The fine art of reimagining what post-industrial cities can become through better design took the spotlight last week at the 2013 Bruner Loeb Forum, held in Detroit, Michigan. Organized in partnership with the J. Max Bond Center on Design for the Just City, the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, and The American Assembly at Columbia University, the symposium drew an invitation-only roster of about 100 architects and planners, developers, government staffers, academics, and media to share best design practices and innovations from cities that struggle with chronic population loss and land vacancy.
The social impacts of urban redesign was a key theme. Resident involvement can prove particularly important in legacy cities because any project invariably encroaches on people already living there. Roberta Feldman of the University of Illinois at Chicago recounted the story of citizen involvement in the remaking of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project, razed and rebuilt as mostly market rate housing. Feldman said she and other advocates of public interest architecture were able to inject some democratic design strategies in what threatened to be just another yuppie upscale development. Residences for moderate income people from the old Cabrini-Green were included, as well as playgrounds, which the redevelopers had initially left out of their design plan for young professionals.