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Detroit: The Street Network and its Social and Economic Dimensions from 1796 to the Present

Full title: Detroit: The Fall of the Public Realm: The Street Network and its Social and Economic Dimensions from 1796 to the Present

Using space syntax analysis this project explores the urban network of Detroit and how the morphology of the city relates to the economic and socio-cultural forces that took place over from 1796 to 1952, and from 1952 to the present.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Conrad Kickert (PhD student, University of Michigan) and as part of a forthcoming book: Detroit - City of Holes (H. Bekkering & J. M. Thomas, eds. MUP).

The aim is to expand this study into research on how spatial networks relate to socio-economic factors contributing to the prosperity or decline of cities with an industrial past in Europe and the US.

Detroit, once a 'symbol of industrial dynamist', moved in the post-war era to 'a byword for economic decline and urban decay' (AIA 2008). Today, the vacant plots and thinning population in the city have contributed to its characterization as 'urban prairie' capturing a dramatic transition of some American cities from economic urban centres to urban deserts, devastated by disinvestment, unemployment and racial segregation.

The first stage captures Detroit’s growth to a manufacturing city and a centre of industrial power. The second period corresponds to the gradual decay of Detroit in terms of population decline, erosion of the car industry, and class and race segregation.

The project shows that the physical patterns of the city acted conjointly with social and economic activity to produce different outcomes in the two periods of study. More specifically, the spatial network that once helped to build the interconnected city of industrial manufacture, was gradually expanded and altered facilitating the emergence of the segregated city, based on a different model of spatial accessibility and economic production. The significance of this observation is in showing that the urban fabric possesses social, economic and environmental potential more than what is usually credited for by policy makers, urban designers and planners.

For further information please contact Sophia Psarra on s.psarra@ucl.ac.uk

People

Sophia Psarra MSc, ARB, TCG
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Outputs

1. Psarra, S., Kickert, C. (2012) Mapping Centrality in Detroit - An Analysis of the Street Network and its Social and Economic Dimensions from 1796 to the Present in Detroit - City of Holes (H. Bekkering & J. M. Thomas, eds. Detroit: MUPress).

The chapter aimed to contribute to the discussion of a significant city in the history of industrialisation and de-industrialisation of cities with a special focus on the spatial factors that contribute to prosperity or decline. These factors are usually neglected as most research into the life cycles of cities foregrounds social and economic dimensions. It was part of a book project with contributions by faculty members from the Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, and was edited by Henco Bekkering (Professor of Urban Design, Faculty of Architecture, Urbanism and Building Sciences, Delft University of Technology) and June Manning Thomas (Professor of Planning, Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, University of Michigan).

2. 3. Psarra, S., Kickert, C. (2011) Detroit - The Fall of the Public Realm: The Street Network and its Social and Economic Dimensions from 1796 to the Present, presentation in the International Seminar of Urban Form, Montreal, Canada, and in 8th International Space Syntax Conference, Santiago, Chile. 

Impact

A chapter on this project will be published in the book Detroit - City of Holes (H. Bekkering & J. M. Thomas, eds. Detroit: MUPress) disseminating the results of the research to a wide academic community.

This project was exhibited in the CITIESMETHODOLOGIES 2011 exhibition organised by urbanlab (UCL) and show-casing innovative methods in urban research.

The purpose of the exhibit was to communicate to the public how research using space syntax can help to address challenging urban problems, through a case of urban devastation that is unprecedented and largely unknown to European audiences. The intention was also to explain complex research material by visual means, highlighting the importance of visual literacy for researchers, and analytic literacy for designers.

communities economics