Urban Design

Congress for New Urbanism

CNU 24 was held in Detroit this year, and it has been many years since I attended (CNU 9 in New York City). I appreciated CNU’s attention to designing for the public realm and potential for building community, but I stopped attending because it did not seem relevant to me due to its dogma of traditional design and fakery of the architecture. In returning after almost 15 years, I felt that the organization had grown up. While the founders still clung to traditionalist ideals and privileged ideas about their role and who they served, I found that the newcomers brought added dimensions of self-development, equity, and the importance role that Right-of-Way (ROW) design had in placemaking.  I learned about some inspiring and innovative organizations that are leading the food justice movement – Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit Labs, and Detroit Dirt – a full cycle that is empowering people to grow food. Keep Growing Detroit’s mission is for Detroit to become a food sovereign city. Detroit Labs helps residents create value added products from the food produced in Detroit, and Detroit Dirt is taking food waste from corporate cafeterias to create rich compost to replenish the soil and give the residents of Detroit a chance to become self-reliant. Amazing organizations doing amazing work.

Renaissance Center from the Cut  courtesy of Grace H Kim

Renaissance Center from the Cut courtesy of Grace H Kim

CNU24 was also the first time in almost 19 years that I was in Detroit. When I was working at Skidmore Owings & Merrill, I spent almost 10 months in Detroit – commuting weekly to conduct interviews with General Motors staff to program the uses that would move into the Renaissance Center as GM consolidated to a central World Headquarters. It was a huge move to help re-energize downtown Detroit…which I was uncertain about. But I was pleasantly surprised to see how much the city had evolved. I was in awe of the beautiful architecture that survived years of blight and vandalism, and that a patron had decided to relocate his corporation to Detroit and refurbish the Central Business District. The streets were grand – on the scale of Chicago’s boulevards. They were beautifully planted and super clean. The investment in architecture was balanced with an investment in jobs – scores of people were employed to patrol and clean the streets as well as staff the public open space. Their presence was welcome and demonstrated a high level of community investment.

Campus Martius  courtesy of Grace H Kim

Campus Martius courtesy of Grace H Kim

Campus Martius was an open space worthy of study – a green space with a bandstand, tables and chairs surrounding the space, a fountain, a beach with cabana-like food/beverage service coming out of a shipping container. Adjacent to that in vacated ROW, there were 4 basketball courts, ping pong tables, and other games available to any and all who wanted to use them. There were staff checking out balls and paddles. And the space was well utilized.

the Cut  courtesy of Grace H Kim

the Cut courtesy of Grace H Kim

the Cut  courtesy of Grace H Kim

the Cut courtesy of Grace H Kim

Another great public space was the Dequindre Cut Greenway. This abandoned rail line was recaptured as a recreational trail. The below grade corridor was landscaped with benches and lighting and graffiti artists were welcomed in to give it life. The 1.5 mile trail connects the north end of Lafayette Park to the Riverwalk, providing several miles of public trails within the city center.

courtesy of Grace H Kim

courtesy of Grace H Kim

The food was great, and the shopping was also. For those who want to play up the decay of Detroit…stop it.  It doesn’t exist. Go visit, because Detroit is seeing a renaissance.

Places to stay – Aloft Hotel at the David Whitney, Cadillac Westin. On a budget? Holiday Inn Express or Airbnb in Lafayette Park - 1600 Antietam

Places to eat – Wright and Co., Katoi, Small Plates, La Rondinella.

Places to shop – Shinola and John Varvatos. And oh, they just opened up a Filson’s.

Louisa Boren Lookout

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Despite writing little about it I am a great admirer of landscape and Capitol Hill is a fabulous place to explore landscapes both grand and intimate. One of my favorite Capitol Hill landscapes, and the first of what I hope to be many blog posts on parks, take full advantage of our neighborhood’s surname and presents one with a grand view of Lake Washington and beyond. Named after one of Seattle’s very first European settlers, Louisa Boren, Louis Boren Overlook (park) comprises a little over seven acres, most of which are on a slope connected to the much larger and wooded Interlaken Park.

The big draw is the tremendous view it provides one the opportunity to enjoy. The park also has many design elements of a smaller scale which work almost transparently to reinforce the powerful vista. Included among these elements is a running path bisecting the upper portion of the park. The path provides a nice venue from which to engage both the distance views of Lake Washington and the Cascades, as well as some of the neighboring homes.

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

The path is framed by higher ground to its west (non-view) side; the mound also forms a visual and acoustic barrier to the heavily traveled 15th Avenue as well as a nice sense of enclosure, reinforcing the view to the east. The curb, seen to the far left of the above image, provides the subtlest of definers, gently offering a modest edge just before the land drops about 180 feet into Interlaken Park.

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

A regular to the park, I can attest that a favorite prospect is defined by a solitary tree, surrounded by a bench and railroad ties. Just right for two people to enjoy; with many a couple being seen there at any given time.

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

To the southwest of the lover’s bench, there is a 1975 sculpture in raw steel by Oregon artist Lee Kelly, sited on the highest grade in the park.

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

Copyright 2013 John M. Feit

The park’s real treat is, of course, its view. In any season, and with a clear sky, the democracy of our Seattle park system reveals itself giving to us all views that are typically reserved to a select few. The view is particularly captivating if you are fortunate enough to catch it on a clear winter’s day, when sunlight bathes the freshly fallen snow in the Cascades, distinguishing their noble profiles and as it did on a clear and cold morning January 2nd, 2013.