As economic and population declines continue to plague shrinking cities, a number of them are adopting greening plans to combat the vacant land and blight problems. Two of those plans are Rochester’s Project Green: From Blight to Bright (soon to be made public) and Detroit’s Leaner, Greener Detroit (Nov. 2008). They all stress greening strategies, but what are some of the plans’ strengths and weaknesses? And, perhaps more importantly, what can other shrinking cities take from these plans when they craft theirs?
Rochester’s Project Green examines different housing and demolition scenarios to tackle its housing crisis, provides vacant land strategies, and proposes green corridors that reflect the historic streetcar routes. Beside the brief mentions of parks, land banking, land leasing for various uses, and energy generation as vacant land strategies, the plan devotes much attention to community gardens. The green corridors would connect neighborhoods and downtown, enhance recreation opportunities, provide wildlife habitats, and manage stormwater.
Leaner, Greener Detroit emphasizes urban form, sustainable transportation, economic development strategies, urban agriculture, and sustainable energy. The proposed urban form involves enhancing the urban core and reconfiguring the use of land to promote high-density, mix-use and mix-income developments. Sustainable transportation, which includes transit, bicycle, and pedestrian modes, would link neighborhoods and land uses. The economic development section lays out a framework for a 10-year economic development plan into three phases that capitalize on human capital, existing and future assets. The Detroit plan wants to bring to scale urban agriculture so it can provide economic and workforce development, on top of localized food production. The plan also establishes phases to achieve the urban agriculture goals.
It appears the Rochester plan functions like a traditional greening plan, where as the Detroit plan functions more like a comprehensive plan. That major difference is what separates a narrow-focused traditional plan that addresses last century’s problems from a more comprehensive, integrated plan that tackles 21st Century challenges of sustainability that all cities will invariably face. Greening plans should not limit their focus to parks, community gardens, corridor beautification, and single-purpose vacant land strategies. Food, urban form, transportation, economic development, environmental sustainability, energy, and social issues are critical challenges of the 21st Century and beyond. Further, those issues form an intricate web within which any one issue relates with all others. A more comprehensive greening plan not only tackles the challenges, but it also allows planners and decision makers to see before them the relationships between the challenges and facilitates more integrated planning.
Let’s look at some elements of the Rochester plan. Project Green advocates for community gardens, but it stops short on taking the idea further. There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a more detailed, longer-term plan on scaling the idea into urban agriculture that serves as part of an economic and workforce development strategy, in addition to localized food production. The plan does a good job on proposing the historic streetcar lines as future green corridors, but it fails to advance the full potential of the idea. Future commitments for major green corridors are toward bicycle and pedestrian facilities, aesthetics, and stormwater management, and those are good commitments. But how do the future urban form and the mix of land uses relate to those corridors? Should density be clustered around those corridors to maximize the use and investments? As for economic development, there is not a section that speaks at length about the goals and separates potential strategies into manageable phases.
The Rochester plan notes, “It is…an occasion to lay the foundation for the next 175 years.” There is not much of a foundation with such a conservative, narrow-focused plan that aims not for the stars but for the hills.
If we are going to plan for the future, then let it be more comprehensive, integrated, and meaningful planning to tackle the core issues of the 21st Century and beyond.
Read about Leaner, Greener Detroit at http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek09/0710/0710n_sdat_detroit.cfm. The Rochester plan, once it has been made public, will have a link from here.