Eastern Market Development
March 7, 2008
With I-75 undergoing some major surgery downtown, there is no better time to analyze the development of Detroit’s most vibrant commercial district. Early last month the Eastern Market Corporation released an economical development plan analyzing the needs and possibilities of the district. The plan outlines a series of actions in which the Market should take to improve it’s economical status, including obvious building maintenance all the way to a more ambitious plan for live/work developments.
Most importantly, the plan hits on the current traffic and parking situation which is prohibiting the market from developing further and hindering it’s success. With trucks, cars, bikes, and pedestrians all intersecting, traffic is dramatically deterred and accidents are inevitable. The report proposes a really nice system of street parking, truck routes, signage, and improved sidewalks to combat this issue. With better traffic flow and designations, businesses can expand, new businesses can be attracted, and more customers can be attracted to the market space.
In addition to traffic, the report suggests turning a series of old industrial buildings to the north of the market into live/work, multi-use spaces. This starts to hint on something great, the idea of live/work space and the reuse of existing structures. These are two sustainable concepts that fit very well within the Preserve values and the idea that one should use what is available. Though the current street and traffic conditions in this area are not conducive to inviting developers or rouge entrepreneurs as sidewalks are decrepit and without lighting, and streets are poorly labeled and uninviting. Before this area can reach it’s livable potential, the street environment needs to be greatly improved.
As far as structuring the district goes, the proposal includes the adjustment of Russel and Wilkins as the main axis of the market. Russel is already considered the main drag while Wilkins, running perpendicular, goes virtually unnoticed. Wilkins has great potential as it connects the market to neighborhoods to the north and south of the market. Also, the plan creates a quite beautiful connection to the “Dequindre Cut.” Though the Cut has a long way to go before it is actually usable as a park, it is refreshing to know that thought was taken to address this path which could very well become a great asset for the city in the near future.
The most worrisome portion of this report was the proposal for housing and live work space to the north/east of the market. Though the plan in no way, shape or form defines a certain aesthetic for these neighborhoods, one can only conjure up images of the terrible developments of the recent past that fail horribly to address their site and social impacts. They tend to destroy the sense of place and turn great neighborhoods into placeless suburban subdivisions lined with siding and fake brick. Not only will these type of units fail miserably in this economy, they will also destroy the character and charm that makes Eastern Market so attractive and appealing. It’s an experience that can’t be had in the suburbs, so don’t turn it into the suburbs. It’s giant colorful murals are playful and play beautifully with the gritty surroundings only to patina to a rich mix of raw materials and paint.
Rather than just reputing the idea of a development, I decided to make an attempt at what a neighborhood might look like, that would both set an example for reuse, fit the context of Eastern Market, and draw people and attention to the city from not only the burbs but also the country, maybe the world.
In the end, the report inspired me and over the next few weeks I will be posting ideas and projects relating to the development of the Eastern Market neighborhood. To kick this off, I’ve posted a quick idea of what a container live/work neighborhood on Wilkins. See it here, and check back for more!