CRP Field Trip Visits Detroit
Each fall, CRP organizes a field trip to a destination that will give first-year M.R.P. and M.A. HPP students a glimpse of the myriad planning and preservation issues they may face in their careers. This year, for the first time, the group visited Detroit.
"Detroit has been much in the news lately with its protracted struggles," says Associate Professor Jeffrey Chusid, who organized the field trip with Assistant Professor Jennifer Minner, Michael Catsos (M.R.P. '15), and Anna Duvall (M.A. HPP '15). "Issues such as white flight, shuttered industries, and vacant neighborhoods make the city a potent symbol. At the same time, alternate narratives of revitalization, self-determination, and opportunity are also appearing."
The group began with a guided tour of downtown Detroit and Bedrock Real Estate Services, the multi-faceted corporate umbrella for Quicken Loans and owner Dan Gilbert's many enterprises. The tour included a visit to office spaces, a stop in the security center that monitors most of downtown, and a panel discussion of current and future development projects with three company officials.
The tour prompted many students to think about the motives and process behind Bedrock's development.
"It was clear from Bedrock's presentation that their goal is to completely transform the downtown area into a modern urban atmosphere for career-driven young professionals," says Hilary Dowden (M.R.P. '15). "A topic that was very much lacking from [the] presentation was how this new vision fits into a city with its own population and rich history.”
Contrasting visions for Detroit's present and future were provided on the next day's itinerary, including an artist-led tour of the Heidelberg Project, a multi-block art installation initiated 28 years ago by Tyree Guyton.
"The most unusual part of the project is not only the impressive outdoor art environment and installations," says Yongyong Jiang (M.R.P. '16), "But how they grow in a real community with residents still living in it, and witnessing how the once devalued properties, after the ambitions artists' work, transformed a decayed corner into a shining gallery."
Students went from Heidelberg to lunch with Malik Yakini, founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network (DBCFSN) and D-Town Farm, a two-acre, urban farm in northwestern Detroit.
"The work that Mr. Yakini and the members of the DBCFSN are doing goes far beyond the field work of growing food," says Daniel Keough (M.R.P. '16). "In their words, they are getting people involved to build community self reliance, and to change our consciousness about food."
The final day of the trip included a tour of the city of Hamtramck, which is wholly enclosed by the city of Detroit. There, Mayor Karen Majewski led the students through the diverse neighborhoods.
"The tour [of Hamtramck] with Mayor Majewski was a fascinating look at a diverse community directly impacted by Detroit's economy and politics," says Annie Pease (M.R.P. '16). "Majewski has a real love of her town, and it was evident by how citizens greeted her on the street that they had an appreciation for her, too. It's incredible that a place with about 30 different languages being spoken on any given block can stay afloat even after the gigantic blow to the auto industry which employed so many of the town's residents."
Other stops on the trip included tours of the Fisher Building, the former General Motors Headquarters, the vacant Packard Plant and Michigan Central Station, the Renaissance Center, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the DElectricity Festival, Eastern Market, several historic neighborhoods, and the Glendale-Rosemont Community Development Corporation. Two highlights were a boat cruise along the Detroit River with students and faculty from three local planning programs, and the annual alumni reception held at the spectacular Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Dorothy Turkel House.
"Before we went to Detroit, I was expecting an urban environment defined solely by blight, crime, and decay," says Sean McGee (M.A. HPP '16). "Instead, the trip exposed a struggling American city filled with the potential for opportunity and growth, particularly for my generation."
By Rebecca Bowes