This was a project completed as part of the AIA’s 150th anniversary celebration. Organized by The AIA, University of Detroit Mercy and Lawrence Technological University we led a team of dedicated professionals and students focused on the issue of transit and lifestyle choice in the Detroit Metro Area. Our Subject area was Royal Oak’s center.
The professional included myself Frank X. Arvan, AIA, Team Leader, Mark Farlow, AIA
Shanita Rutland and Johannes Potgieter. The students were Nathan Brantley, LTU, Kathi Brown, LTU, Matt Brown, LTU and Carrie DaVia, U of D/ Mercy
In the information-gathering session of “Communities by Design” at Lawrence Technological University, the Choice group prioritized its concerns. Mass transit, not surprisingly, ranked the most important. Second to this was the need for affordable, diverse housing and lifestyle options.
The Detroit area offers some of the finest middle-income suburbs in the country. This choice, the freestanding house on a 50’ plus wide lot is in abundance. The alternative, a dense, mixed-use urban city is not.
These two desires, mass transit and dense mixed use, form the heart of a sustainable, “Ideal” city. Efficient transit and infrastructure work best when cities are densely built. Dense cities need mass transit to relieve automotive congestion. As we move into this new century, urban transit and mixed-use dense urbanism offer ways to reduce energy consumption and to promote diverse lifestyle choices.
Conclusion: The Detroit Area needs a mass transit system that connects sustainable, mixed-use urban centers.
To create a city that offers,
Transit Choice - Regional mass transit hubs connecting communities
Lifestyle Choice – Dense, mixed use, mixed income, walkable, urban
Energy Choice - Sustainable construction including green roofs and solar energy collection
Public Space Choice - Sufficient and clearly defined civic parks for community gathering
Architecture Choice - Human scaled, maximum height 6 stories to allow sufficient sunlight to the streets and every building rooftop.
The two-part vision includes (1) a network of regional transportation that connects one city center to another and (2) a viable, sustainable, rich, diverse, urban lifestyle choice in the Detroit Metro Area. The transit vision we call “Heart to Heart”, connecting the heart of one city to the heart of another. Buses and/or light rail trains take riders directly, without stop, from one city center to another. At each hub, dense mixed use, mixed income, diverse and sustainable urban centers evolve.
The case study shows how the vision can be realized.
Royal Oak offers an excellent way to reveal the vision. It already has a regional bus station / Amtrak train stop located on the Northwest edge of the central business district. This hub is currently underused but it is easy to imagine that it will, someday soon, be a bustling inter-modal transit station generating vital street life.
Royal Oak also has one of the most pedestrian friendly environments and forward looking zoning that promotes dense urban life. Even with these assets and recent condominium construction Royal Oak has many holes in its urban fabric. There are many street level parking lots, especially along Second Street, from the bus station to the Farmers Market. These open lots detract from the pedestrian experience and offer an opportunity for real urban development.
We offer a vision of Downtown Royal Oak, specifically along Second Street from the Bus Station to the District Court, fully developed with a new Transit Station that anchors the West end of the street and new mixed-use, mixed-income housing, office and street front retail connecting to a new city park, new city hall and Farmers Market square on the east end.
This development is a very real and hopeful possibility for the near future in Royal Oak and other communities. Every community needs a center with diverse housing and workplace choices. Every community needs a transit center to provide transportation choice. Where we find these two needs, pedestrian friendly, sustainable urban life can develop and thrive.