Belle Isle is one of the historically great urban parks in the United States and an important Detroit institution; however, decades of disinvestment have led to a significant decline of this important place. Project for Public Spaces (PPS) first worked with the Belle Isle Women’s Committee and several other organizations (now all combined as the Belle Isle Conservancy [BIC]) in 2010 to collect over 2,000 surveys gauging public opinion of the park. These showed a deep connection with and appreciation for Belle Isle, but also noted that it needed a number of capital improvements and that there simply wasn't enough "to do" in the park.
In 2013 PPS received a grant from The Kresge Foundation to work with the BIC to develop “Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper” short-term improvements to the park for the summer of 2013. In addition, the project team worked to create a longer–term Placemaking strategy to guide the Conservancy in its incremental improvements to the park. Through a series of workshops, focus groups, research studies, and a summer programming project called Belle Isle Summer Saturdays (BLISS), PPS and BIC examined the current state of the park and tested strategies for using Placemaking to strengthen and improve Belle Isle for all visitors.
The 2013 summer BLISS activities were a great success, attracting residents to the park and introducing a number of activities (including kayak and bike rentals, kids arts and crafts lessons, food trucks, and more) that could become permanent features of the park in the future. PPS also recommended dozens of other infrastructure, amenity, and programming improvements to be made in the future. As placemaking scales up in Detroit, Belle Isle will remain an integral part of this citywide campaign.
With locally-inspired activities that fly in the face of traditional park programs, from bread-baking to puppet shows, Toronto residents created a community place out of a park neglected by locals and city officials alike.