Mapping the Detroit Food Swamp

by: Jordan Zuael, UM Taubman College

For Graduate Architectural Thesis, 95 ASB : Radical Exclusivity in the Food Commons

The thesis lives within and adapts the urban fabric of Metro-Detroit, bolstering and promoting the emergence of the Food Commons. This thesis is anti-tabula rasa, acknowledging the systematic injustice present in policies and organizations as well as the current intentional and community-driven efforts to promote food sovereignty in situ.

The constellation of actors and emotions that Food includes provides both extremely prescribed architectural modes and thinking, as well as immense human creativity, spatial adaptation, cultural expression, and feeling. The work takes advantage of the intense tactility and breadth of intimacies innate to Food and Food spaces, presenting a new exuberant and empathetic mode of
architectural design, one that enables the persons and producers within the urban fabric to maximize its usage and atmosphere.

The project operates on a variety of scales, from the creation of urban-adapting exclusive furnitures, to larger zoning and planning schema taking advantage of existing convivial Food experience in Metro-Detroit, such as urban farms, food trucks, etc. The scales and tactile nature of the work evoke the relation between a family meal and the larger infrastructural systems that govern
relationships and understandings of Food, consequently blurring the lines in order to dismantle preconceived notions, provoke systematic change, and spark joy and engagement of each producer within the Food commons.

The thesis works with each producer of the urban Food fabric and enables their own radical exclusivity to promote connectivity, exposure, and collective work.

Jordan Zuael is an architect/designer, most recently graduating with a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Michigan Taubman College. My great-grandparents immigrated from Italy to Detroit, and my family has lived and worked there ever since – with my architectural thesis, I naturally followed suit. The city, food, and design have been my greatest passions, and I continue to be inspired by the rich history, tenacity, and passion in the Detroit community.

Isovist Map of Indian Village Detroit Neighborhood

by: Magdalene Kuhns

This map was created as a piece of research into the Indian Village neighborhood. We wanted to
examine how the viewsheds became restricted by the dense number of homes in 1951 and then opened
back up after blight took parts of the city out. As a part of a course that required us to design a response
to a Detroit neighborhood that had experienced major demolitions, we felt it was important to examine
how it changed spatially over time.

The images were produced using a Grasshopper visual script in a Rhino model of the
neighborhood. Firstly, my team and I created maps of the neighborhood in 1910 and 1951 using
Sanborn map database. Then we created a 3D model with the Elk plugin, which used Open Street Map
data to create the building masses. Once we had the model, we used the Isovist component to create
our viewsheds. The component starts at a selected point (designated by the “plus” signs on the map)
and draws bursts that connect to the closest points of each geometry near it.

This process allowed us to look at how different homes on the site were connected by view, and
when we got down to ground level, we could compare how it felt to be in the neighborhood at its most
dense and at its most sparse. Honoring the dignity of the residents was important in the design process,
so our response needed to take into account the experience of the street.

Maggie is a student interested in observing life at all scales through varied mediums. Currently studying at Lawrence Technological University, she is pursuing a dual-degree in civil engineering and architecture with the eventual goal of studying urban design in postgraduate work.

Map: Urban Renewal in Greektown

by: Jonny Hanna

This series of aerial images was research produced as part of the Greektown Neighborhood Framework Vision. This series of aerial photographs from the DTE Aerial Photo Collection held by Wayne State University are superimposed  to help tell a jarring story of priorities and the detrimental urban planning which spanned several decades in Detroit.

From the destruction of Black Bottom along Hastings Street for the creation of I-375 to the demolition of the historical Victorian fabric of the city in favor of parking garages and lots, Greektown has been reduced to “Greekblock” but yet still reveals that persistent community engagement is our only key to salvaging that which has been lost in the name of speed and technology. These maps helped influence the plan by reintroducing “Clinton Park” which existed in the city for a century before it was destroyed by the construction of the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice. With some political support the park may one day find its place back in Greektown. 

Jonathan Hanna is the Design Principle of HBB Design Collaborative and Adjunct Faculty at Lawrence Technological University College of Architecture and Design 

A Bolder Vision of Highway Removal for Detroit

by Paul Jones III

Detroit has an incredible opportunity to reduce the impact of highways on our urban fabric

Our highways are some of the worst examples in the nation of racist, mid-century urban planning practices, and removing them has been a topic of interest in transportation, planning, and racial justice circles for decades. As more cities start to make decisions that recognize the relationship between transportation policy, quality of life, and equity, embracing a bold plan to undo the damage of urban highways and restore the city’s walkable grid over time could help Detroit truly take the lead in redefining urban mobility and addressing past harms.

DETROITography (2016). Map: Detroit Master Plan Trafficways 1951.

Each highway’s construction undermined density and walkability in the city center and displaced thousands of residents. These displacements targeted Black communities on the east side of downtown and thriving Chinese and Mexican immigrant communities on downtown’s western flank. The pollution, noise, and severed connections from our freeway craze continue to impact quality of life for Detroiters. Freeways have degraded the delicate connections that once held our neighborhoods together. They funnel more cars on our downtown streets than they should handle, and our attempts to design around this have enabled destructive widening projects and minimized the potential for vitality citywide. Our streets are overall wider than our shrinking population justifies and this is especially true downtown. Some of our busiest crossings are dangerous by design for pedestrians. The parking demands associated with freeway access to downtown have cost us countless landmarks and historic structures that have been replaced with surface lots. Our downtown is now tightly surrounded by several lanes of highway and dotted by enormous interchanges, limiting the spread of development. The surface street connections we’ve lost make it difficult to link areas of strength in a way that could really encourage the type of infill development the city needs. Reducing Detroit’s freeway system will address all these concerns and mend the damage highways have done to Black Detroiters and the urban vitality over the last 80 years. 


Most local discussion about freeway removal centers on I-375. The less than 1 mile stretch destroyed the city’s thriving Black Bottom neighborhood and contributed to the displacement of 130,000 mostly Black residents on the east side of Downtown. The stretch has come to the end of its useful life and plans to replace it with a surface-level boulevard by 2027 have been inked by the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT). Though the prospect of reversing one of the city’s biggest urban planning mistakes seems promising, the preferred alternative selected by MDOT would be nothing more than a continuation of the harm imposed by car-centric design in Detroit. MDOT’s proposed boulevard looks more like Hall Road than anything that belongs downtown and the design would expose people walking and biking to more danger than the existing freeway configuration. Additionally, without a full acknowledgement of past harms and a reparative plan for restoring ownership and honoring the legacy of Black Bottom, the project will fail to be impactful. Limiting the scope of downtown freeway removal to I-375 misses the much bigger transformation that could take place in Detroit, and MDOT has demonstrated an inability to design appropriately for urban areas. To fully leverage this opportunity, Detroit should reimagine more of its highway system and focus on reestablishing historic street connections. 

A bold plan to reduce the city’s freeway system offers a clear opportunity to create a walkable, connected city that could set the stage for the kind of urban vitality city leaders claim to want. In three steps, I’ll explain a proposal for freeway removal in Detroit by removing duplicative sections of the system, replacing them with city-appropriate streets that prioritize people and high quality city blocks over cars and restoring the the city’s urban fabric to promote a balanced transportation system with enough safe space for people walking, biking, and public transit.

Map by Paul Jones III

Step 1: Removing Duplicative Freeways

Three of our major freeways, I-96, M-10, and I-75 run parallel to one another as they approach downtown. These stretches are bisected by I-94 and again near downtown by the Fisher Freeway stretch of I-75. From here, I-375 continues to join Jefferson Ave. while M-10, The Lodge, does the same on the west side of Downtown. This redundancy offers the opportunity to consolidate auto access and limit the impact of highways to the periphery of downtown. 

Under this proposal:

  • I-96 (Jeffries) would remain the same with its I-75 concurrency extended north to I-94 
  • I-94 (Ford) would remain the same with its I-96 to I-75 stretch becoming a concurrent route for I-75
  • M-10 (Lodge) would be reconfigured to turn into the M-8 (Davison) right of way at the current M-10/M-8 interchange and terminate at the present day M-8/I-75 interchange. The existing Lodge freeway south of the Davison would be completely demolished. 
  • I-75 South at the I-94 interchange would follow the I-94 (Ford Freeway) right of way west and I-96 (Jeffries Freeway) east to rejoin the existing I-75 south designation near the Ambassador Bridge 
  • I-75 North would follow the I-96 west (Jeffries Freeway) right of way and turn east at the I-94 (Ford Freeway) interchange to rejoin the existing I-75 North Chrysler Freeway stretch 
Map by Paul Jones III

Removing these stretches would free up thousands of acres of developable land adjacent to Greater Downtown, Midtown, and the near west side while lowering the fiscal burden of maintaining overbuilt freeway infrastructure. Extending freeway removal beyond I-375 also offers the City the opportunity to take more reparative action that addresses the damage done by the destruction of Black Bottom, Paradise Valley, Chinatown, and other communities on the near west side. This could take the form of housing built along the reimagined corridors and the development of a Black arts & culture district that celebrates the rich culture and history that urban renewal sought to erase.  

Step 2: Replacing Freeways with City-Appropriate Streets

Hamilton Ave

Currently, Hamilton becomes the Lodge service drive south of Chicago Blvd. With the freeway eliminated south of the Davison Freeway, Hamilton Ave. can be extended as a complete street that follows the historic path of 6th Ave. through New Center, Midtown, and south to Jefferson. This transformation should be complemented with improved public transit along the corridor and a park and ride center at the street’s intersection with the Lodge to help facilitate downtown trips and relieve parking demands.This street would restore connections between Palmer Park, Highland Park, Boston Edison, Virginia Park, New Center, Wayne State, Midtown, Corktown, Huntington Center and the Riverfront.  

Hastings Ave

Hastings Avenue would replace I-75 South of the existing interchange with I-94. This complete street would be a nod to the historic, storied Hastings St. that was razed to build the freeway that stands today. Hastings Ave. would connect to Oakland Ave., the 3 block stretch of Hastings St. that still exists between Grand Blvd. and Harper Ave. and extend south, roughly following the now demolished I-75 right of way to Jefferson, and Schweizers Pl to Atwater. This restored street would connect the North End, the Cultural Center, DMC, Brewster-Douglass Site, Eastern Market, Ford Field, Lafayette Park, Greektown, and the Riverwalk along a complete thoroughfare. 

Vernor Hwy. 

With the Fisher Freeway demolished, Vernor Hwy can be restored as a surface street that traverses downtown. The new Vernor Hwy would connect the existing East and West Vernor Highways while creating a central, signature crosstown corridor for Downtown Detroit that would rival Woodward in destinations and make the journey from Corktown to the Eastern Market an easy walk. Southwest Detroit, Michigan Central Station, new developments around the Tiger Stadium site, new development parcels located in the footprint of the defunct I-75/ M-10 interchange, MGM Grand, Cass Tech, Little Caesars Arena, Foxtown, Comerica Park, Ford Field, Brush Park, The Eastern Market, Lafayette Park, and the Dequindre Cut would all be served by this restored street.

Map by Paul Jones III

Step 3: Restoring The City’s Urban Fabric to Promote Citywide Mobility

Before freeways, Detroit was a dense, walkable city with a strong grid of connected, tree lined blocks. By prioritizing speeding traffic going directly to the city center, we’ve undermined our ability to build a working transportation network. Although the introduction of freeways tore through and disoriented neighborhoods that were once well-connected to one another and downtown, we have the opportunity to use what’s left to rebuild an even stronger transportation system than the city had at its population and economic peak. Detroiters deserve a safe, thoughtful transportation network that allows residents to travel with dignity even if they don’t own a car. We deserve transportation investments that breathe life into our communities instead of exposing them to more pollution in the name of faster car commutes. A strong vision of freeway removal will be a key element of building that future. 

Paul Jones III (@PaulTheUrbanist) is a native Detroiter and recent graduate of the University of Michigan Master in Urban and Regional Planning program. Paul is passionate about the intersection of history, urbanism, and social justice in Detroit and is interested in empowering communities with a working understanding of how the built environment impacts daily life.

Map: Visioning a Better Future for Detroit’s Belle Isle

by: Paul Jones III

Belle Isle is undoubtedly Detroit’s most beloved park. The city’s island getaway is regularly flooded with people on warm days, and welcomed 5.2 million visitors to its beaches, picnic groves, and lakesides last year alone. Detroiters love Belle Isle and have for generations. It has played a significant role in the city’s history since its development in the 1880s. More personally, Detroiters have made childhood memories, gone on dates, proposed, held birthday parties, family reunions, and intimate gatherings with families and friends in the park. This underscores the significance Belle Isle holds in the minds of Detroiters and highlights how important it is to maintain it as a world-class, functional public space. While the island is a place of respite, relaxation, and enjoyment for Detroiters, it is also obvious that the park experience continues to be degraded by disinvestment, mismanagement, and environmental neglect that have characterized decision making for decades.

With the disruptive use of the Island for the annual Grand Prix coming to an end, new grant dollars coming from the U.S. Department of Interior, and more opportunities, a number of changes are poised to take place. This should be an exciting time for Detroiters to imagine a park that more accurately reflects the special place Belle Isle is. By sharing this vision, I hope to inspire those who care about Belle Isle and public space in Detroit to challenge themselves to imagine the brightest future possible for the places we love so much. This vision is a compilation of ideas for Belle Isle that have been gleaned from historical documents, some unbuilt proposals, and elements of my own. Below, the new park is observed from the perspective of someone riding the new shuttle loop. 

STOP 0: Belle Isle Transit

Visitors to the improved park are greeted by a new monumental ‘Belle Isle Park’ sign and entry plaza at Jefferson and Grand Boulevard. Because it’s a busy weekend day, people driving are directed to park in a structure located at the former uniroyal site and use the Belle Isle Transit Center to access the island. This center’s design is a nod to the original Belle Isle tram stop that was demolished in 1980 and gives visitors access to bike share, bike rentals, and wagon rentals for hauling outdoor gear without a car. Most importantly, it is Stop 0 on the Sunset and Sunrise shuttle loops that give car-free access to all the park’s destinations. Visitors board the shuttles here and are whisked across the bridge to the island.

STOP 1: Remick Amphitheater

A roundabout at the approach now enables park goers to travel both directions on the park drive. Stop 1 is just east of the park drive’s intersection with the bridge. This stop gives visitors access to the Remick Amphitheater, and the Detroit Boat Club on the other side of the park drive. The bandshell has been relocated from its site on Loiter Way, and is now complemented by seating and a lawn that gives spectators sweeping stage views against the backdrop of the Detroit skyline. The northernmost portion of the park’s picnic grove surrounds the amphitheater and has 5 shelters in various sizes.

Remick Band Shell, built in 1950 for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

STOP 2: Central Ave

At the intersection with Inselruhe, the shuttle loops diverge with the Sunset loop turning to service the western part of the island and the Sunrise loop continuing east. The Sunset loop goes on to Stop 2, called Central Quad for its position on the Island. Just past the restored pedestrian promenade at Central Avenue, visitors use this stop to get to the Inselruhe pier that looks over the beach and Detroit River, the Belle Isle History Museum occupying the old Belle Isle Police Station, the Kid’s Row play area, giant slide, and new dog park. The comfort station at Central & Inselruhe has been restored to service the northeast section of the picnic grove with 3 shelters. The centerpiece of the quad is a pedestrian plaza that surrounds the restored equestrian monument honoring Union General Alpheus Williams. Kid’s Row provides unique play experiences for the park’s youngest guests and thoughtful accommodations for entire families. The Sunset loop continues forward, turning right at the portion of park drive formerly signed as Loiter Way. 

A historic photo of Belle Isle’s Central Avenue (
Whitcomb Conservatory from the Oudolf Garden

STOP 3: Inselruhe Cultural Center 

Occupying the structure originally built as coach stop 7, stop 3 is a key station that services the Inselruhe Cultural Center, a collection of historic and newly built institutions and gardens celebrating Detroit’s cultural and natural heritage in one place. The Aquarium and Dossin Museum still anchor the eastern end of the center while the newly formed Belle Isle Botanical Gardens encompasses the Conservatory and Nancy Brown Peace Carillon. A new conservatory has been built south of the gardens surrounding Marshall Frederick’s Barbour Fountain, a Japanese lake garden now stands between the Picnic Way bridge and Carillon, and a Children’s garden complements the Oudolf Garden. The Botanical Gardens’ Conifer Collection provides a year-round green oasis for park visitors and leads to the Flynn Pavilion further west. Another new addition to the Cultural Center is the Belle Isle Arts Gallery next to the Dossin Museum, a unique riverfront gallery space on the island. 

On the other side of Inselruhe, Greenhouses provide space for Detroiters to learn about local horticulture and the historic horse stables have been repurposed to house a craft center.  Inside, groups and individuals can take on Belle Isle inspired arts and crafts projects while a weekly open air crafts and vintage market happens outside. Belle Isle’s historic Sawmill and the White House on Inselruhe that predates the park are also serviced by this station. 

STOP 4: Lake Tacoma

Lake Tacoma is located near Stop 4 and gives this station its name. This area is anchored by the Flynn Pavilion which offers a snack bar, pedal boat rental, and pontoon tours of the park’s canals in the summer and is the center of winter activities for the park. This portion of Lake Tacoma is lowered and frozen in the winter to offer ice skating and is complemented by the park’s holiday tree on the Muse Rd pedestrian mall. A sledding hill with spectacular views of the park and city rises just in front of Flynn Pavilion where there used to be a parking lot. The main picnic grove is just across the park drive. 

STOP 5: Fountain Way

Moving along, the shuttle approaches Stop 5 at Fountain Way. This gives riders access to the iconic Scott Memorial Fountain and the surrounding esplanades of maple, oak, and bright cherry blossoms. Many of these were donated from Detroit’s Japanese sister city Toyota. Using this stop, visitors can also head to the Belle Isle Casino for special events or catch concerts, plays, and other shows year round at the new Fine Arts Theater. New walkways, canal connections, and bridges have transformed this portion of the park and offer a more fitting centerpiece of Belle Isle’s west end. These enhancements are loosely based on Cass Gilbert’s 1917 drawings for the Scott Fountain and surrounding grounds. 

1917 Drawings from Cass Gilbert showing the Scott Fountain, Casino, and other proposed improvements.

STOP 6: Sunset Point

Sunset Point is Stop 6 on the sunset loop. Once adorned with simple pathways and scattered benches, this area is now a cohesive, monumental space celebrating Detroit’s beautiful sunsets. The centerpiece of this destination is the sunset rotunda which rises behind a small lagoon where a simple brick comfort station once stood. The rotunda is flanked on either side by a comfort station and a bistro that are connected by a colonnade. These are popular destinations for evening walks and have patios where Detroiters can sit and socialize freely. From this complex, a pedestrian walk continues towards the river and connects visitors to the park’s new observation tower. Here, park goers can climb to 100 feet by stair or elevator for a panoramic view of Detroit’s International Riverfront. 

STOP 7: Welcome Center

Stop 7 is home to the Welcome Center and Grand Lawn. After the demolition of the Grand Prix paddock, the Grand Lawn was built as a reinforced natural grass landscape optimized for large events and heavy foot traffic. The Casino overlooks the lawn from the south and the Welcome Center mirrors the Casino’s architectural style in a smaller, modern format on the north side. At the welcome center, visitors can get information about attractions and events in the park, find groups to walk or exercise with, sign up for tours, and shop at the Island’s souvenir shop. Behind the Welcome Center on the banks of the Loop Canal is the park’s main canoe and kayak rental shelter. The location near the beginning of the canal system facilitates more full enjoyment of the park’s waterways. The main offices of the park are located on the small peninsula created by the Loop Canal and Detroit River. From here, the shuttle’s sunset loop will cross the MacArthur bridge to return to the Belle Isle Transit Center at Jefferson. 

To reach the eastern end of the island by shuttle, park goers should use the Sunrise Loop. Instead of turning right at Inselruhe after Stop 1, the Sunrise Loop Continues forward to service stops 8-14 before rejoining the Sunset Loop at Stop 3. 

Example of inspiration for sunset rotunda structure and colonnade.

STOP 8: Riverbank Beach

Stop 8 is home to Riverbank Beach and its accompanying beach house, pools, and boardwalk. The windowless beach house that once served the beach has been replaced with a larger facility that offers locker rooms and showers for the beach area as well as an indoor/ outdoor pool deck that can be used year round. This deck is flanked by risers that allow space for sunbathing and relaxation or spectating during competitive events.

The Oakway Comfort station provides support facilities on the other side of the park drive and invites people from this stop and the beach to explore the Belle Isle Flatwoods. 

View of original Belle Isle Beach House, demolished in 1970

STOP 9: Lake Muskoday

Stop 9 is at the western tip of Lake Muskoday and entrance to the Detroit Yacht Club. This stop gives visitors access to the boat launch at Lake Muskoday, the eastern end of the beach and a trailhead for the Belle Isle Flatwoods. 

STOP 10: Muskoday East

Stop 10 is on the eastern shore of Lake Muskoday. Here, park goers can access a comfort station, the fishing area at the Detroit River, as well as exhibitions for the two water intake cribs at Belle Isle and the razed Waterworks Park that once existed sat across the river. As part of long-term initiatives to improve the system of waterways on Belle Isle, Lake Muskoday’s connection to the Detroit River has been restored as well as a part of the lake that was once filled in north of the park drive.

STOP 11: Blue Heron Lagoon

The view of Blue Heron Lagoon opens up to the left, and is Stop 11’s namesake. The new overnight campground on the shores of Lake Muskoday is reached from this stop. Just south of Camp Muskoday, efforts to protect and restore the park’s tree cover are aided by a full-service permaculture center and tree nursery at the former site of the nature zoo on the eastern end of the forest. Here, Belle Isle trees are propagated, raised, and studied to enhance and protect the park’s ecosystem for future generations. Blue Heron Lodge, which offers a cafe, accommodations for swimming nearby, and event space, now occupies the site of the relocated golf range. A beach has been built on the northern shore of Blue Heron Lagoon, and sand paths lead to other swimming areas along Hippie Channel. 

STOP 12: Lighthouse Point

Next up, shuttle riders are taken to Lighthouse Point, Stop 12. A new comfort station complements the Iron-Belle Trailhead, a parking grove, and 2 picnic shelters can also be found here. Continuing towards the lighthouse, visitors will now find rolling meadows of native shrubs, flowers, and grasses which add dynamic color and depth to this section of the park and create bright pathways towards the Livingstone Lighthouse. Beyond the lighthouse, the grove of trees and shoreline overlooking Lake St. Clair offers the best place in the park to greet the morning sun. Here, fitness and meditative meetups happen and give space for the city’s early risers to build community. 

STOP 13: The Strand

Stop 13 gives visitors access to the area of the park known as The Strand. A portion of the southern beach shoreline has been restored, and beach goers can access showers, restrooms, and other amenities at The Strand Beach House. The park’s southern fishing pier is also accessible from this stop. From the beach and fishing pier, visitors can cross the park drive to walk the Lake Okanaka shore and islands on a raised boardwalk that connects this area to the Flatwoods and Iron-Belle trailhead. On this side, the 

Woodside comfort station has been restored and offers services and amenities at the southern entrance of the woodlands.

Belle Isle Athletic Shelter originally constructed as the Bicycle Pavilion

STOP 14: Athletic Park

Stop 14 houses the Belle Isle Athletic Park and the park’s historic Wet-Mesic Flatwoods. The historic Athletic Shelter, originally built in 1898 as a bicycle pavilion, now houses a museum celebrating the history of bikes in Detroit and event spaces for the athletic park. The athletic park includes a set of basketball courts, a multi-purpose stadium that can house a range of competitive activities, 2 baseball fields, and a connected indoor field house and fitness center. This complex has a number of practice fields that can be reserved or used for pick up play. Near the riverfront is the park’s golf range in a smaller footprint than its former site on Blue Heron Lagoon. Closer to Inselruhe, 3 large picnic shelters support team gatherings near the athletic park. Tennis courts have been moved further south and two sand volleyball courts stand between the athletic park and The Strand Beach. 

The woodlands at the center of Belle Isle have been extended to occupy their historic footprint, and A new nature center for the flatwoods now stands in a clearing that used to be the site of the park’s handball courts welcoming park goers into the woodlands. To facilitate the restoration of the park’s wetland forest, most paths are on raised boardwalks that allow water to flow freely beneath. Highlights of the flatwoods are demonstrations of the impact of Emerald Ash Borer and Oak Wilt on Detroit’s trees, the performance of the wetland forests during flooding, and the unique ecosystem found in the park and Detroit River. A large arch has been built at Central Avenue’s entrance to the flatwoods, and an adventure park with canopy walks, high ropes, climbing and other activities occupies the woodlands where the children’s zoo once sat. 

After Stop 14, the Sunrise loop rejoins the Sunset loop to service stations 3-7 and head back to the Belle Isle Transit Center.

Paul Jones III (@PaulTheUrbanist) is a native Detroiter and recent graduate of the University of Michigan Master in Urban and Regional Planning program. Paul is passionate about the intersection of history, urbanism, and social justice in Detroit and is interested in empowering communities with a working understanding of how the built environment impacts daily life.

Detroit vs. Everybody: Hip Hop Map of the Motor City

By: Brian D. Smith

I started making hip-hop themed maps because there are tons of geographic references in rap music to map: emcees often call out to streets and neighborhoods they’re from, as well as the places they go. The Detroit map came out of homesickness; I recently relocated to Texas and was missing home. Also, I had never done a city map; my maps prior focused on one artist or one song.

I set the goal to try to find unique geographic references from Detroit emcees: one place for each artist. I studied the lyrics of songs from artists I grew up listening to (Blade Icewood, D-12, Slum Village), Detroit’s new class of emcees (Kash Doll, Payroll Giovanni, Sada Baby), and everyone in between. I went to websites like The Original Hip-Hop Lyrics Archive and Genius for a little help, but for the most part I listened to the music and deconstructed the lyrics myself. All in all I found a total of 37 unique references from 36 emcees: 16 streets/highways, 17 places, and 4 neighborhoods. I added Saint Andrews Hall/The Shelter because of its history as one of the premiere venues for rap battles in the 90s.

I built the map using shapefiles downloaded from the City of Detroit’s data portal as a foundation, and created the place features from scratch. To add extra sauce to the symbology I used colors from Detroit sports teams: Honolulu blue streets (Lions), teal neighborhoods (90s Pistons), red places (Red Wings). I found little tidbits of information along the way, like the fact everyone is from 7 Mile Road, EVERYONE. 7 Mile was the most mentioned street by far across all emcees. Blade Icewood, Royce da 5’9”, Guilty Simpson, D-12, Esham, Black Milk and more all talk about 7 Mile. This was a fun project, I revisited favorite songs and discovered new hits to add to my playlists.

Map: Noise Complaint Increases in the City of Detroit 2017 – 2020

By: Sergio Brilanti-Martinez, Wayne State University (Intro to GIS, Fall 2020)

I pulled the dataset from the the city of Detroit open data portal. The dataset includes all 911 police emergency response and officer-initiated calls for service in the City of Detroit since September 20, 2016. I used Rstudio and the Tidyverse library to clean the data. The exact code and steps for cleaning can be seen here. Once the entire dataset was cleaned, I took all observations which were Noise Complaints and mapped them in ArcGIS Pro by matching up the Lat/Long columns as XY columns. In order to map the officer initiated variable it was a simple matter of opening up the symbology and choosing to symbolize by category. 

I started exploring the data with intent to find ways that citizen demand for policing was not well matched by supply of policing. While exploring the noise complaints data in RStudio I saw that there were many calls initiated by police officers as noise complaints. I found this dynamic interesting and became curious to understand if there were spatial patterns in where police officers initiated noise complaint calls. Turns out there are.  

The demand for noise complaint policing by citizens resides mostly in the areas around midtown where residential housing is very close to night-life activities. However, the noise complaints calls initiated by police do not match with the areas where residents make these calls. The other notable pattern is the dramatic increase in noise complaints initiated by citizens in 2019. The years of 2017, 2018, and 2020 show very similar geospatial distributions, although 2020 seems to have even more officer initiated calls in 2020 than 2017 and 2018. It is possible that due to lockdowns, officers are cracking down on oversized gatherings and labeling the incident a noise complaint related one. 

Map: Geographical Understanding of Carjacking in the City of Detroit

By: Tima Younesirad, Wayne State University (Final Project, Intro to GIS, Fall 2020)

Based on explanations, carjacking is an undesirable experience that any citizen can have in public places. The Detroit News coined the term carjacking in 1991 and it remains a common crime across Detroit. Geographically locations of these incidents have a negative impact on every city, neighborhood, or public space and make them less popular for citizens. Long lists of topics are in a bilateral or unilateral relationship with this phenomenon. Topics like, Demographic aspects of crime location, Poverty, Unemployment, Blight, Education, and many other topics. The geographic aspects of Carjacking will help to illustrate the situation and making better decisions in this regard. Based on the data provided by the City of Detroit open data portal, 1,216 Carjacking Incidents Reported in the city of Detroit in calendar-years 2015-2017.

Carjacking aggregation map for census tracts shows that downtown and midtown Detroit are areas with higher risk of carjacking incidents.

Current data shows that more carjacking incidents happened during dark times of the day. Between 1,216 carjacking incidents that had data about the time of incident, 74% happened during nighttime (between 6 pm to 6 am), and 26% happened during daytime (between 6 am to 6 pm). Downtown Detroit area and more specifically commercial district streets are places that people experienced much more carjacking incident during night. And, between 891 carjacking incidents that happened during nighttime, 52% happened during between 12 am to 6 am and 48% happened between 6 pm to 12 am.

Detroit’s downtown and midtown are safer during the day especially between 6 am to 12 pm. Between 321 carjacking incidents that had happened during daytime, 51% happened between 6 am to 12 pm and 49% happened between 12 pm to 6 pm.

Map: Detroit Median Income Normalized 1990 – 2018

by: Stephen Lindley, Wayne State University (Final Project, Intro to GIS, Fall 2020)

The population of Detroit has been in decline since the late 1950s. What was once the fourth-largest city in the country has steadily lost population for more than half a century. This series of maps looks at changes in the median incomes across census tracts in Detroit from 1990 to 2018.

In 2000, the median household income in Detroit was $40,128, an 18% increase from 1990. The national inflation-adjusted median income was $61,492, almost 50% higher than in Detroit. The population had decreased by 8.1% to 945,471, but numerous neighborhoods across the city showed gains in income and prosperity over the ‘90s.

By 2018, the city’s population had declined to 672,662 and median household income had dropped to $28,189. Meanwhile, the national median household income was $63,179, almost 125% higher than Detroit.
This birds eye view of the city over roughly 30 years provides only a broad overview, but is formative to understanding and addressing how far the city continues to lag behind. It will be telling to observe if the next point in this series will become even lighter than the 2018 version or if neighborhoods across the city will exhibit growth and a resurgence towards the levels seen in 2000.

Map: Redlining and Health in Detroit 2008

by: Libby McClure, UNC School of Public Health, Detroit Neighborhood Health Study

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These maps show 1939 Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlined areas on the left in red, 2008 foreclosure rates in the center in greys, and 2008 self-rated health on the right in oranges.

The redlined zones were identified by digitizing the HOLC map from 1939. Neighborhood foreclosure rates, were calculated using RealtyTrac’s count of foreclosed properties in 2009 in each census block group divided by the number of owner-occupied residences in 2009 in each census block group. Denominator information was obtained from American Community Survey data, collected by the United States Census. Home foreclosure rates are shown here aggregated to the 54 neighborhoods defined by the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department and operationalized in the Detroit Neighborhood Health Study. Rates are standardized to the number of foreclosures per 100 owner-occupied properties. Neighborhoods shaded darker had higher 2009 foreclosure rates.

The Detroit Neighborhood Health Study assessed self-rated general health on a five-point Likert scale in 2008. Here, the prevalence shown is the number of survey respondents reporting poor health divided by the total number of respondents in the neighborhood in 2008. Neighborhoods shaded darker had a higher prevalence of poor health.

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 These maps show post-Great Recession foreclosure recovery on the left in greys and changes in self-rated health on the right in oranges. Here, foreclosure recovery is expressed as changes in rates between 2009 and 2011. Neighborhoods shaded lighter had steeper declines in foreclosure rates, representing faster recovery in the housing market. Neighborhood change in prevalence of poor self-rated health is shown from 2008 to 2013. Areas with darker shading experienced increases in poor health prevalence, while lighter shading indicates slower increases or decreases in poor health.

Neighborhood foreclosure rates, were calculated using RealtyTrac’s count of foreclosed properties in 2009 and 2011 in each census block group divided by the number of owner-occupied residences in 2009 and 2011 in each census block group. Denominator information was obtained from American Community Survey data, collected by the United States Census. Home foreclosure rates are shown here aggregated to the 54 neighborhoods defined by the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department and operationalized in the Detroit Neighborhood Health Study.

The Detroit Neighborhood Health Study assessed self-rated general health on a five-point Likert scale in 2008 and in 2013. Here, the change between 2008 and 2013 in the proportion of neighborhood residents reporting poor health is shown.

Areas with slower post-Recession recovery overlap with areas with worsening adult health. These areas had the lowest baseline (2009) foreclosure rates, and the rates did not dramatically reduce post-Recession (see previous figure). Home ownership is less common in these neighborhoods because of practices like redlining and imbalances in lending opportunity. Additionally, while the measure of foreclosure rate accounts for owner occupancy by only including owner-occupied properties in the denominator, it does not capture the impacts of other financial housing displacement practices more relevant to renters, like eviction.

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Here are maps of racial composition in the years 1930, 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2010. The top maps show the census tract percentage of residents identifying as minority race in blues, and the bottom maps show percent of residents identifying as white in reds. Census tracts shaded darker represent a higher percentage of each respective racial group.

Proportion white was coded as the proportion of census tract residents identified as “white” regardless of parental foreign-born status in 1930, 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2010. In the same years, proportion minority race was coded as the proportion of residents identified as any race other than “white”.

The strongest relationship between foreclosure rate recovery and declining health (see previous map) is largely driven by the Detroit neighborhoods that were heavily redlined and initially housed nearly the entire minority population. These residents were largely later displaced, which is reflected in the racial composition changes shown here.

Read more in the academic article: “The legacy of Redlining in the effort of foreclosures on Detroit residents’ self-rated health

Map: New Chrysler City Project 1986

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As Fiat Chrysler Automotive (FCA) finishes its recent expansion adjacent to their existing facility, including swallowing up a roadway and increasing toxic emissions on the Eastside, I happened across the original 1986 plans for what was then deemed an industrial “revitalization” for a new Chrysler plant.

The full plan is called the Jefferson-Conner Industrial Revitalization Project. The map included here represents all of the existing buildings and businesses that may be subject to toxic evaluation (i.e. removal of underground tanks at gas stations, etc.). The existing plant in faded gray was demolished.

Map: Intact Urban Fabric in Detroit Neighborhoods 2019

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by: Mark Jones

In Alan Mallach’s book The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America (2018) three features of neighborhood revitalization are described, one being intact urban fabric:

“Houses, small apartment buildings, and storefronts woven together create the built environment and revitalization will occur in areas where these are still standing and not where demolitions have occurred. Demolitions erode the urban fabric and ultimately discourage investment. These mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods were generally built before World War II, before cities were redesigned for the automobile”

In a paper published in the Michigan Journal of Business, I attempted to define and map the percent of intact urban fabric in each neighborhood. The SEMCOG Open Data Portal contains building footprints along with the building type and year built. All buildings, except accessory buildings, built 1940 or earlier were utilized. Each building footprint was assigned to a parcel and the percent of parcels containing a pre-WWII building was calculated. The results are in the map above.

Map: Editing the Detroit City Map


by: T. Jennings Anderson

Check out the interactive version HERE

Objects in OpenStreetMap are often the cumulative product of multiple edits. This visualization displays a point for every edit of a specific type (building, highway, amenity, etc.). Using a heatmap style, the density of these points then shows the relative editing activity for any given time period.

The editing history of each object was reconstructed with the OSM-Wayback utility. This utility turns historical extracts of the full OSM planet history file into a GeoJSON sequence of objects with embedded editing histories.

Help add more data to the Detroit map at the upcoming Mapathon!

Event details on Facebook, RSVP for the event HERE

Register for the Oct. 5 – 7 Conference HERE

Tracking Detroit’s Record Stores Through Maps: 1970 – 2010


by: Thomas Calkins

Detroit’s place in American music has long been cemented. From jazz to techno, soul to punk, and many points in between, Detroit was the home of so much musical invention. It was also home to many independent record stores, as well as regional and national chains. How the location of these stores has shifted over time is one part of my dissertation on record stores and urban change (which also includes Chicago and Milwaukee). The record store is still an important place of musical discussion, discovery, and debate in Detroit, as it was decades ago. But where record stores are located in the segregated landscape of Detroit has changed, based on the following maps.

Tracts from Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb county are included in these maps, and the thin blue line represents the Detroit city boundary. The green areas are majority white tracts (meaning that 70% or more of that census tract is white), while yellow ones are majority black (meaning that 70% or more of that tract is black). When looking at the maps, two major patterns emerge. First, record stores seem to move away from the central business district in a radiating fashion over time. Second, Detroit’s record stores were once more highly clustered within black majority areas. In some instances, it appears that as the black population moved, so did record stores.

This becomes even more apparent when looking at the percentage of record stores in majority black census tracts in Detroit from 1970 to 2010. In 1970, 6 out of 10 independent record stores were in majority black areas. By 2010, that figure fell to 4 out of 10. Stories of vinyl’s revival, brick and mortar music retailer survival, and the continued success of Record Store Day are encouraging. These stories signal that even though music has become “devalued” in a highly digitized world, that physical formats retain special meaning for consumers today. But looking at record store loss with a much longer historical lens suggests that a part of the story is missing: the record store’s connection to black America. Detroit provides a good example of just that.

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Sources: Census TIGER/Line shape files come from the 2010 U.S. Census tracts.  

Demographic data comes from the Longitudinal Tract Database (

Record store address data comes from telephone (Michigan Bell 1970, 1980) and business directories (American Directory 1990; American Business Directories 2000; ReferenceUSA 2010).

Thomas Calkins, PhD(c) in Sociology

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Map: Detroit Territory Management Network

/Users/jaime/:::PFC_Jaime Castilla/19_SITUACION:Urbanismo/PIXELEby: Jaime Castilla Santos

Due to the large amount of space to manage and the limitation of available resources, the City Council carried out in 2013 a strategic division of the municipality in 7 districts.

As it has been said, in Detroit there are countless of inactive spaces in the city that have the potential to become opportunities areas. These spaces represent opportunities for the interaction and collective development of the city.

Based on the division of districts, the project proposed the incorporation of a decentralized network for management, exchange and distribution of the resources of the city, in favor to the local needs of each neighborhood.

This map shows graphically the appearance of this new decentralized network in Detroit, making the urban project an instrument of knowledge and negotiation.

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR LAND by Jaime Castilla Santos

Final Thesis presented at Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid (ETSAM) in September of 2016. 

This project is part of an extensive and complex research that seeks alternatives to understand and intervene in the reality that Detroit lives today. This city has shrinking since the 1950s and it had produced a unique landscape with more than 105,000 empty lots, 50,000 abandoned houses, and more than 30 square kilometers of underutilized land. 

The main purpose of the project is to reorient Detroit’s future by reconnecting the urban fabric and boosting the city’s own identity through the interaction with its citizens. The project pretends to offer a global intervention in the territory according to the context of emergency and precariousness that suffers.

 View the project intro video HERE

Map: How Suburban is the City of Detroit?

urban-suburban-detroit.jpgby: Mark Jones

In 2015, FiveThirtyEight (538) and Trulia worked to define “suburban” and “urban.” They surveyed 2,008 adults from across the USA and asked them to describe where they live as either rural, suburban, or urban. They matched those results with the responder’s zip code and created a definition for each geographic term:

Urban: ≥2,213 households per square mile (mi2)

Suburban: 102 – 2,212 HH/mi2

Rural: <102 HH/mi2

Utilizing these definitions, 538 calculated the amount of urban within the top 10 most populated cities in the USA. Some, such as New York and Chicago, were completely urban; others, such as San Diego and Phoenix, were majority suburban. This type of analysis was duplicated for Southeast Michigan. Using 2010 census tracts, households per square mile was calculated. Detroit had 205 urban census tracts, 86 suburban, and 5 rural. By acreage, Detroit is 60% urban, tying Dallas from the 538 study. Clawson, Grosse Pointe, and Hamtramck are 100% urban, in contrast to Utica, Northville, Fraser, Rochester Hills, and Grosse Pointe Farms which are completely suburban.

Map: Detroit Landscape Typologies Map

01_Mapa Paisajes.jpgby: Jaime Castilla Santos

The first step was to develop a map that shows the future landscapes that will exist in Detroit. To make this map it was necessary to collect all the cartographic information and digital mapping in order to understand the real panorama of the current territory.

The map is made by a matrix of 500×500 meters, based on the matrix of “the square mile” already used in other territorial mappings of America.

Each of these “pixels” are classified according to 3 categories that determine the landscape that each place aspires. The categories are: 1- Habitability & Culture, 2- Production & Innovation, 3- Vegetation & Energy.

/Users/jaime/:::PFC_Jaime Castilla/19_SITUACION:Urbanismo/PIXELE

The purpose of this matrix is to obtain an accurate information about the landscape prevailing in each area.

This cartographic system generates a new planning framework open and dynamic that bets on the diversity of uses and the recovery of the preexistences.

Six (6) types of landscapes are defined for Detroit, these typologies approach the recovery of industrial zones, the reforestation of uninhabitated areas or the improvement of consolidated neighborhoods among others.

SEARCHING FOR SUGAR LAND by Jaime Castilla Santos

Final Thesis presented at Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid (ETSAM) in September of 2016. 

This project is part of an extensive and complex research that seeks alternatives to understand and intervene in the reality that Detroit lives today. This city has shrinking since the 1950s and it had produced a unique landscape with more than 105,000 empty lots, 50,000 abandoned houses, and more than 30 square kilometers of underutilized land. 

The main purpose of the project is to reorient Detroit’s future by reconnecting the urban fabric and boosting the city’s own identity through the interaction with its citizens. The project pretends to offer a global intervention in the territory according to the context of emergency and precariousness that suffers.

 View the project intro video HERE

Map: Four Detroits, One Houston

by: Elizabeth Luther
On its face, the “Fours Detroits, One Houston” map is a “surface level comparison” of two cities, meant simply as a conversation piece for discussions around land use and density, and how they fit within the many factors that can affect residents’ quality of life and access to opportunity. I developed it to complement to Detroit Collaborative Design Center’s (DCDC) map “comparing Detroit to three other major cities” amidst discussions with a colleague about whether the areas of Detroit that are seeing new investment and development should aim for density standards set by the country’s most urban areas, or should adopt more reasonable goals based on the knowledge that density isn’t the only measure of the built environment that might affect residents’ quality of life. Often maligned by urban planners for its lassiez-faire approach to land use regulations, Houston has over four times the land area and a lower population density than Detroit, but boasts nearly half the poverty rate and twice the median household income see below charts comparing those data points for the cities shown in both maps.
In lieu of a more researched comparison between the drivers of these indicators in Detroit and Houston respectively, it’s my assumption that residents in Houston have access to higher incomes and are less likely to experience poverty in large part due to the strength of a growing oil industry. Yet are Houston’s low-density development patterns sustainable in the long term? Do its annexation powers give it more power to regulate regional shifts that would otherwise be detrimental to residents in the city’s core?  If we’re to have learned anything from the effects of globalization on the auto industry and federal policies that encouraged post-war suburban development in metro Detroit, one takeaway could be that this low-density development doesn’t hold up well to massive macroeconomic shifts; another might be that a cooperative regional approach might could potentially curb some of the negative effects a huge drop in a city’s residential tax base.
One of my colleagues suggested that a caption for this map could be “anything is possible.” And indeed, it is possible to fit the land area of 26 Manhattans, 6.7 Bostons, or 12.8 San Franciscos into one Houston. But do higher density areas do a better job of supporting residents in the long-term?

I’d love for someone with more Houston expertise to weigh in on the map and the issues raised above.

Median Household Income by City (2011-2015 ACS 5-year estimates, in 2015 dollars0

Detroit – $25,764
Houston – $46,187
Boston – $55,777
New York City – $53,373
San Francisco – $81,294

Persons in Poverty, Percent (2015, I believe; US Census Quickfacts accessed 12/19/2016)

Detroit – 40.3%
Houston – 22.5%
Boston – 21.5%
New York City – 20.6%
San Francisco – 12.4%

Map: Detroit Regional Transit Authority Vote by Precinct 2016


by: Steven Wiltse

I pulled the election results from the respective County Clerk websites. Oakland, Washtenaw, and Macomb came somewhat preformatted in tables to be easily copied into excel. Wayne on the other hand was scans of printed PDFs that required hand coding. It’s also worth noting that Oakland, Macomb, and Washtenaw were posted online within days of the election, while Wayne took over a month. Using a shapefile of Michigan’s 2016 voter precincts, I joined the combined excel of Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb, and entered in Wayne’s precinct by precinct. Because the precincts shapefile comes with both community and precinct ID fields it was easy to match up the smaller communities for the join (after some more excel work). Detroit was the only hiccup, as it was the only community with precinct identifiers that weren’t already in numeric order. That was solved by just pulling out the last three digits of the Detroit precincts and resorting. Lastly, because Detroit operates in-person absentee voting, I was not able to map those results as they lacked spatial references.
Once the yes/no counts were in I was able to add fields to do the calculations of Yes % support and the Yes/No results. Someone ended up asking a question online about density related to yes votes, so I added another field calculating the votes per sq/mile of the precinct (which gives a similar green to red pattern as the results).

Map: Detroit’s Industrial Growth and Decline


This map was created by Jaime Castilla Santos, an architecture student from Spain (ETSAM) for his thesis project. The map is based on “Futuros Urbanos: La reversibilidad del proceso de deterioro” by Beatriz Fernández Águeda.

Map: Detroit Vacancy (warning: strobe effect)


This awesome map was shared by Jaime Castilla Santos, an architecture student from Spain (ETSAM). His thesis is focused on finding a new way of manage and plan the city, through a system that locates opportunity areas in the city to creates collective and interactional spaces.