Archive for June, 2015


It’s obvious that Dan Gilbert is getting excellent advice as he invests in public space interventions that are defining the New Detroit in major ways.

His contributions to the downtown core demonstrate three important qualities which offer lessons for other cities:

1. They add to Detroit’s unique culture, character and identity (v. generic, placeless design)

2. They are upbeat and dignified (not glitzy and cheesy)

3. They reflect a spirit of stewardship (leveraging the city’s human assets and potential)

This striking new 18-story mural by Shepard Fairey is a fine example. Created as part of his work with Library Street Collective its enduring theme of peace and justice animate an otherwise boring view of ordinary architecture and a parking garage:

Big Art_Detroit_2015_6424_crop

When skillfully placed, there is huge potential for Big Art to enliven dull urban spaces. But in order to be an enduring asset, the art must have strong, defining qualities that will make it locally meaningful and internationally significant.

By contrast, this “me-too” artwork (only a few blocks away) is one of literally 100 similar murals by the artist and is located 700 miles from the nearest ocean:

Detroit 2015 whale mural_1

-Sharon VanderKaay

This photo essay is about the role of public seating in places that nurture human relationships and actively contribute to a healthy state of mind.

A decade or so ago it was common to see hostile – and even pathogenic – parks and public spaces. I remember sitting in NYC’s Bryant Park (for a few minutes in the ’80’s) when it was scary. Decaying conditions and anti-social behavior became normal when there was no direct involvement by each community in ongoing improvements.

In recent years, new standards for civic engagement and quality have been set by such places as Bryant Park, Campus Martius in Detroit and Sugar Beach in Toronto.

Rather than simply aim to “do no harm” in line with the 30+ year old “broken windows theory”, many of today’s new and revitalized parks are salutogenic .

-Sharon VanderKaay

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