What if our health became the basis for judging every public space, every building, every workplace and every home?
What if we always asked: How healthy is this place?
There’s no such thing as a neutral space. What we build either causes health or erodes our capacity to thrive.
For specific examples of how design causes health or causes dis-ease, we created this video:
“Salutogenic Places: Designed to Thrive” Five vital signs that add up to design that causes health
- Sharon VanderKaay
Detroit is much more than a Motor City with mechanical problems.
One of the bad habits that lingers from the industrial age is a tendency to view organic situations as mechanical problems.
The City of Detroit’s financial condition cannot be dramatically improved by using a mechanical approach to problem solving. Mechanical approaches work for fixing broken machines or solving simple problems, but Detroit is neither a machine nor simple.
Detroit is an organic, living being composed of human relationships, skills and capabilities. Many of the city’s resources and assets are currently under-appreciated. An important step in Detroit’s revival is for more people to identify, see the value of, and mobilize her strengths (tangible and intangible).
Just a few of these strengths include the extraordinary community relationships and knowledge that have been developed in order to cope with cutbacks in city services, a culture of making things, a history of innovation and the unpretentious character of Detroiters who have a low tolerance for phonies.
Focus on strengths, not needs
Most people see Detroit in terms of needs. When you think only about needs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. So it’s time to make a conscious effort to see beyond needs and pay more attention to strengths. This approach isn’t just about being positive or negative; it’s about making the most of natural assets (human and physical) that can be further developed.
Difficulties to be “outgrown,” not “fixed”
Mechanical approaches to problem-solving begin by identifying, then fixing problems and deficiencies. But since Detroit is not a problem to be fixed, it must outgrow the extreme conditions which held it back in the past. For example, the mutually destructive relationship that people in the suburbs have had with people in the city of Detroit is most likely to change through the mega-shift to cities now happening everywhere.
Many young people no longer want to work in anonymous, dismal “office parks” and live in isolated suburban neighborhoods. Older people want to “age in place,” which means being able to walk to see friends and get groceries. When sons and daughters move to the city of Detroit, a suburban parent is more likely to support funds for public safety and other services.
This process of change can be described as organically outgrowing a bad situation, rather than mechanically solving a problem. To speed up this natural growth process, it is crucial to shine a light on assets, which is what we tried to do in a fun way by creating our song ”What I See in the D” http://goo.gl/du25PA
Our song is about what’s strong that will help Detroit outgrow what’s wrong. And it’s about really good reasons to move to the D.
- Sharon VanderKaay
Overlooking a city that has received unwelcome international attention lately, the “Man in the City” sculpture project consists of 30 identical orange metal figures located on rooftops throughout Detroit.
As many observers have pointed out, the city of Detroit may be bankrupt but the people are full of talent and can-do spirit. John Sauve, a Detroit native, has exhibited his strikingly simple figures in several locations, including on New York City’s Governors Island. These 43” sculptures change the skyline, cause people to look up, and reward the urban explorer with each discovery.
The artist has also created the Sauvé Art Foundation, which brings a children’s educational dimension to the project. According to Sauve, it “…activates the skyline, and encourages people to look around. In this process of looking and finding, one re-assesses one’s own position in the world and becomes aware of one’s scale…(as well as reflecting on) alienation, ambition, anonymity and fame.”
The figures seem to be watching over a city that is in the process of finding new ways to work through old problems. In my imagination, these orange men see better things on the horizon.
- Sharon VanderKaay
How do we talk with decision makers and other citizens about being the best they can be?
How can we help them see opportunties to realize their full potential by inventing new categories; by bringing people together in new ways?
In cities like my home town of Detroit, people are becoming aware that they have new options beyond building replacement projects.
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