The Next Generative Infrastructure for Detroit


Vol. 7 No. 1 (2010)
Research Articles
March 27, 2013


Detroit has a wealth of empty space, though little intelligence or understanding of it. There is a global, morbid fascination with Detroit's emptiness. The media and design disciplines have mythologized it in imagery, and obsessively mapped and quantified it. Vacancy perpetuates entrenched social, economic and environmental disparities and inequities. Yet, in the midst of formal ‘right sizing' and informal urban agricultural initiatives, a constructive civic dialogue about the role of vacancy in the future of the city has yet to begin. Our transdisciplinary design research lab wishes to prompt the dialogue. A new urban geography and ecosystem are required. Vacancy is a new infrastructure for the city. Vacancy, as it manifests, in land, buildings and infrastructure, is generative. We recommend productive, temporal uses for vacancy, to generate the next urban form of the city. In the same manner that grid and infrastructure become generators of urban form and use, vacancy can guide future urban form in Detroit.We define infrastructure networks as the systemic and complex overlay required to support a city and its associated urbanized region. Connections occur largely through blue|green|gray+white infrastructure networks that span geographic, ecological and political boundaries. Vacancy emerges as the ubiquitous infrastructure in each of these typologies.This paper describes aspects of our current project to create sustainable community and the central role which vacancy plays in achieving that goal. In one neighborhood of Detroit, we propose interventions for energy, density, and nature, envisioning an alternative, equitable, and sustainable ecosystem for the city.