Solution: Cultural Connections (Connections) will contribute to building an inviting environment in the Michigan Central Station Impact Area by working with people who live, work, play, pray in or visit (stakeholders) N. Corktown (NoCo) to deploy arts and culture strategies that transform key mobility pathways, gateways and areas into social seams---places and spaces that promote connection, identity, belonging, and pride. Connections is a project that emerged during the recent development of North Corktown’s resident-driven urban design guidelines and is a part of our current NoCo cultural amenities planning.
Background: The construction of Interstate-75 decades ago divided the Corktown community, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, into two distinct parts: Historic Corktown and North Corktown. Roughly one square mile in area, North Corktown (NoCo) is separated from more densely populated surrounding areas on all sides by major thoroughfares. This man-made divide has resulted in both negative and positive impacts, including deep divides in our community, unique mobility challenges with respect to egress and ingress, and a sense of a forgotten land or green oasis in close proximity to downtown Detroit. Dubbed “country living in an urban prairie” by a local blogger, NoCo is characterized by a high concentration of vacant lots and open spaces.
Goal: The goal of Connections is to promote belonging and welcoming spaces via arts and culture-based engagement and transformation of areas and pathways (e.g., car and bike paths, intersections, adjacent spaces, gateways) used as we move about our community. This idea focuses on areas and pathways that serve vulnerable populations (e.g., youth, seniors, impaired), serve as informal town squares/gathering places, are characterized by high usage or adjacency, and bridge divides—serve as connectors to other impact-area or external neighborhoods (e.g., pedestrian bridges). We hope this successful model will inform, be tailored and/or implemented throughout the impact area, weaving together yet celebrating each constituent neighborhood's unique sense of place.
How Connections Contributes to the Building An Inviting Environment Opportunity Area: Two of the guiding principles that emerged during our resident-led design process are: Culture and Opportunity. Connections will build on this planning process and resulting principles, focusing on the intersections of culture, opportunity and mobility by engaging stakeholders in:
--Lifting up and selecting inclusive narratives. Through arts-based engagement, we will identify and prioritize stories, experiences, themes, design, text and visual public art projects, etc. that promote identity, belonging, and social cohesion.
--Prioritizing key sites, pathways, and intersections. The project will prioritize paths and areas identified by both the City’s Greater Corktown Framework planning, resident planning and other initiatives. To date, types of pathways/areas to date include those that: serve vulnerable populations, recommended for traffic calming; with potential or existing multi-modal junctures, are neighborhood gateways/vistas, informal town squares, and/or with current resident stewardship. These paths and areas serve cyclists, motorists, pedestrians and the mobility impaired.
--Sharing/incorporating mobility experiences and data. Activities will seek information that promotes ongoing investment, improved outcomes and community well being like: work commute times, distances traveled for regular goods and services, desire lines and desired pathways, seasonal mobility choices and challenges. “Commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty.”
--Raising project awareness and support.
--Co-mapping community-identified narratives, themes, etc. with prioritized areas and pathways. The purpose is to illuminate opportunities, alignment, and synergies with other planning activities.
--Piloting temporary installations (e.g., chalk art, ice/text art, smartphone accessible information/performances). Connections will pilot one to two projects at key sites, engaging stakeholders, local artists, and practitioners.
--Seeking feedback via multiple methods (e.g., gathering, canvassing) from internal and external stakeholders.
--Sharing results with and seeking input from impact-area stakeholders and other planning initiatives.
--Based on feedback, developing and distributing requests for proposals to artists. Connections will seek artists and designers in disciplines and/or with community engagement processes that align with community priorities and outcomes.
--Jurying proposals and selecting artists, designers, and projects via community-based process.
--Installing artwork and stewarding/caring for pathways and sites ongoing.
 Why the New Research on Mobility Matters: An Economist’s View https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/upshot/why-the-new-research-on-mobility-matters-an-economists-view.html