Matt Bach, Director of Media Relations
Michigan Municipal League
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Dec 17. 2013
Detroit’s livingLAB Wins Highway Redesign Contest by Let’s Save Michigan
Plan Would Use Arena Investments to Connect Downtown and Midtown
livingLAB, (http://livinglabdetroit.com) a Detroit-based landscape architecture and planning studio, is the Grand Prize winner of the Let’s Save Michigan Highways for Habitats contest and a brand new bicycle from Detroit Bikes.
The contest entries were featured online for a public vote, which was then weighted equally with the votes of a panel of national planning experts. The livingLAB design, titled “The Detroit Lid!” placed a 0.4 mile cap over the portion of I-75 that travels through Detroit’s core between Midtown and Downtown, and very near the proposed $650 million Arena District.
livingLAB identified an opportunity to reconnect areas of the city and its streets that have been divided for decades by a sunken concrete barrier. What is today an interruption in the urban fabric, particularly for alternative forms of transportation like walking and biking, could with this design become a vibrant place, seamlessly unifying two very central areas of the city for all forms of mobility, and producing room for new development in an in-demand part of town.
Leah Groya of livingLAB was excited to share her idea for this slice of the city.
“We focused on the Woodward/I-75 area of Detroit because there are so many initiatives colliding together—which to us means there’s real opportunity to make long-lasting, positive change for the neighborhood.”
Contest judge Angie Schmitt, a reporter for Streetsblog, was impressed with livingLAB’s ambition.
“I know that that area of Detroit has been really degraded by the highway presence,” Schmitt said. “livingLab’s proposal is a creative way to think about stitching the city back together and helping restore the walkability and value in one of Detroit’s most important places.”
The runner-up project is Jimmy McBroom’s redesign of the intersection of M-5 (Grand River Ave.), Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Trumbull Ave. McBroom’s design would downsize the intersection with road diets to more appropriately meet the current traffic needs, and improve pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. The design took into account the intersection’s location within the city, and demonstrates the site’s potential to become a place for mixed-use, transit-oriented development.
The Highways for Habitats design competition was meant to inspire Michigan residents to reimagine our highways to work better for our communities. Highways and main streets are both vital to the state’s communities and economy, and finding an appropriate balanced solution between the two is key. Unfortunately, the planning of the past frequently put cars before people, creating divides in our urban fabric and disrupting downtowns and neighborhoods. Today, people are becoming more aware of the impact transportation infrastructure has on other goals, especially community and economic development, and are finding ways to get involved in the process. The contest’s goal was to show people that they have good ideas that can make roads and cities safer, healthier places.
“Almost everyone recognizes quality street planning and knows what feels safe, whether traveling by foot, bicycle, or motor vehicle,” said Stefanie Seskin, deputy director of the National Complete Streets Coalition at Smart Growth America.
“Sometimes it seems too daunting or complicated to make a street better for walking, bicycling, and driving, but all of the contestants were able to do this, mostly with simple changes, such as the M-5 project’s straightforward lane restriping,” Seskin said. “The M-5 design is an entirely achievable and affordable model for other neighborhoods in the city and across the state. I hope everyone who came across the contest feels motivated to improve the streets and intersections in their neighborhood now that they see how little changes can make a big difference.”
Groya, of livingLAB added, “It’s not often that we get the chance to think really big and with no limits on location, scope, scale or cost! Submitting our ideas for the Highways to Habitats Contest was fun and reinforced our passion for this gritty, creative, determined city. That’s why contests like these can be so powerful—they encourage big ideas.”
Sarah Szurpicki, project coordinator for Let’s Save Michigan, is excited that people felt motivated by the contest.
“We were extremely impressed with the quality and caliber of entries, and it shows that people care about this issue. There is a cultural shift happening: People want more vibrant, walkable urban centers, and access to many alternatives of transportation. As it continues, we urge Michiganders to get informed, and get involved. We’re the people living in the places being planned and affected by the designs—we should have a place at the table.”
The Michigan Municipal League’s Let’s Save Michiganinitiative is a citizen engagement and advocacy effort that promotes smart policies to build a restored Michigan—a state with good jobs, vibrant cities, accessible transportation, and first-rate cultural centers.
Let's Save Michigan advocates for policies and practices that support, revitalize, and promote Michigan's cities. For decades, disinvestment and our auto culture have contributed to the decline of our great public spaces. But thankfully, there is a new understanding in many communities and among many of our leaders that we need to reinvest in our public spaces, and rebuild the public amenities that make people choose to live, work, and play in Michigan's cities of all sizes. For this contest, the nonprofit Let’s Save Michigan asked stakeholders across Michigan to find an underutilized space in their community—an alley, a pocket park, a vacant lot—and then work together with members of the community to create and design a plan to turn that underutilized space into a welcoming, vibrant public place.