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A Detroit-Denmark Conversation

The seemingly incongruous tales of Detroit and Copenhagen have, at first glance, little in common. However, under the surface, they both tell a story of urban resilience and creative reinvention: cities emerging from near-bankruptcy to become centers of vibrant revitalization driven by the arts, architecture and design.

But what can a city in crisis tell us about the community needs of today and the urban topographies of tomorrow?

Amid the threats from climate change, revolutionary technological developments, and social inequities, today’s urban environments face an increasing array of pressures — all of which conspire to make of 21st century cities catalysts for transformative urban design and laboratories for the future. According to Kimberly C. Driggins, Director of Strategic Planning in the City of Detroit’s Planning and Development Department, this is precisely the environment in which Detroit can flourish.

Ahead of the launch of the Danish Arts in Detroit initiative bringing together leading minds in Detroit and Denmark’s urban planning and architecture environments, Denmark In New York sat down with Ms. Driggins to discuss how Detroit is sustainably adapting to its changing communities, changing technologies, and a changing climate to light a path toward the future for all cities around the world.

Denmark In New York: How have Detroit and Copenhagen reimagined and repurposed public spaces? And how has this helped in revitalizing the urban centers?

Kimberly Driggins: Reimagining public space is central to Detroit’s urban planning and revitalization strategy. Open space/green space is one of four key components in our neighborhood planning framework plans. In addition, we have large scale citywide public space projects such as the Joe Louis Greenway and the East and West Riverfront projects currently in development.

How are cities like Detroit and Copenhagen adapting to and designing for new technologies (ie.autonomous vehicles)?

Kimberly Driggins: The City of Detroit has a Chief of Mobility Innovation, Mark de la Vergne. The Office of Mobility Innovation was established in 2016 and is focused on making it easier for people to get around Detroit and supporting the growth of the mobility industry in the City. This work includes accelerating mobility as a service for all residents, integrating connected and autonomous vehicles as part of the transportation network, and developing sustainable funding and business models for new mobility services.

How do we ensure that urban planning for new technological developments remains inclusive?

Kimberly Driggins: Public private partnerships are essential for obtaining and maintaining equity and inclusiveness. In Detroit, we launched Detroit Mobility Innovation Initiative in 2018, a public-private partnership (P3) that looks to solve mobility gaps, help improve access to public transportation and get people around without the need to own a car.

One pilot already underway is a partnership between Lyft and the Detroit Department of Transportation, giving a $7 Lyft credit to riders who use certain bus stops between midnight and 5 a.m. The plan is to complement the fixed route service with ride-hailing to benefit those who travel late at night.

How does mobility play a role in urban redevelopment?

Kimberly Driggins: Mobility plays a key role in urban redevelopment. The City of Detroit is currently working on a citywide transportation master plan to better understand how Detroit residents move the City on a daily basis. The major components of the transportation master plan are the following: complete street guidelines, pedestrian improvement plan, bicycle network plan, and curbside management plan.

What are some key design and planning challenges facing the cities of the future –including Detroit and Copenhagen?

Kimberly Driggins: Key design and planning challenges for cities include planning for de-populated areas. Areas where there is a high level of land vacancy. In addition, there is a need to increase resident or citizen participation in urban planning and development processes. Lastly, there is a strong need to better manage or integrate all of the mobility options that are quickly coming on-line. The roll out of scooters has not been smooth in most cities.

Andrew Zaganelli Giacalone is the Head of Strategic Communications and Press at Denmark In New York.

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The Official Medium Blog for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. For all things Danish, #DenmarkInNY.

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