Detroit, a once bustling, now-bankrupt American metropolis that’s slowly but surely inched toward official ghost status after decades of unchecked economic blight and urban decay, isn’t going down without a fight (in addition to being scrappy, it’s also the friendliest pseudo-ghost town you ever did meet as I discovered first-hand during a visit last year).
Despite ongoing troubles that aren’t likely to vanish any time soon, the beleaguered one-time economic powerhouse has managed to transform itself into a revitalization-minded creative hothouse of sorts; partially shedding its Scaryville, USA image and acting as a magnet for thinkers, do-gooders, designers, and artists of all stripes looking to help rebuild the city’s most distressed neighborhoods from the ground up.
And as most Detroit residents could probably tell you, in the absence of sweeping change, it’s the little things that help to make a big difference.
Little things like installing bus stop benches where there previously were none.
Following in the reuse-centric footsteps of Sit On It Detroit’s book-filled bus stop bench initiative, comes designer Craig Wilkins’ collaborative Door Stops project. Like Sit On It Detroit, Wilkins and his artistic team, who just took the silver medal spot in the Social Design category at the A’ Design Awards and Competition, are making good use out of two things that Motor City (famously) has a glut of: neglected public spaces/vacant lots and abandoned houses. As its name suggests, Door Stops involves transforming doors and other building materials eitther donated or directly salvaged from the city’s stockpile of demolished/deconstructed homes into welcoming — and a touch whimsical thanks to the "infused" artworks — seating for public transit riders.
Reads the project description:
Bus stops advertise the transit system to the public. A stop that looks dirty or neglected, or whose waiting passengers look hot, cold, wet, confused or vulnerable sends a devastating message: you’re lucky you don’t have to ride the bus. The use of public transportation is typically read as being without means; that the people, place and service of public transportation are at best, secondary considerations in the economic and environmental operations of the city. We wanted to change that. Door Stops is a collaboration between designers, artists, riders and community residents to fill neglected public spaces, like transit stops and vacant lots, with seating opportunities to make the city a more pleasant place to be. Designed to provide a safer and aesthetically pleasing alternative to that which currently exists, the units are infused with large displays of public art commissioned from local artists, making for an easily identifiable, safe and pleasant waiting area for riders.
In an interesting twist, each Door Stops structure was not designed to be static. Instead, they're fully mobile and can be relocated to new locations based on input from both residents and transit riders. “Should there arise a need for seating at different locations due to change in service or traffic patterns, the seats can be relocated accordingly with little effort. In this, each piece can more quickly respond to the needs as determined by its residents than the bureaucracy of the city can allow,” explains the Door Stops team.
The initial structure was installed this past fall with plans to install as many as 25 mobile art pieces-cum-transit benches across the city. Dependant on further funding (the project is already partially funded via a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts), a second phase would involve solar lighting and GPS markers.
As for the design challenge:
As functional architecture, these structures must offer tangible benefits to riders of weather protection, boarding identification and rest area. As pieces of art, they must offer constantly changing public art and opportunities for local artists to ply their trade and talents. Together, they have to provide an opportunity for riders and residents to create a space of their own making; a choice that will ultimately comment on the state of transportation and the quality of the public realm.
Click here to read a full interview with Wilkins, who serves as project manager at the Detroit Community Design Center (DCDC) at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, published at the A’ Design Awards. The Door Stops website has also published some excellent graphics — "door data," if you will — highlighting both nationwide demolition waste statistics and public transit conditions in Detroit.
Related on MNN:
- A free house in Detroit (for writers only)
- Detroit asks: 'Won't you be my neighbor?'
- 5 ways to make public transit awesome
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