Landscape of Loss: A Community Sensitive Approach to the Demolition in Detroit

by Samuel Sikanas

Institution: University of Michigan
Department: Natural Resources and Environment
Degree: Master of Landscape Architecture
Year: 2015
Keywords: demolition; Detroit; memory
Record ID: 2058054
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/110998


Detroit, Michigan is the American archetype for a post-industrial city, with its extreme population loss, high unemployment rate, and pervasive vacancy. Efforts have been made to combat these ills for decades, but they are so deeply rooted in the city???s history that much more has to be done. A current initiative led by the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) and the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force aims to demolish thousands of homes in targeted neighborhoods over the next five years to eliminate blight, reduce crime, and stabilize the neighborhood fabric, which will improve living conditions for many Detroit residents. Demolition, when employed broadly across the city, will have also negatively impact social, mental, and physical well being, however. Much is lost during the demolition process. In addition to the mass erasure of the city???s building stock, neighborhoods across Detroit are at risk of losing their sense of community and cultural memory. My design approach was evidence-based, using findings from empirical research and case studies to inform the final proposal for mitigating the effects of the demolition experience on the community. My goal was not to design a solution for the impact of demolition at a specific, physical site, but to design a process that can be repeated across the city of Detroit and used as a model elsewhere, with room for local adaptations. This was accomplished through critical analysis of demolition in Detroit, and through synthesis of relevant research from the fields of environmental psychology, communication, and public health. Also known as ???translational research,??? this strategy grounds my design in science, while allowing for a creative outcome. The general model includes a community sensitive deconstruction and documentation process that includes temporary event installations to engage neighborhood residents, and an archived history of Detroit???s built and social environment to preserve community memory.