Two years ago, a handful of us Wayne State graduate students explored the concept of transforming the city of Detroit from the urban sprawl model that currently takes hold into an Urban Village model of small local downtown-like districts and greater population density. The result was a 43 page document exploring these options and case studies.
The report begins as follows:
An urban village is a dense, self-sustaining, walkable community that has a strong residential component and includes a combination of retail, dining, leisure, and commercial uses. An urban village offers a ―place of belonging‖ that instills a sense of ―pride in the community‖ to both residential and business occupants. Initially, the urban village group focused on creating villages that had similar physical attributes of a modern day neotraditional development. It was later determined that the field research would consist of exploring the physical landscape of Detroit. The first group task was to divide the city into six sections. After dividing the city, each member took a section and visited the assigned areas to gather data. Each member also took several pictures of the designated sites to share with the rest of the group.
The group collectively discovered that some areas of the city were very vibrant while others were desolate. As we looked deeper into successful areas it was discovered that certain places were strong communities because of its residents and not necessarily its physical landscape or infrastructure. The focus shifted and the group began to identify potential village locations using criteria based on the social rather than the physical characteristics of a community. However, this scenario is more feasible in cities that have a growing population rather than a shrinking population, as is the case in Detroit. It will be important from a planning perspective to not only discuss the physical characteristics of urban villages but also the pulse of a village, which are the people and culture.