberg Project’s ongoing success stand out in my mind:
1. Work with what you have (asset-based development)
2. Use the attraction principle to change behavior (not more rules or enforcement)
3. Rely on organic, bit-by-bit change (v. massive programs)
4. Don’t wait for top-down initiatives to improve things (DIY culture must replace rescue delusions)
Founder Tyree Guyton’s philosophy, known as Heidelbergology, views art as having active powers to transform people, to act as a medicine and to serve as a catalyst for widespread change.
The big news in Detroit recently, Jenenne says, is that change is now coming from the ordinary, everyday person.
Matt Galloway’s interview with Jenenne on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning: http://www.cbc.ca/metromorning/episodes/2013/04/12/rtdetroit-a/
photo: Mike Williams, General Manager of Economic Development & Culture, City of Toronto, cites the many benefits of manufacturing in urban areas.
Vertical Urban Factory, last night’s excellent panel discussion at 401 Richmond, delved into the return of manufacturing to cities. Economic and social benefits include fortifying a solid middle income base, opportunity for local innovation and the creation of spin-off jobs. The talk was sponsored by the Centre for City Ecology in conjunction with an exhibit at the Design Exchange in Toronto. This exhibit has previously been on show in New York and Detroit.
In addition to Mike Williams, the panel included Nina Rappaport, Curator, Vertical Urban Factory and Jason Rehel, Cultural Critic, National Post.
A particularly interesting aspect of this movement that factory owners are attracted by cities with a vibrant workforce, which we can only hope brings an end to the outmoded idea of tax subsidies.
On his HBR blog Michael Schrage observes, “Right answers to wrong questions virtually guarantee failure…Asking “how can we build a better mouse?” in an era of touchscreen and haptic virtuosity is not a recipe for success.”
Schrage’s new book, “Who do you want you customers to become?” raises a question that we as architects have given a lot of thought to over the years. The set of slides above introduces ten interactive elements that are intended to transform non-designers into champions who demand better, health-causing design.
- Sharon VanderKaay
The current insourcing boom sees manufacturing jobs returning to North America and raises interesting questions about how the movement can promote a healthy state of mind. What kind of physical environment could this wave of development and production beget? Let’s imagine what a new industrial revolution might look like in 3D.
The new Maker Movement is about creating goods through collaboration with colleagues and customers, in a quest for innovation and value for money. This approach to making things is less likely to waste resources (fuel, materials, ideas) and more likely to be appreciated by today’s “prosumers” (vs. the traditional passive consumers).
Vast impersonal factories, belching smoke and chemicals while mass-producing disposable commodities, are thus becoming the ghosts of industry past.
A different kind of physical environment is required to make the most of this next wave. Sure, Steve Jobs started out in a bland, suburban garage, but where will the great makers of the future do their best work? Already we can see maker spaces appearing in San Francisco, New York City and Ann Arbor. This means that place (having character and connection) is being recognized as a vital ingredient beyond mere space (utilitarian volume).
The above video presents a new industrial vision of cheerful, mixed use, easy-to-construct-or-adapt Maker Style environments.
Further information on the Maker Movement and insourcing boom:
The Atlantic, “The Insourcing Boom” by Charles Fishman, December 2012 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/12/the-insourcing-boom/309166/
“Makers: The New Industrial Revolution,” by Chris Anderson http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=3134
“The Maker Movement Lowers Consumption and Waste” blog post on TriplePundit: http://www.triplepundit.com/2013/01/making-new-green/
Makerspace Directory http://makerspace.com/
Collision Works will be much more than a cool boutique hotel in Detroit’s lively Eastern Market – it will re-define what a hotel can be. Founder Shel Kimen is shepherding the creation of a co-working and lodging space rooted in community participation and story-telling.
One of her organization’s laudable stated beliefs is in “honoring the freak genius in all of us.”
A vital aspect of this project is that the design will convey an intriguing “Detroit Style” rather than “Anytown, USA” disorienting blandness. In other words, it will reflect the edgy, imperfect, quirky aesthetic of a hands-on working community in a one-of-a-kind location.
This “community accelerator” (the city must now attract lots of accelerators and investors in order to quickly shore up a shrunken tax base) aims to bring meaningful stories of the past and present to life.
Detroit has a lot of emotional stories to tell and learn from. One over-arching theme is the power of grass roots change vs. top-down efforts. Answers to the question of what has held Detroit back for so many years are complex, but imposed change has a dismal record here and is arguably the main culprit.
This hotel, constructed of shipping containers, is a grass roots initiative story that will surely attract global attention, perhaps on a scale comparable to New York’s High Line.
Here is how Collision Works describes their new role as a “make and stay space”:
“In the last ten years we’ve seen an evolution of hotels from places to sleep to social settings for culture development. They incorporate music and art, host independent events like film festivals and book releases, and sell locally made crafts in the rooms. We’d like to see this trend deepen. We’d like a hotel to be a meaningful participant in its community.”
I can think of no better place than Detroit to break this kind of new ground.
- Sharon VanderKaay
The people of Detroit have suffered through several generations of abuse, neglect and hostile urban renewal. Destructive labor and management relations instilled a norm of dependency and mistrust on all sides; decades of extreme government corruption, racism, oppression and violence made things much worse.
High profile urban renewal projects such as the original fortress-like design for the Renaissance Center failed to contribute to diversity and street life.
Despite these pathological realities, Detroit’s enduring core assets are the basis for a powerful new role in the U.S. economy and beyond. The city has a deeply rooted, resourceful “maker culture” which is now coming to life and attracting creative entrepreneurs from far and wide. This asset, combined with a low cost of living, have created a magnet for budding talent. Detroit is set to be a rising star of urban vitality.
Two major concerns could throw this exciting revival tragically off track. One would be the failure to engage all local citizens—people living in poverty as well as in trendy lofts—in creating their own future.
The other pitfall is the danger of tolerating souless urban design renewal. The city must find a way to avoid bland, placeless, spirit-crushing, energy-draining new construction.
Detroit has a rich history of humanistic design. My wish for my birthplace is that decision-makers will not blow this one chance (as Eminem might say) to use an asset-based planning and design approach. Rather than simply focus on gaps that must be filled with anonymous new construction, the asset-based design process identifies vital, health-causing qualities to be reflected in the design. These qualities include character, roots, human relationships, local identity and design aesthetic.
Looking ahead, Detroit must avoid faux-anything and define its own style.
Since Detroit is a music-oriented city, I wrote a poem (video here) that highlights the city’s best qualities.
Songs and poems can have more impact through power of suggestion than any blog post. Will “Makin’ it in Detroit” become the first urban design pop song? And will this popularity lead to human-centric design?
- Sharon VanderKaay (Detroit native)
photo sources: photo of Robert Graham’s 1986 “Memorial to Joe Louis” by hannerola on Flickr. Photo of Marshall Fredericks’ 1958 “Spirit of Detroit” by buckshot.jones on Flickr.
“…no country, rich or poor, is immune to bad design…But we have to advocate for (humanized design) and many of us, until now, simply haven’t realized that we deserve better. We couldn’t imagine the alternative. But once you see what good design can do, once you experience it, you can’t unsee it or unexperience it. It becomes a part of your possible…”- John Cary and Courtney E. Martin in The New York Times, “Dignifying Design“
The movement to humanize our built environment needs more people who can analyze the difference between salutogenic and pathogenic places.
One way to acclerate the demand for safe, optimistic and meaningful habitats is to provide criteria for anyone to understand the contrast between the two scenes above.
In our previous post “Beyond drive-by design,” we listed five “Vital Signs” that by no means cover all the elements of a human-centric built environment, but these criteria provide a way to begin a critical conversation.
Let’s shine a light on the blind spots.
NO MAN’S LAND: What were they thinking?
It’s a common question when confronted with de-natured environments
During the ’50s and ’60s people were haunted by anxieties brought on by the Cold War, Sputnik, and a world that was becoming less and less predictable. When nature–which is naturally unpredictable–disappeared from built environments, such deprivation was generally regarded as an inevitable side-effect of “progress.”
Machines and technology (see the GM Tech Center) were seen as a means of making life more controllable, and therefore a way to reduce anxiety.
De-natured offices, classrooms, conference centres, shopping malls, public plazas and suburbs thus became the norm.
The current medical cost crisis has created an urgent need to accelerate the re-naturing of our environments. Sixty years of unhealthy design norms need to be remedied ASAP.
By 1961, an occasional tree would escape the march of progress.
- Sharon VanderKaay
College Street near Dufferin, downtown Toronto
Walkable neighbourhoods are becoming widely recognized for offering many health and economic advantages. However, in order to reap the full benefits of car-free living, it is vital to understand that distance, safety and access are only part of the recipe for success.
Boring, repetitive streetscapes make even a short walk unappealing – whether you are in the city or the suburbs.
There are three deadly M’s that contribute to a negative walking experience: Monotonous, Meaningless and Mundane design.
By contrast, The Atlantic Cities, in a recent article, ‘Walk Score’ Is Great, But it Still Doesn’t Capture ‘Walk Appeal’ reports on a new diagnostic approach that helps people assess the qualities of a walk-worthy neighbourhood.
“Walk Score is a terrific tool, as far as it goes. But we need other ways of quantifying walkability on our nation’s streets. The architect and urbanist Steve Mouzon is working on just such a measurement. He calls it Walk Appeal, and the idea behind it is something that we all know but don’t often acknowledge: A mile in an American suburb is a lot longer than a mile in Rome,” says The Atlantic Cities.
And blocks of identical, pseudo-Victorian or faux-Cape Cod row houses anywhere (including downtown) are looooong blocks.
New housing in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan
Variety is the spice of life:
How can new housing provide a more interesting walk?
How can it encourage expression of different personalities?