Fitzgerald Revitalization Project: Landscapes as the Framework for Community Reinvestment


Analysis and Planning

Detroit, MI, USA | Spackman Mossop Michaels | Client: City of Detroit

The solutions to these open lots of a declining community are interesting because they show engaged citizens what they are capable of doing to reverse the decline.

- 2017 Awards Jury


Spackman Mossop Michaels
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  • Wes Michaels, ASLA, Landscape Architecture of Record
  • Elizabeth Mossop, ASLA
  • Emily Bullock
  • Liz Camuti
  • Jane Satterlee, Associate ASLA
  • Katie Boutte, Associate ASLA
  • Matty Williams, Associate ASLA

Detroit Collaborative Design Center

  • Dan Pitera
  • Ceara O'Leary
  • Sarah Hayosh

Larry Weaner Landscape Associates

  • Larry Weaner, Affiliate ASLA
  • Ethan Dropkin
  • Rebecca Kagle

Live6 Alliance

  • Lauren Hood

City of Detroit

  • Maurice Cox
  • Alexa Bush
  • Dave Walker
  • Cecily King
  • Kim Tandy
  • David Williams
  • Arthur Jemison

Additional Project Credits

  • University of Detroit Mercy
  • Marygrove College
  • Detroit Land Bank Authority
  • The Greening of Detroit
  • Fitzgerald Community Council
  • College Core Block Club
  • San Juan Block Club
  • Bethune Fitzgerald Academy


Neighborhoods in Detroit and other cities across the country are dealing with the impact of blighted and vacant properties in their communities. The Fitzgerald Revitalization Project proposes a unique, landscape-driven approach to revitalizing neighborhoods.

This project envisions a bold new way to address distressed neighborhoods by focusing on the landscape of the entire neighborhood rather than addressing blighted properties on a lot-by-lot basis. The project addresses all vacant and blighted properties in the entire ¼ square mile neighborhood, envisioning an entirely blight-free neighborhood.

Using landscape strategies as the framework for affordable housing, workforce development, and community empowerment, this project presents an innovative way to think about neighborhood revitalization where healthy, inclusive, and ecologically robust landscapes are the driving force.

The plan calls for a new greenway and park created by consolidating vacant parcels, as well as the transformation of 200 vacant lots into community hubs, orchards, pollinator habitats, and stormwater management sites. Built on this landscape framework are market-driven productive landscapes, the rehabilitation of 115 abandoned structures into affordable housing, and a green-collar workforce initiative.


Landscape is the Framework for Revitalization

From its inception, this project envisioned a bold new approach to dealing with blight and distressed neighborhoods by focusing on the landscapes of the entire neighborhood. Healthy landscapes become the framework that holds together the other initiatives in the neighborhood, from affordable housing to crime reduction, to improved health outcomes, to workforce development, among others. The vision of a healthy, walkable, vibrant neighborhood with access to parks, greenways, and community spaces is the idea around which the other initiatives revolve.

The project is located in the Fitzgerald neighborhood of Detroit, located between two anchor institutions: the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College. As the population in Detroit declined, this neighborhood was hard hit, with over 1,500 residents leaving the area. Currently, the vacancy rate in the neighborhood is around 50%, with over 300 vacant parcels in this ¼ square mile area. Vacant, overgrown lots and empty houses, some in good shape, some in grave disrepair, are interspersed among active households. Pedestrian circulation in the neighborhood is compromised due to the street layout, lack of pedestrian routes, and the high speed of traffic.

The landscape framework plan for the neighborhood, developed with extensive community engagement, focuses on addressing every parcel in the ¼ square mile neighborhood. There are four primary initiatives in the plan:

  1. Ella Fitzgerald Park: In the center of the neighborhood, over 2-acres of vacant parcels will be consolidated to create a new community park with access to the greenway. This park will serve as a central gathering space for the community.
  2. Fitzgerald Greenway: Connecting the two universities on either end of the neighborhood, the greenway uses vacant parcels to weave a new pedestrian and bicycle route through the neighborhood. An urban forestry initiative to plant new canopy trees in the neighborhood will be a key feature of the greenway.
  3. Landscape Stewardship Plan: Integrated into the development of affordable housing in the neighborhood as a public/private partnership, the Community Developer will implement and maintain a series of landscape typologies on vacant parcels. This includes a range of landscape types, including orchards, pollinator meadows, community gathering spaces, and community gardens.
  4. Productive Landscapes Initiative: In another public/private partnership, a productive landscape initiative for market-driven landscape-based businesses, such as local food production, hops production for local breweries, or cut flower production, will turn many of the larger, consolidated parcels into economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs.

Public/Private Partnership for Neighborhood Revitalization

In a new model for public/private investment in community revitalization, the project engages a Community Developer to address both the landscape and the housing initiatives for the entire ¼ square mile neighborhood. Built from the work with the community, an RFP for a Community Developer was issued at the completion of the final phase of planning. The Community Developer will bring private investment, and drive the two-year implementation of the project. The RFP requires that the developer engages in the installation and management of the 200+ lots in the Landscape Stewardship plan, as well as the rehabilitation of the 115 houses in the neighborhood with an affordable housing focus. The City of Detroit provides control of the vacant parcels owned by the Land Bank and raises funds for the creation of the two public greenspace projects in the neighborhood: the Ella Fitzgerald Park and the Fitzgerald Greenway.

Another public/private initiative to come from the planning work is the Productive Landscapes RFP. This initiative offers the use of Land Bank owned land for local entrepreneurs to use as a basis for market-rate landscape industries, such as local food production, biomass harvesting or hops production for local breweries. The Productive Landscapes RFP brings knowledge and capital to the development of the vacant lots and encourages the creation of small locally owned businesses in the neighborhood. A productive landscape team was selected by the City of Detroit, with input from the community, to move the project forward in collaboration with the Community Developer.

Empowering the Community through a Comprehensive Approach

An extensive community engagement process is at the heart of this project. Early on, the City of Detroit committed to a transparent process where the neighborhood is involved in every step of the project. Beyond the community and stakeholder meetings that formed the basis of the engagement process, the community was involved in the selection of the Community Development team that will implement a large portion of the plan. The planning process also addressed multiple issues simultaneously, such as landscape strategies, workforce development, crime reduction and affordable housing, in an acknowledgment of their interconnectedness.

The comprehensive approach to the project, where the entire neighborhood is considered as a whole, allowed the community greater input into the overall development and planning process. Furthermore, focusing on the landscapes, including streets and social spaces, helped to focus the planning process on tangible outcomes and a shared vision for the future of the neighborhood.

The planning process integrated the affordable housing initiative with the creation of the blight-free neighborhood. RFP for a Community Development team to rehabilitate 115 of the existing structures as affordable housing is tied to the Landscape Stewardship Plan, where the same development team will implement and maintain landscape interventions on the 200+ vacant lots in the neighborhood. The RFP for Productive Landscape entrepreneurs is based on the community's vision for how productive landscapes will add value to the neighborhood and local businesses.

Building Neighborhood Ecosystem Services

One of the key goals of the project is to build resiliency into the landscape systems in the neighborhoods through increased ecosystems services. The landscape stewardship plan envisions a new way to manage these neighborhood landscapes that focus on creating pollinator habitat with native meadow landscapes. Opportunities to increase the coverage and quality of the urban tree canopy, increase biodiversity, and manage stormwater in the neighborhood are all key components to the plan. A clear and consistent goal of the community is to restore the landscapes and bring back lush, vibrant landscapes that support a host of ecosystem services.

Analysis and Planning Process

The project includes 373 total parcels of land in Fitzgerald that will go toward rehabilitating vacant homes, demolishing blighted houses, and creating new productive landscapes. Of the 373 parcels of land, 50 will be used towards creating new public community spaces in the new Ella Fitzgerald Park and the Fitzgerald Greenway, and over 200 will be part of the Landscape Stewardship Plan.

Analysis and inventory of the existing land assets in the Fitzgerald neighborhood were performed to study the best use of these vacant lots. Factors such as size, distribution, adjacency, ownership status, and community character were compiled and evaluated. From this came the development of lot treatment typologies and strategies for unbuilt and underutilized land that deploy sustainable maintenance strategies and contribute to neighborhood stabilization and revitalization, creating a positive identity and improving environmental performance. The typology criteria for all new landscape spaces are to be low-maintenance, have a low initial investment, and be ecologically beneficial.

Timeline for the Project

Construction documentation for the Ella Fitzgerald Park and the Fitzgerald Greenway were completed in April 2017, with construction happening in the summer of 2017. A Community Developer was selected by the City of Detroit in the spring of 2017, with input from the neighborhood. The developers began preparations for the rehabilitation of the 115 homes along with demolition of the 16 blighted structures, and installation of landscape typologies on the 200 vacant lots. By fall 2019, two years from the start of construction, the entire project must be completed, including all of the landscape improvements to the entire neighborhood and rehabbed homes occupied by families.