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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

November 2006 Issue

Miracle on Woodward Avenue
A Detroit native goes home to see whether Campus Martius Park lives up to its billing.

By Linda McIntyre

Micacle on Woodward Avenu Fred Golden

Having grown up outside Detroit in the wake of the devastating 1967 riots that drove the middle class to the suburbs, I’ve been accustomed to viewing attempts to revitalize the city as hope trumping experience. So I wasn’t expecting too much from Campus Martius Park, a project conceived as part of the city’s celebration of its 300th anniversary in 2001 and opened in November 2004. It’s hard to fault any effort to bring back the city, but it was difficult to believe that the area’s famously skittish suburbanites would be drawn to mix and mingle in a park smack in the middle of the city’s blighted downtown, no matter how good the intentions or the design.

How wrong I was.

Campus Martius Park is a small, bustling oasis that brings the heart of downtown Detroit to life with two elements that have long been in short supply here: greenery and pedestrians. It packs a lot into its 1.6 acres—planted areas, fountains and water walls, performance stages, a café, and tables and chairs that can be easily moved among the paved, gravel, and lawn surfaces. Visitors can enjoy a lunchtime concert, hobnob with friends, read a book under the shade of a tree or an umbrella, admire some of the area’s historic architecture, or gaze down Woodward Avenue toward the Detroit River. Typical urban activities, yes, but ones that Detroiters have not enjoyed downtown for quite some time.

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