Detroit’s Brush Park will never be the same after new development. Is that a good thing?

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Detroit’s historic Brush Park, a once-grand neighborhood just north of downtown that once was filled with ornate Victorian homes that housed the city’s upper crust, is about to be transformed.

Developers have released renderings of the 20-building, 400-housing unit City Modern development that the Dan Gilbert-backed Brush Park Development Co. plans to start building this fall, and they are definitely interesting. I dare say I think I like them — though I’ll come back to my  hedging in a moment.

The new structures will look nothing like the buildings that remain — and in some cases, are being renovated — in the neighborhood. They’ll abut some of the neighborhood’s historic pitched-roof, 3-story masonry homes, such as the Ransom Gillis home that was restored by Nicole Curtis of HGTV fame.

It’s also not in dispute that the area is ripe for redevelopment, given its location near downtown, Woodward Avenue, Eastern Market and Midtown.

What the neighborhood looks like today.
What the neighborhood looks like today.

Brush Park has suffered from abandonment for nearly a century, much longer than most other neighborhoods. It was a victim of the city’s own growth and success, as well-heeled residents fled for neighborhoods further afield once streetcars made that more feasible.

The new renderings suggest an uncommon attention to urbanist principles of density and mixed use, with ground-floor retail, landscaped public spaces and units set aside for both senior and affordable housing.

“I didn’t want to design all of the buildings to look the exact same, because we wanted it to look like it has developed organically over time, the same way a city would,” Melissa Dittmer, director of architecture and design at Bedrock Detroit, the real estate development arm of Gilbert’s operation, told The Detroit News. Developers also farmed the design work out to five different architecture firms.

My reservations basically come down to this being a Dan Gilbert-led initiative. Though he seems to have improved his design sensibilities since his first forays in Detroit, it’s hard not to be skeptical of his motives, or uncomfortable with the idea of one billionaire controlling so much real estate in an impoverished city.

Will City Modern simply become a neighborhood of insufferable, well-heeled white people? A sales hook to lure millennials to Gilbertville?

What do you think of the plans?

Creative Commons photo by Scott Smithson. Renderings via City Modern/Hamilton Anderson Associates.

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