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detroit soundscape: urban acupuncture

While its overall economic and social decline is well-documented, Detroit has nonetheless managed to sustain historically rooted cultural establishments as well as generate a handful of new ones. In the face of the dominant image of Detroit as a city that is bleeding out, decentralized commercial districts are forming with the establishment of new businesses. This nascent vitality is not totally legible from the outside; a car culture borne of the city’s inherent friendliness to automotive transit is further supported by a perceived lack of pedestrian safety. In part, the lack of pedestrian safety is the result of a lack of pedestrian presence. The implementation of strategically positioned insertions can serve to activate the sidewalk by creating spatial and social conditions that incentivize and support pedestrian community. The resulting visibility of local business and cultural activity can in turn strengthen the identities of these commercial districts.

Drawing on Detroit’s musical heritage, we propose a system of interventions that would provide sites for public amateur musical performance as well as environments conducive to street-side social interaction. Local businesses would choose to sponsor one or more installations that would be detailed to suit the specific site conditions of each business. By aligning themselves with local performers, the businesses obtain an additional avenue for self-promotion while additionally establishing themselves as active supporters of their community. Music is a way in which people connect to one another; people gathering to watch a street performer step out of their status as individuals on the street and assume a collective identity as an audience, strengthening a sense of community.

The initial implementation of this system provides an acoustically enhanced venue, directly connected to the sponsor business, where performance times are be limited and adjusted as warranted by the needs and occupation patterns of the neighborhoods. Performances create a draw to the business and encourage people to linger at the business. During non-performance hours, the installations are open to continue to operate as a social space. Whether occupied by musicians, people on their lunch break, or no one at all, the installation’s street presence alone contributes to a contiguous community identity that is legible from the street.

The largest scale of intervention is a short-term installation in the form of a music festival. While a fresh performance territory is put in place for this event, this installation is sponsored and branded by participating businesses. At the end the of the festival, the installation will have see a second life where the remnents of the event go on to serve as public amenity, hosting a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional programs such as a playscape, garden or climbing wall. These spaces may continue to be connected to their sponsor business and, in some cases, provide information about performances at other installations. This logic can similarly be deployed in neighborhoods across the whole city, where one festival aggregates representatives from each commercial district into a single, highly imageable rebuttal to the dominant image of Detroit as a failing city.


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