Detroit-Chicago Design Collaboration

What are public spaces? And, how can they be creatively and intentionally transformed into gathering spaces that are productive, safe, and welcoming for all?

Since 2014, SWF has reclaimed and transformed 4 contiguous city blocks on Chicago’s South side. The Perry Avenue Commons (The Commons) has become a demonstration site with an emphasis on community.  Now, others across the country are looking to SWF as a model of Regenerative Neighborhood Development, and seeking SWF’s counsel as they work to transform public spaces across the country. Read on to learn more about SWF’s role in the transformation of public space in Detroit, MI.

IMG_0088 - Copy.jpg

Activating Cross-Country Relationships
In 2011, Emmanuel Pratt, SWF’s Executive Director, met Kim Sherobbi, Board Member at the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center in Detroit, MI. Kim’s work focuses on nurturing future leaders who are creatively tackling this country’s systemic problems. Since 2011, SWF’s relationship with Kim and the Boggs Center has developed and grown. Now, the two organizations are helping with the creation of a 22 acre, West Riverfront Park in the middle of Detroit.

Creating A Beach in Detroit
In spring of 2018, David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates and Michael Van Valkenburgh of Michael Van Valkenburgh (MVVA) Architects won a competition to transform a space in downtown Detroit into a beach. Adjaye Associates is an architecture firm with offices in New York and London that has designed projects both nationally and internationally such as the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. and the Moscow School of Management in Skolkovo, Samara Oblast, Russia. MVVA Architects is a Brooklyn based architecture firm that has designed and transformed public space in cities across the nation - from Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6 in Brooklyn, New York, to Rainier Vista at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA, to the City Arch River in St. Louis, MO, to the middle of downtown Chicago at Maggie Daley Park. Together, the two are well-qualified to transform this public space in Detroit.

To ensure community input is incorporated into the design and development of the beach, the architects sought input from Emmanuel Pratt and Kim Sherobbi whose practices have focused on the regenerative development of communities and the intentional transformation of spaces from “blight” to life. Youth, local residents, and mentors engaged in SWF’s Apprenticeship and Outreach Program (AOP) have begun working alongside youth engaged in James and Grace Lee Boggs Center Programming to support the plans for the park.

Community Engagement
In order to ensure community engagement was at the forefront of the plans for the beach, Pratt and Sherobbi planned a series of cross city exchanges between Chicago and Detroit. In July a group of 5 youth and leaders from the Boggs Center visited The Commons to witness firsthand the radical transformation of a disinvested space and to imagine the possibility for their own neighborhoods and city. The group also participated in SWF’s Farm-To-Table For All, further emphasizing the possibility of inclusion and engagement.  Community engagement and inclusion are seen in each space at The Commons. SWF has developed a uniquely diverse, inclusive, and creative space that celebrates diverse interactions and and community engagement.

Shortly thereafter, 4 of SWF’s mentors and apprentices traveled to Detroit to generate ideas and offer guidance on implementing Regenerative Neighborhood Development in their own community. Then, on Saturday, September 15, 10 youth and leaders from Detroit joined SWF for a visit to Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago to discuss ideas about how community engagement and inclusion can be incorporated into a large-scale project such as the Maggie Daley Park and, more importantly, into the Detroit park. Later that week, the group of youth represented Emmanuel Pratt, Adjaye Associates, and MVVA Architects during a community meeting in Detroit. They presented on the possibilities for the park and offered their own community-based input.

Courtney Hug