When London-based Two Islands took first place in Flint, Michigan’s first Flat Lot Competition for public art, images of their floating, mirror-clad meditation on the foreclosure crisis turned heads. Six months later the project has been built, but it faced challenges and has drawn criticism making the leap from rendering to reality.
The ongoing efforts of artists and designers to reignite the spark of downtown development in aging industrial cities face no simple task. But as architects and developers begin to put pencil to paper, the best public art projects draw on the spiritual side of that renewal.
Flint, Michigan’s inaugural Free City Festival, held May 3-5, did just that when it revived a mile-long stretch of now-razed Chevrolet plants with public art, transformational lighting displays and a reverberating gospel choir.
Reed Kroloff will leave his full-time position as director of Michigan’s Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum for a part-time role, the academy announced Tuesday. In his stead, Cranbrook Trustee and Academy Governor Allan Rothfeder will serve as a special advisor to assist Cranbrook President Dominic DiMarco during the transition period.
In June a full-block surface parking lot in downtown Flint, Mich. will house a ghostly, floating home — a monument to the ravages of the foreclosure crisis and a nod to the revitalization public art projects like this one hope to further in the one-time home of General Motors.
London-based Two Islands took first place in the inaugural Flat Lot Competition, which comes with a $25,000 prize, for their design, Mark’s House. The story of an imagined Flint resident named Mark Hamilton, whose family loses their home to foreclosure, Mark’s House takes the form of a Tudor-style house clad in reflective panels and set atop a mirrored pedestal. The structure can hold 1,500 gallons of water to be used for cooling mists for visitors to the structure’s canopy and event stage on hot summer days.
The Detroit Works Project has received the economic boost it needed to put its Detroit Future City plan into action. Detroit Free Press reported that the Troy-based, Kresge Foundation will give $150 million over the next five years to help accomplish the objectives outlined in the 347-page plan, which focuses on creating economic growth and building infrastructure in Detroit. A technical team led by Toni Griffin, a New York-based urban planner, crafted an extensive list of recommendations such as blue and green infrastructures, job creation, and management of vacant land.
Belle Isle is a 985-acre island in the middle of the Detroit River originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. While details are still being negotiated, it appears the plan could save the City of Detroit $8 million per year in operating costs. Though Detroit would still own the land, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources would operate the island as a state park, charging motorists an $11 entry fee. Bicyclists and pedestrians would still get free access.
The potential deal comes on the heels of some good news for Motor City urbanists. In addition to filling out the gaps in the city’s riverwalk, Detroit is moving forward with its M-1 Rail plan, as well as an ongoing $300 million renovation of its Cobo convention center.
Following the many interesting developments in Detroit these days, one gets a sense that the city’s post-industrial landscape is fertile ground for innovative design. A boutique hotel made of shipping containers seems to back up that trend.
Collision Works, as the project is called, touts the structural merits of shipping containers. “Shipping containers are considerably more durable than standard construction, can cost less, and most importantly are about 30 percent faster to build,” writes project founder Shel Kimen.
It looks like Mies van der Rohe’s Lafayette Towers in Detroit may avoid the auction block a little longer. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) foreclosed on the high-rise apartment buildings in February, and HUD had planned to put them up for auction this month (albeit with a litany of multi-million-dollar renovations required of the lucky winner).
Detroit exercised its first right of refusal on that course of action, wary of the iconic towers falling into the wrong hands. New York-based Northern Group bought the buildings in 2008 for $16 million in cash, but stopped making payments on its loans by 2010. The towers were transferred to HUD soon after. Now the city’s group for planning and facilities is seeking a private owner to bring the buildings back from disrepair.
For many years much of Detroit’s riverfront was an industrial utility, characterized by derelict manufacturing sites. But efforts to reclaim public spaces on the waterfront have made considerable progress in recent years. Now a $44 million boost from the federal government and the state of Michigan ensures transformation along the Detroit River will continue.
Detroit Mayor David Bing is making good on his pledge to demolish 10,000 derelict buildings in the city by the end of his first term in 2013—his administration has already taken down 4,500 abandoned structures, with another 1,500 demolitions planned by the end of September. (Five more came down this morning, and Curbed Detroit was on the scene to document the demolition.) Now the governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, is expected to announce state support to help raze more buildings in the name of public safety.
With an initial focus on Detroit’s east, southwest, and northwest sides, the governor’s administration is currently identifying neighborhoods for a pilot program. The Michigan Land Bank, Detroit Public Schools, and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority are among the many agencies and private sector actors involved in the effort to reclaim Detroit’s wealth of abandoned and unused land.
Neighborhood stabilization and economic development have been at the core of many of Bing’s proposals as mayor. But with Wayne County facing a $155 million budget deficit, efforts to transform Detroit’s well-documented decline will have to do more with less.