Sustainable Assessment Team Envisions Leaner,
How do you .
. . create a framework for sustainable
growth within a city?
by Design Sustainable Design Assessment Team
issued its final
report of recommendations for the Detroit SDAT project
proposal, “Detroit Motorcity:
Infrastructure NOW.” The Detroit SDAT proposal calls for sustainable
initiatives throughout Detroit that would contribute to improving
its economy. The Communities by Design final report, “Leaner,
Greener Detroit,” provides
an action plan for Detroit to implement those initiatives.
The AIA SDAT programs bring together architects and other professionals
to provide plans for various cities seeking to improve sustainability.
In Detroit, a consortium of organizations and businesses, led by
the Detroit-based WARM Training
Center and AIA
Detroit, assessed conditions in Detroit and identified opportunities
for sustainable development. Architects, planners, economic development
specialists, and residents worked together on improvement ideas along
with experts in community and economic development, open space planning,
food security, and transportation and energy systems planning.
The Detroit SDAT held a three-day charrette and site visit last fall
to address Detroit’s economy, land use, transportation, energy
systems, and food security. The charrette was facilitated by Detroit
SDAT team leader Alan Mallach, a research director with the National
“It’s a great opportunity to rethink a city that is
over 300 years old,” says Diane Van Buren Jones, co-chair of
the steering committee for the Detroit project. Van Buren Jones is
director of Rebuild Michigan-Detroit for the WARM Training Center,
a nonprofit emphasizing sustainable development for housing. Van
Buren Jones served as public director for the AIA National Board
from 2007 to 2008. For the SDAT Detroit project, the WARM Training
Center worked with AIA Detroit, community development corporation
groups, and the local architecture firm Zachary and Associates.
SDAT strategy on a neighborhood level
“We have had a lot of buzz about the SDAT,” says Van
Buren Jones. The focus of SDAT Detroit’s project study is sustainable
re-use on a neighborhood level of vacant city land. Detroit’s
population has dropped to 900,000, less than half of its 1950s peak,
with and an estimated 40 square miles of the 138-square-mile city
empty. The vacant land includes swaths of abandoned industrial sites.
“It was a planning effort for neighborhoods to look at distilling
down SDAT planning principles to neighborhood levels,” says
Van Buren Jones. Detroit’s SDAT project study focused on neighborhood-level
planning around five topics: land, the transportation system, urban
agriculture, the economy, and alternative energy. “It has become
a grassroots effort, adopted by many organizations as a way to look
at planning guidelines for their neighborhoods,” says Van Buren
Communities by Design final report
The AIA’s Communities by Design recommendations for the Detroit
SDAT suggest Detroit incorporate the model of urban villages. The
urban villages would form the foundations for urban agriculture,
green energy and economic development, and sustainable transportation.
Increasing density, land reconfiguration, and connectivity are three
themes in the report that complement the SDAT recommendations for
the urban village concept. The report estimates that 75,000 jobs
could be created.
In the final report, urban villages would have walkable neighborhoods,
encourage biking, increase social interaction, and be linked by transit.
The villages would attract investment, limiting sprawl. A long-term
urban agriculture approach would take advantage of hundreds of community
gardens and small commercial agricultural operations. Large-scale
agricultural production in Detroit would use 10,000 acres of the
city’s vacant land over the next 5 to 10 years for urban agriculture
to support hundreds of farms, generating jobs.
Manufacturing would adapt green energy technologies and focus on
creating jobs in manufacturing, construction, and installation and
in retrofitting older homes and buildings for greater energy efficiency.
Manufacturing and installing wind turbines, solar arrays, and other
renewable energy technologies would become a major growth sector
in the economy. Wind energy is a particularly attractive option for
Detroit due to electrical generation from offshore wind energy in
the lakes surrounding Michigan.
Transit vehicles in the urban villages would be sustainable, and
non-motorized transportation would be connected.
Where Detroit goes from here
The final report recommends that Detroit recognize itself as a smaller
city in population than it once was and reconsider its land use,
economy, and transportation network around that reality. Says Van
Buren Jones: “We just received the final report and are looking
at developing a process for implementation. Our state Housing Authority
is interested in working with us, and a number of neighborhood
organizations are interested in the next step. We are seeking funding
to put the planning effort together to help give direct assistance