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PPS Involvement in the Place-Led Regeneration of Detroit
The Beach was funded in part by the generous support of Southwest Airlines (Photo: PPS)

PPS Involvement in the Place-Led Regeneration of Detroit


PPS has been actively engaged in Detroit for the past two decades, both downtown and throughout the city’s many diverse neighborhoods (and throughout the state of Michigan, in fact). We have developed a strong track record of pioneering projects in the city, including the planning for Campus Martius and the revitalization master plan for Eastern Market. We have worked with a variety of clients, including the City, private sector groups, and local foundations, beginning with work in the 1980s with General Motors to redesign Grand Boulevard in New Center, and a redevelopment plan for Renaissance Center's then-faltering retail and public spaces. Despite its challenges (or perhaps because of them), Detroit has become a proving ground for how Placemaking can be scaled up across an entire city.  As such, it was the perfect place to host the inaugural meeting of the PPS Placemaking Leadership Council in April, 2013.

Below, you will find details on our work in key projects across Detroit. Think your city is ripe for this kind of transformational change? Click here to get in touch and work with us.

Eastern Market (1998-2006)

The historic Eastern Market is a sprawling market district of open air sheds and adjacent food retail and wholesale businesses. The City of Detroit asked PPS to help them to better understand the oppor­tunities and potential for expanding Eastern Mar­ket’s impact on the surrounding communities. Our eight-year involvement in the market’s revitalization included:

  • A detailed operations analysis, surveys and focus groups of shop­pers, non-shoppers, and market busi­nesses. Based on this assessment, PPS recommended a new non-profit organizational structure and a capital improvement plan for the market district to sustain the market’s energy and attraction into the 21st Century.
  • Assisting with creating a design master plan for the market; as of fall 2013, two historic sheds have been completely restored.
  • Provision of capacity-building services, in partnership with the newly-formed Eastern Market Corp., for a growing network of neighborhood farmers markets.

Campus Martius Park (1999-2004)

Carved out of an empty concrete traffic island at the point where Detroit’s famous radial boulevards originate, the success of Campus Martius Park has served as a benchmark for the entire Placemaking movement. The $20-million public space, comprised of less than two acres, has spurred well in excess of a billion dollars in new investment downtown and spurred the re-location from the suburbs of thousands of employees of major corporations like Compuware and Quicken Loans, illustrating with crystal clarity the potential for great gathering places to anchor the revitalization of disused downtowns. For our part in the project, PPS worked with the City of Detroit and the Detroit 300 Conservancy to:

  • Engage with community organizations and various stakeholders to create a  program and concept plan for a totally new, multi-use, 24-hour urban park that would become, in the Mayor’s own words, “the best public space in the world.“
  • Develop a package of design suggestions to extend the park’s reach into the surrounding downtown district and tie the park into a larger revitalization effort for the area.
  • Of note: In 2010, Campus Martius was awarded the Amanda Burden Urban Open Space Award from the Urban Land Institute, an award that "celebrates and promotes vibrant, successful urban open spaces by annually recognizing and rewarding an outstanding example of a public destination that has enriched and revitalized its surrounding community."

Neighborhood Markets Initiatives (2011-2014)

In 2011, with the support of the Kresge Foundation, PPS began working on several neighborhood food markets, using the Placemaking process to re-think markets as community anchors. More recently, we have partnered with the nascent, W.K. Kellogg Foundation-supported Detroit Community Markets (DCM) network, through which smaller neighborhood markets learn from each other and receive support from Detroit’s spectacularly successful Eastern Market. Our work in this area has included:

  • Developing recommendations for the the re-siting of a market in the middle class Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood on the city’s northwest side, helping the market’s forthcoming move to facilitate improvements to a local park and expand its role as a community place.
  • An extensive community engagement process around the development of a plan to expand Peaches ‘n Greens, a non-profit produce market in Central Detroit, an area with high rates of vacancy and unemployment. The expansion includes the construction of a community kitchen and gathering place, as well as the transformation of adjacent vacant land into community parks and gardens. A former gas station long used by neighborhood dominoes players has been transformed with a new pavilion structure and garden.
  • Working with the Central Detroit Christian Community Development Corporation (CDC) to organize the inaugural Harvest Festival at the site to engage the community in the project and to demonstrate the neighborhood’s potential.
  • Conducting a series of “Place Makeovers” for three local markets in the DCM coalition, featuring new tents, seating areas, and greenery that were planned during Placemaking workshops with local residents.
  • Providing capacity building to help neighborhood markets play a more strategic role not only as places for commerce, but as way to promote healthy food and lifestyles for their surrounding neighborhoods.

Downtown Placemaking Plan (2012-2016)

Back downtown, our most high-profile work in Detroit to date has been conducted in partnership with Rock Ventures/Opportunity Detroit, the real estate arm of local visionary and Quicken Loans founder and CEO Dan Gilbert. The Placemaking Plan for downtown includes long-term improvements for a network of public spaces in the central business district, as well as a variety of short-term, Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper improvements that have already made a substantial impact in changing perceptions of downtown from a dangerous area to vibrant, community-centered destination for the entire metropolitan area. Since 2012, PPS has:

  • Participated in a one-week charrette with Rock Ventures and their consultants to identified three key public destinations in the downtown that, if activated, could have a huge impact on their surrounding areas: Campus Martius/Cadillac Square; Capitol Park; and, Grand Circus Park.
  • Conducted an extensive public process with the Downtown Detroit Partnership to solicit public ideas for LQC improvements from more than 900 Detroit area residents. Engagement efforts included interviews and focus groups, three Placemaking workshops at local event hub D:Hive, and two “pop-up Placemaking” experiments at major events during the 2012 holiday season.
  • Contributed to the creation of a major Placemaking Plan for downtown, including a detailed  program of activities for the summer of 2013 and an initial long-term concept that could guide later planning.
  • Evaluation of the summer LQC initiatives, which showed a huge increase in foot traffic in the area, and much heavier use of public spaces with a mix of people that truly represented the entirety of the Detroit region.

The downtown Placemaking Plan included, and immediatly led to, an extensive LQC-style implementation effort around downtown, with:

  • A full range of programs and activities for each of the three key public spaces, from outdoor movies to jazz concerts to chamber music to a Shakespeare festival.
  • New, colorful furniture, including tabled, chairs, and lounges.
  • A new beach, funded in part by Southwest Airlines, at the southern end of Campus Martius which quickly became Detroit’s hottest gathering place for people of all ages.
  • A new market for six, rotating prepared food vendors in temporary kiosks on Cadillac Square, complemented by an outdoor game area for lawn sports and basketball.

Detroit RiverWalk (2013)

Over the past decade, Detroit’s formerly industrial riverfront has been completely transformed into a series of new public walkways and parks that, when complete, will be five and half miles long. PPS has worked with the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy, the non-profit that's guiding the redevelopment, to:

  • Plan and implement a suite of LQC improvements in the section of the RiverWalk closest to downtown during the summer of 2013, to complement Rock Ventures’ efforts nearby and enhance the sense of downtown as a comprehensive destination.
  • Recommend new public amenities for the RiverWalk’s garden rooms, including picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, and lounge furniture. A “take-one-leave-one” library and new sand volleyball court were also located at Rivard Plaza.
  • Host a stakeholder workshop to conceptualize ways to connect the RiverWalk, Belle Isle, and downtown Detroit.

Belle Isle (2011-2012)

Belle Isle, a 1000-acre island park, is a cultural treasure as important to Detroiters as institutions like the DIA, Orchestra Hall, or Eastern Market. Unfortunately decades of disinvestment has led to significant decline of this historic landscape. PPS began working with the citizen-led Belle Isle Conservancy (BIC) in 2011 to revitalize the island park. Our work there over the past several years has included:

  • Surveying more than a thousand park users in 2011 to identify opportunities for enhancing the park through new activities and uses.
  • Securing funding, in partnership with the BIC, through the Kresge Foundation in 2013 to develop a LQC activation plan for the park during the summer of that year. The implementation of that plan, Belle Isle Summer Saturdays (BLISS), focused on three places in Belle Isle (Sunset Point, the Beach, and the Aquarium and Conservatory) that could become enhanced, multi-use destinations within the sprawling green space.
  • Producing a comprehensive report for continued Placemaking to strengthen strategic destinations in the park and to build linkages between the park, the riverfront, adjacent neighborhoods, and other public destinations in Detroit, based on a series of workshops, focus groups, and research studies conducted in the spring of 2013.

North End (2013)

Recently, PPS has been working with the Vanguard Community Development Corp. to envision a more vibrant public realm and destinations in the North End neighborhood, which is preparing for significant change in advance of the construction of a new rapid transit line linking the area directly to downtown. Our work with Vanguard has included:

  • Hosting a community workshop to identify destinations for Placemaking in the North End around a future station for the M-1 light rail line.
  • Identifying site-specific improvements to serve as pilots for Placemaking in the neighborhood.
Project Client: 
PPS Involvement in the Place-Led Regeneration of Detroit
Campus Martius Park from above (Photo: PPS)
PPS Involvement in the Place-Led Regeneration of Detroit
PPS Involvement in the Place-Led Regeneration of Detroit
LQC activation of the Detroit RiverFront (Photo: PPS)
PPS Involvement in the Place-Led Regeneration of Detroit
Peaches & Greens Harvest Festival (Photo: PPS)
Eastern Market – interior of new indoor market building (Photo: PPS)
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Evalynn Rosado
COVID-19: The Recovery will Happen in Public Space