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Urban Ecosystem Services: Detroit, MI

Posted By on 15 April 2013 in conceptual design, landscape planning + design, models, native planting, site planning + planting design, stormwater mitigation |

Urban Ecosystem Services: Detroit, MI

Located on a 115 acre site in Detroit’s Lower East Side (LES), this design envisions how ecosystem services can be incorporated into urban development across scales in a dynamic metropolitan setting.

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Working in collaboration with Detroit’s Lower Eastside Action Plan (LEAP) as the client, the following design envisions what Detroit could be like in 2030 under, under an “Ecosystem Services” scenario. This scenario assumes a reduction in City services to the focal area, a population decrease of 25%, and uses the site as a key stormwater management area and habitat link.


design solution for ecosystem services

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The re-routing of Gratiot Avenue prominently announces the uniqueness of the site in the surrounding City context by calming traffic and creating a visually appealing green thoroughfare experience.

Larger, more contiguous forest patches are created within the site as a result of the road’s re-route, providing increased ecological habitat and health. The re-route also reduces the number of necessary roadways through the site, and utilizes existing roadway corridors, both of which reduce infrastructure demands and expenditures for the City.

A “complete street” circulation pattern is proposed along the entire length of Gratiot Avenue, which saftely separates street uses through distinct lanes and vegetated buffers.

Trees are planted in straight lines throughout the site in a way that creates the visual aesthetic of driving along a farm field while traveling along Gratiot Avenue. Lines guide the eye and passer-by into the site.


north side of gratiot ave

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The north side of Gratiot Avenue maintains a naturalistic ecological character, comprised of a diversity of dense, well-established tree stands (oaks, hickories, elms, cherries, beech, pines). Trees are deliberately planted in rows, maintaining the “farm field” aesthetic.Evergreen trees are planted in a pattern that mimics tree rings, creating a distinct visual throughout the site.

Tree plantings will be phased in over a series of years, with the central “rings” of the site (those closest to the Urban Ecology Center) planted first. The variety of tree ages will promote ecosystem health, and visibly teach visitors about forest succession and tree growth patterns.


south side of gratiot ave

final work photogs7Capitalizing on the benefits of the sun, wind, and sense of community, the south side of the site is developed into denser, Eco-sheik living that can accomodate approximately 200 residents.

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Residences are joined together in rows to increase energy efficiency and maintain the site’s visual aesthetic, and are angled to capture maximum solar exposure and promote warm westerly breezes in the summer.

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South-facing residential units offer maximum solar infiltration into homes for warming and vegetation growing capabilities; beneficial for human health and utility bills. Land between the rows of residences offers prime food production possibilities for residents on site. Plots are managed as allotment gardens, and overseen by the resident’s association.

Each unit has a conjoined covered garage and greenhouse. The garage portion is located to the north, providing access from the alleyway, and the greenhouse is located to the south, providing access to the sun and food production zones. These garage/greenhouses are strategically located over the site’s previous utility corridors, to minimize impact made to the new housing development if utility work is needed.

Agriculture rows are deliberately divided by lines of concrete, maintaining the “farm field” aesthetic, and assist residents in keeping their food growing efforts organized.

Fruit trees are woven into Belgian Fences and trimmed into long, thin rows to offer additional food production opportunities and screening in between row housing units, without shading surrounding crops.


distinct design aesthetic

The built and natural coalesce in the City with the deliberate planting of trees and other natural foliage in straight lines throughout the site. This “farm field” aesthetic is most visible along Gratiot Avenue, and helps with way-finding and enticement into the site.

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Rows of wind turbines are also incorporated into the southern portion of the site, maintaining the site’s aesthetic, and serving as a visual cue that this part of Detroit is dedicated to sustainability.

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Urban Ecosystem Services Posters

The following diagrams were used to convey background and site analysis concepts to clients during a formal presentation. Diagrams were modeled off of posters common to telephone polls in cities, and were presented on a faux telephone pole located on “ECO AVE”, the name of the proposed design.

DETROIT MAPThis poster shows the site’s context (ECO AVE) and potential linkages to other existing nodes within the City of Detroit, and emphasizes current circulation routes and patterns, as well as potential greenway corridors.




The Lower East Side Action Plan, developed and used as a planning strategy within the City of Detroit, identifies different “CDAD Typologies” or scenarios for the future. Relevant typologies to the “Ecosystem Services” scenario were identified and incorporated in the design (such as traditional residential development, urban homesteads, naturescapes, green thoroughfares). Mimicking a concert poster, this poster identifies the typologies addressed in the design, and illustrates within which areas of the site they are incorporated.









ecosystem services flyer


Designed like a flyer that encourages viewers to “tear off and take home” certain information for future use, this poster showcases the specific ecosystem services woven into the design in a way that shows the importance of such services due to the benefits humans will receive from them.