Scenarios for Detroit

Summer 2012

Assisted by Se Hee Kim

The following scenarios for Detroit are based on an incomplete process of interpreting the Radical Railbanking zoning map.

Dequindre Cut

The Dequindre Cut is a portion of inactive railway that has been partially converted to a pedestrian path. Recessed thirty feet below the surrounding city, the Cut surfaces north of Gratiot Avenue, where rail once serviced the wholesale and meatpacking industry at Eastern Market. Despite the surrounding blight, Eastern Market thrives as a major civic institution, becoming more prominent in recent years as a symbol of Detroit’s awaited urban resurgence. At present, the Dequindre Cut stops at a busy automotive intersection, forgoing the opportunity to connect with Eastern Market.

The zoning map recommends the introduction of Religious Territories, Production Territories, civic infrastructure and a transit center. However, except for one large lot at the intersection of the Dequindre Cut and Gratiot Avenue, few parcels are vacant in the immediate surroundings, while a handful are available at the furthest reach of the map’s one-mile territory. Additionally, several disconnected production, civic and religious facilities exist within the map’s corridor. In this scenario, a future is imagined where the disconnected facilities in each category are networked and routed through the Dequindre Cut, along with a system of parkland that unites a scattered array of green space throughout the site. Where possible, vacant parcels are zoned for the extension of each network. As each network meets the Dequindre Cut, it forms a different kind of public sectional space. Religious facilities make the sectional transition with stairs that serve as seating for exterior sanctuaries; the network of civic institutions meets the Cut with terraces meant to solicit unpredictable public interaction; the production facilities are connected by bridges that link to peripheral housing for workers. Each system’s sectional qualities at the Cut are designed to be mutually visible, promoting interaction between and across each network’s constituencies.


Conner Creek

Conner Creek is located in northwest Detroit. The neighborhood is most remembered for 20th century mortar factories along the railway, built on top of a creek that once crossed the area. The water table in Conner Creek remains very high as the creek continues to flow underground. When the factories closed, they left behind a cluster of land parcels scaled for industrial development, lining the railway and dividing the neighborhoods to either side. With the introduction of the highway system, and over time, these large land parcels became home to a cluster of campuses or enclaves, such as Wayne County Community College and a mental health hospital.  Each programmatic enclave is unusually vital, but each operates insularly, in mutual exclusion from its surroundings.

The zoning map recommends the introduction of Religious Territories, Production Territories, civic infrastructure and a transit center. The available land includes a large formerly industrial parcel immediately adjacent to the rail and an array of surrounding vacant residential lots. Given the unusual context of vital enclave development with lifeless urban fabric between, this scheme aspires to implement a commons within which the constituents of the enclaves may mix with those attendant to newly recommended programs. The large formerly industrial parcel is divided into a densely packed clustering of circular lots, straddling and usurping the railway. Critical connections are established out to the surrounding campuses, especially along the vectors from the zoning map, and a selection of parcels are chosen for larger programmatic catalysts, such as union halls and religious facilities. This arrangement is though of as an urban medium within which new programs may be inserted, the existing enclaves may expand, and the constituents of each may intermingle. The circular organization is meant to encourage indirect meandering between structures, and some cells are excavated and allowed to flood with water from the subterranean creek. These ponds then solicit uncanny interaction – baptisms, bathing, machinery cooling and more.


Chaldean Town

Near the northern border of Detroit is Chaldean Town. This area is a point of arrival for Chaldean Christians from the Middle East, an ethnic division of Catholicism highly steeped in ceremony. The Chaldeans have historically maintained a tightly knit community, working in small businesses meant to serve the local constituents. The urban fabric reflects this, as the region is primarily residential in scale, with small retail and community facilities lining arterial roads. As in most of Detroit, this urban fabric has experienced decades of deterioration, leaving porous fields of residential fabric, dotted with the occasional commercial establishment or community facility.

The zoning map recommends the introduction of Education Territories, Religious Territories, Production Territories, and civic infrastructure. As noted, most of the parcels available for redevelopment are residential in scale. This scenario imagines creating discrete networks of educational, religious, productive and civic entities – each reusing and connecting diffuse residential vacancies. The educational network connects a series of small schoolhouses; the religious network connects a series of house-sized chapels and shrines; the productive network imagines a factory distributed throughout the area’s houses; and so on. In each network, the residential vacancies are linked through circulation space aggregated from alleys or unused side yards. Inspired by the Chaldean propensity for ritual, movement along each network is conceived as a kind a ceremonial procession, affording the community a routine spectacle around which the public may consolidate.