by ioby
April 15, 2013

We were privileged to have ioby’s own Karja Hansen take part in the inaugural Placemaking Leadership Council, convened by Project for Public Spaces, so that ioby could spend some time in America’s leading current comeback city, Detroit, as an inspiration for ioby’s work in Miami.

The Leadership Council was an incredible 2.5 day working group of 300 “zealous nuts” from all walks of life and profession, who believe that creating place is integral to creating community and value. And we had Detroit as not only our backdrop, but also as our living classroom. Motor City. Paris of The Midwest. Red Town. The D. Whatever you call it, we’re quite taken with it.

Detroit is a city with a surprising amount in common with Miami. Built in different eras, the cities nonetheless share both a structure and, to some degree, a culture. Not a culture of geography or population – though there is more than you would think. There is a culture of perseverance, of stick-to-it-ness, as well as stick-it-to-the-man-ness, for sure. And now, a culture of innovation that has only minimal regard for The Way Things Are and The Way Things Are Done.

Miami is often mistaken with the rest of South Florida as being incredibly sprawled out, which yes–it is around the edges, but not nearly so much as the rest of Florida, or the Southeast Region. And it retains much of its historic neighborhood centers. Nor did Miami’s population bleed out into the suburbs. Detroit’s did, leaving the city empty. Things may not be perfect here, but at least it’s inhabited.

And the car. Yes, the car has left just as much of an indelible mark on Miami as it has on the world famous Motor City. What the automobile has wrought on our community that is the most profound, hard to recognize, and hard to repair. Just as important as the physical structure of the street–pavement, buildings, trees, etc–is the activity on the street, the collisions of people which lead to conversations rather than the collision of cars which leads to critical conditions. It is these conditions from which people recoil in fear, until they are isolated from and anonymous to each other, no longer seeing and treating each other as neighbors, rather as strangers.

Detroit is far from dead, it is absolutely ripe with opportunity. Without an active citizenry opportunity is very hard to take advantage of. It’s uncommon to have the right combination of both opportunity and an active citizenry. But that great combination is what has given rise to such an explosive positive shift in Detroit’s center city and neighborhoods, and it is that same combination that we see in Miami. It is people coming together over a common hope and vision for their neighborhoods and seizing opportunity to effect positive change.

Neighborhoods have always been made by the neighbors: the residents, local businesses, and those who choose to spend time there. In Miami, we’re making neighbors, and hope we can lend a hand in making Miami’s neighborhoods stronger and more sustainable.

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