Detroit's Lafayette Park: An Urban Renewal Success Story

Designed in the 1960s as part of a wave of largely unsuccessful urban renewal projects across the U.S., this continuously thriving mixed-income and racially integrated community just east of downtown Detroit stands as a model of good urban design.
September 25, 2006, 2pm PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Begun 50 years ago next month with its groundbreaking, Lafayette Park became the ideal to which most other urban renewal projects aspired but failed. Attractive both for its architecture and its landscaping, Lafayette Park then and now is a racially diverse, economically stable, garden-like enclave in the middle of a major city."

"'It's one of the few examples of urban renewal that seems to have sustained itself, and the people who have populated it represent the diversity that we all hope to see in our community,' Francis Grunow, executive director of the architectural society Preservation Wayne, said last week."

"The district's birth was not without controversy. Lafayette Park replaced the former Black Bottom neighborhood -- an enclave of African-American residents in a city already beginning to lose its population to the suburbs. Then -- Mayor Albert Cobo and others believed that if they could replace the aging buildings in Black Bottom with a modern district of high-quality homes, then a racially diverse neighborhood might help the city hold on to its people.

And it worked, even if much of the rest of the city emptied out around Lafayette Park.

Design was everything. City streets were not allowed to pass through, permitting the creation of a large central park and a network of walking paths. The eight separate residential developments in the district were done in a variety of styles, from modernist, high-rise towers to one-story, flat-roofed town houses."

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Published on Sunday, September 24, 2006 in The Detroit Free Press
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