Egalitarian Metropolis Project Spurs Collaborative Research in Detroit

After a half-century urban crisis that fundamentally undermined equality and brutally conjoined patterns of residential segregation with racism, ethnic intolerance, and discrimination, Detroit’s partial recovery has provoked a profound “urban conversation” over the City of Detroit Planning Department’s aspiration that “Detroit’s recovery will be the most inclusive of any American city.” Supported by the Michigan-Mellon Project on the Egalitarian Metropolis, the May 2019 “Mapping the Egalitarian Metropolis: Spaces of Hope” exhibition in Detroit featured work by six interdisciplinary research teams led by University of Michigan Taubman College faculty, each using techniques of deep mapping, critical cartography, and community engagement to reveal planned and unplanned places within Detroit that — despite the inequalities — have the potential to bring diverse people together to serve as loci for a more inclusive recovery. 

The Michigan-Mellon Project on Egalitarianism and the Metropolis is a two-part, $2.3 million grant from the A.W. Mellon Foundation to allow design theory and practice to inform and be informed by questions of social justice, social movements, and transformative creative arts movements — both past and present. The emphasis on cities focuses humanists on linking theories of human interaction and collective life with the physical space of a city and its histories. The increased expertise in urbanism allows for humanists to better understand the market forces and economic constraints that inform design decisions that directly affect human life.

“Mapping the Egalitarian Metropolis: Spaces of Hope” Projects

The Contested Urbanism of Abandonment
Research Leads: María Arquero de Alarcón; Martin Murray; and Olaia Chivite Amigo, M.Arch ‘18
Collaborators: Xuewei Chen, M.U.P. ‘17, M.U.D. ‘18; Shourya Jain, M.U.D. ‘19; Yixin Miao, M.U.D. ‘19; Gwen Gell, M.U.D./M.U.R.P. ‘20; Kunheng Han, M.U.D. ‘18, Nishant Mittal, M.U.D. ‘16; Dhara Mittal, M.L.Arch ‘17; and Michael Amidon, M.Arch ‘17, M.U.D. ‘18

“The Contested Urbanism of Abandonment” brings landscape architecture into conversation with the urban humanities. The city has made re-purposing and re-designing the present landscape of abandonment into one of its highest priorities, with the long-range goal of knitting together reviving districts into a “green archipelago” of walkable neighborhoods connected by greenways. To reveal these deeper patterns, this project studies three neighborhoods in Detroit with the intention of showing the fine-grain of existing communities that still call these places home, and the initiatives that these communities are already taking to re-form their environment. Working with such community organizations as the Brightmoor Alliance, Breathe Free Detroit, and the Riverbend Community Association, project methods include G.I.S. analysis, film and photography, and ethnographic techniques entailing interviews with key informants, including but not limited to city planners, property owners, and local residents.

This project also is part of the 2019 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.

Project Team: Cyrus  Peñarroyo; Salvador Lindquist, M.U.D. ‘19; and Reed Miller, M.Arch ‘20

Detroit has the lowest rate of internet connection in the United States, which excludes thousands of people from opportunities for education, employment, and cultural communication. Projects like the Equitable Internet Initiative by the Detroit Community Technology Project are using ad hoc methods to increase Internet access in underserved areas, but in order to be effective, their efforts require ways of collecting and visualizing data from residents and sharing that information with the community. Working with the Detroit Community Technology Project and focusing on Detroit’s Southeast, Southwest, and North End neighborhoods, this project will provide the most complete mapping of the digital divide in Detroit. The project uses the Digital Divide Maps to suggest locations—new or existing community centers, underfunded public libraries, etc. which can serve as key spaces of assembly and communication: egalitarian public spaces distinguished and enlivened by shared digital access. If integrated into the Detroit Planning Office’s “green archipelago” planning, such spaces could reinforce the strategy of building vibrant neighborhood centers connected by greenways.

This project also is part of the Shenzhen 2019 Bi-City Biennale of UrbanismArchitecture.

Project Team: Kathy Velikov; Geoffrey Thün; Jon Coleman; Andrew Kremers, M.Arch ‘16; Tithi Sanyal, M.Arch ‘18; and Joshua Krell, M.Arch ‘19

This project takes on most directly the issue of big data and its relationship to the urban humanities by proposing that access to food, health, education, and mobility are essential qualities of the egalitarian metropolis, and that access can be mapped to disclose both “spaces of hope” and “spaces of failure.” Starting from the philosophical premise that such access is part of the “right to the city,” the project uses datasets that indicate areas of inaccessibility layered onto maps of the surrounding contexts, including private, non-profit, and community actors that are organizing to improve conditions. The project will culminate by proposing strategies to engage stakeholders and amplify access, which the authors have titled “Access-Enabling Architectures.”

Visualizing Detroit’s Emergent Cultural Infrastructure
Project Team: Anya Sirota, Harley Etienne, John Marshall, Cezanne Charles, and Ellie Schneider

As artists, musicians and designers from around the world flock to Detroit, the affordable housing that drew them here is disappearing in some districts, while the growth of the “arts scene” threatens to detach itself from the life of Detroit’s neighborhoods. To avert this danger, many of Detroit’s creative leaders are working with community leaders to help create an inclusive urban environment where their work can make a vibrant contribution to existing communities. By visualizing Detroit’s emerging cultural infrastructure, the maps can be loaded with many kinds of data that can subsequently be unpacked and reconfigured to demonstrate the breadth and variety of cultural activity in selected urban areas; understand the networks of key people contributing to cultural production in the city; identify where groups obtain resources, how they communicate with one another, and who operates as social links in the broader cultural landscape; suggest potential community hubs for institutions to connect existing and future programming with the emergent cultural infrastructure in the city; and identify “spaces of hope” where community support and energy are positively impacting artistic production, as well as “spaces of failure” where there is little activity or interaction.

Sounds in the City: mapping acoustic environments in communities of faith in Detroit and Dearborn
Project Team: Claire Zimmerman; Mojtaba Navvab; Upali Nanda; Alaa Algargoosh, Ph.D. candidate in architecture; and Babak Soleimani, Ph.D. candidate in architecture

This project seeks to understand at-risk communities in Detroit and Dearborn through mapping their “acoustical environments,” especially the contrasting environments of the neighborhood and places of worship. If low-income communities are often located in urban areas with serious noise pollution, these same communities also strive to create places of worship (Muslim mosques, Christian churches) with distinctive and positive acoustical effects. While research in the urban humanities often centers on the impact of the visual environment on communities, this highly original project attempts to broaden this mode of research to the aural. The project uses both physical sensors and ethnographic data to provide a complex profile of the “sounds of the city.” The quantitative “sound mapping” of selected religious sites is filled out by the adaptation of interviewing techniques originally developed to assess the acoustical properties of concert halls to gain an ethnographic perspective into the aural meanings of these spaces for their congregations. This analysis of acoustical environments points towards a hitherto little-explored possibility in deep mapping in the urban humanities, as well as to original insights into the identity of religious communities in the city.