Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan

Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP

Owner: Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

Location: Detroit

Designed to broaden community access and propel investment along Detroit’s previously blighted waterfront, the Detroit East Riverfront Framework Plan comes at a pivotal moment for the future of the city. Building on a 10-year, nonprofit-led effort to restore and preserve the land, the plan facilitates a new generation of authentic Detroit neighborhoods.

The desire for the plan arose from the transformation of the City of Detroit Planning and Development Department (PDD) in 2014. With the addition of seasoned, widely recognized urban design and planning leaders, the PDD partnered with community and nonprofit organizations to begin activating neglected areas of the city. In those partnerships, a 15-year vision for the waterfront emerged as well as the realization that its success would rely heavily on input and in-depth criticism from Detroiters.

With an overarching goal of providing deep connection to the Detroit River, long dominated by industry, the plan provides a starting point for redevelopment and lays out the series of phases needed for the long-term commitment to comprehensive transformation. It also identifies future strategies that can draw on existing initiatives to create riverfront destinations achievable in the short term. Improvements began in 2017, establishing the tone for future infrastructure and equitable real estate development. The redesign of a section of Jefferson Avenue—where automobile accidents involving pedestrians were a regular occurrence—creates a more friendly experience for those on foot or bike. In addition, the Joseph Campau Greenway offers a safe, green connection to the waterfront from a nearby highway.

Throughout the stakeholder-driven plan is an emphasis on nature and ecology, its open-space framework providing key strategies for environmental restoration and the pursuit of healthy lifestyles. Quiet, natural spaces mingle with active outdoor programming to provide a wide range of destinations while protecting the river’s delicate ecology by capturing and cleaning stormwater runoff. It also reduces the need for large parking structures along the waterfront, ensuring the permanence of the spaces.

In its incrementalism, the plan demonstrates how that approach significantly supports infrastructure and continuously builds to something bigger and better. By capitalizing on the city’s strengths, the plan reflects the needs of residents while mirroring Detroit’s transformative vision.

Additional information

Detroit Riverfront Conservancy

Landscape architect: Michel Desvigne Paysagiste

Civil Engineer & traffic consultant: Giffels Webster

Economic Consultant: HR&A Advisors

Environmental Consultant: AKT Peerless

Parking Consultant - Rich & Associates

Local Architect - McIntosh Poris Associates

Historic Preservation - Kraemer Design Group

Community Engagement - EAustell Associates


Lance Hosey, FAIA, Chair, Gensler, San Diego

Jonah Cohen, FAIA, Hacker, Portland, Oregon

Jeffrey Huber, AIA, Brooks + Scarpa Architects, Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Marcel Quimby, FAIA, Gensler, Dallas

Claudia Herasme, New York City Department of City Planning, New York

Image credits

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