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Parks and Natural Areas & the Future of Detroit

Can a new Detroit be grounded on setting aside some of its vacant land as new natural areas? In making a case for what could help bring Detroit back from its current economic doldrums, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution offer some ideas in The New Republic, including one that involves a reinvented public realm:

The new Detroit might be a patchwork of newly dense neighborhoods, large and small urban gardens, art installations, and old factories transformed into adventure parks. The new Detroit could have a park, much like Washington’s Rock Creek Park, centered around a creek on its western edge, and a system of canals from the eastern corner of the city to Belle Isle in the south. The city has already started on the restoration of the Detroit River waterfront, largely bankrolled by private philanthropy. The city has created a new “land bank,” which can take control of vacant and derelict properties and start the process of clearing land, remediating environmental contamination, and figuring out what to do next with the parcel, whether that’s making it into a small park, deeding it to a neighbor to create a well-tended yard, or assembling large tracts of land for redevelopment or permanent green space.

The key would be to not convert too much land over to permanent green space. A balance would have to be found between setting land aside and encouraging reinvestment outside of them. As Kaid Benfield has commented on his blog, giving too much over to agriculture or nature could actually reinforce a fragmented pattern of living.

The city recently rolled out the Dequindre Cut bike trail, has found much success in Campus Martius Park downtown and as the article mentions, is investing in its riverfront. Perhaps these efforts can provide the city some insight into a larger role for parks and natural areas in its future.

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