Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan Wins AIA Award; Offers Construction Updates

The Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan, part of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s work, won an award from the American Institute of Architects. // Photograph Courtesy of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

The Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan has received the 2019 American Institute of Architects Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design, which recognizes the best in urban design, regional and city planning, and community development.

Developed by a team led by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, along with the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department, and the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., the plan was recognized for its effort to preserve riverfront land for public use, enhance community access to the Detroit River, and spur investment along the East Riverfront.

The plan is one of four U.S. regional and urban design projects to receive a 2019 Honor Award and was developed after four community meetings and workshops were held from March 2016-March 2017. Community engagement also included tours by vehicle, boat, bike, and foot; interviews; and engagement with city departments.

“The ideas contained in this plan come directly from members of the Detroit community,” says Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “The primary goal of the plan is to improve the public realm so that more of our residents can access the water from their neighborhoods. The riverfront holds a powerful place in the heart of our out city. It will become increasingly important as we complete the sequence of public spaces along the riverfront, like Atwater Beach, and build new connections from the riverfront to the neighborhoods, like the Joseph Campau Greenway.”

Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill based the plan on what is now a 15-year riverfront revitalization initiative led by the conservancy. The goal is to turn the site from a blighted industrial area into a public waterfront accessible to all residents and visitors.

“The Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan has given the city a strong and equitable set of principles that frame an international riverfront that can be accessed and enjoyed by all,” says Maurice Cox, director of planning and development for the City of Detroit. “We’re proud of this recognition from the AIA, and our continued collaboration with SOM, the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, and the stakeholders and communities working together to make a better Detroit.”

The plan includes the addition of eight acres of park space to the riverfront and keeping significant portions of the waterfront free from private development. It also works in improvements to the existing Joseph Campau Greenway that include lighting, paving, and landscaping, as well as streetscape improvements along Jefferson Avenue to reduce the number of car accidents, improve walkability, and beautify the corridor.

“This plan reflects a deeply collaborative process of working with Detroiters and is inspired by the city’s transformative approach to urban design,” says Douglas Voigt, urban planning and design partner at SOM. “Along with our team, we are excited about this recognition and look forward to seeing this plan continue to enhance the quality of life and promote social equity in Detroit.”

The east riverfront spans from Joe Louis Arena to Gabriel Richard Park and is more than 80 percent complete. Upcoming projects include:

— The conservancy broke ground on Atwater Beach, a $6-million project to transform a former industrial site along the east riverfront into a beach and picnic area, in August 2018. It is expected to be complete this summer.

— Another project that is on its way is the $50-million West Riverfront Park. The conservancy announced New York-based landscape architectural firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates had won a contest to transform the 22-acre space. The park will be built out in the coming years.

— The Uniroyal Riverwalk Extension is expected to open in 2020. French designer Michel Desvigne will imagine a 1,700-foot stretch of riverfront along the 30-acre site, eliminating the biggest gap along the east riverfront between Mt. Elliott Park and Gabriel Richard Park.

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that works to develop public access to Detroit’s riverfront and serve as an anchor for economic development. It is responsible for raising the funds needed for construction, operation, maintenance, security, and programming of the public spaces along the riverfront.

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