Project for Public Spaces has worked with local partners in downtown Detroit for nearly two decades. As the city fell upon hard times, our placemaking efforts in the heart of downtown provided a beacon of hope for residents and an engine for economic revitalization. Over the years, Project for Public Spaces has worked with multiple sites and clients in the area, but it all started with Campus Martius. Once the hub of economic and social life for the city, by the time Project for Public Spaces began working in Campus Martius in 1999, it had become little more than an unfriendly traffic island. Across five engagements, Project for Public Spaces used every tool in its toolbox to transform this intersection into what locals now call “Detroit’s gathering place.” These community-driven improvements caught the attention first of Compuware and then of Quicken Loans, both of which moved their headquarters next to Campus Martius and brought jobs and investment back downtown.
In 2013, Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community Program and Project for Public Spaces brought a taste of the northern Michigan beaches to an underused lawn in the center of downtown Detroit’s Campus Martius Park. Building on other placemaking efforts in the area, Project for Public Spaces transformed Campus Martius Park into a seasonal beach that includes a curved deck with colorful seating, a Beach Bar and Grille, and a large sand-filled area with lounge chairs, umbrellas, and an extra-long shared table.
The beach serves as a fun and relaxing community gathering place for workers, visitors, families, and children during the summer months. Programming at the beach includes aerobics classes, sandcastle building, live musical performances, and lots of informal play in the sun and sand. The park has transformed from a traffic island with nothing to do to a bustling, playful beach. Locals have dubbed the park “Detroit’s Gathering Place,” as amenities like a seasonal ice rink keep locals engaged.
Today, Campus Martius attracts more than two million people annually, and the surrounding district has attracted 20,000 new jobs and over $2 billion of real estate investment. Since Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, the park has become a symbol of its resilience and renewal.
Place Evaluation & User Analysis
Community Engagement & Visioning
Place Plans & Design
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