Forum 2016 - Infrastructure Space - Detroit (Ruby Press)
315 314 and minerals from afar. Rail lines to the river were thus developed as a “belt- line” system connected to larger trans- port rail lines to the city and beyond. This confluence of raw materials, shipping routes, and capitalist wealth would play a major role in the nascent auto industry that sprang to life in the coming decade. Constructed in 1897, the beltline sliced a three-mile rail spur that ex- tended from the main trunk line to the Detroit River through a modest neigh- borhood of workers’ housing at the far eastern edge of the growing city. The impact was immediate—housing development gave way to lumber mills, glassworks, and other assorted industries largely required to support the frenzy of growth. A veritable array of entrepreneurship was built along the beltline: Leverenz Lumber, Pfief- fer Beer, E. P. Juis Flour Mill, Chas Schuknecht Coal and Wood Yard, John Breitmeyer Florist greenhouses, and Manzelmann Brooms and Brus- hes reflected late nineteenth-century German immigration to Detroit. Pfief- fer Beer stretched over a city block to house beautiful outdoor beer gardens and other late nineteenth century remnants of German social life. Resi- dential-scale businesses and housing gave way to coal storage, gasification plants, and rubber-tire manufacturing, along with the noise of industry and switching yards, although few busi- nesses extended beyond the narrow reach of the beltline and housing filled adjacent streets since it was desirab- le to live along the Grand Boulevard greenway. The Influence of the Automobile At the turn of the twentieth century all standards of transport manufacturing began to rapidly change. The Packard Motor Company at the north end of the beltline became the first large automobile plant in Detroit, giving rise to the career of Detroit architect Albert Kahn. From 1903 to 1905 Kahn designed a series of buildings that revolutioni- zed factory construction, moving the drudgery of work from dungeon-like to light-filled spaces. Most important to the future of large-scale construction was the tenth addition to the complex, which tested the first use of the Kahn system of reinforced concrete const- ruction, patented by his younger bro- ther Julius, allowing for massive interior space to accommodate the modern assembly line. The innovative Kahn brothers eliminated all the deficien- cies of millwork in factory spaces and guaranteed their future as designers for modern plants across the world. (It is worth noting that Kahn’s next revolu- tion would occur through his partners- hip with Henry Ford, in automating this new type of space with the assembly line, which resulted in the return of the drudgery of work.) The sprawling campus of Packard buildings was made possible through the rail network laced within and alongside each of the buildings. Factories were no longer re- quired to be located on the riverbanks. Water lines, sewerage disposal, elec- tricity, worker transportation routes, and shipping were all possible within the boundaries of the beltline. including business owners, nonprofit organizations, and artists, who have become interconnected through a shared vision of transforming the remnants of a pioneering district through sustainable environmental and economic development. Through the collective efforts and innovation of planning for resiliency and renewable energy, this district is poised to serve as a model for Detroit and other cities struggling to find new uses for aging infrastructure. Historic Beltline The Detroit riverfront that once pro- vided access to eighteenth-century French settlers was transformed into shipping wharfs and dry docks by the mid-nineteenth century. Recreational use and public space were new con- cepts in American cities, and through the influence of Frederick Law Olm- sted, a newly formed City parks de- partment designated nearby Belle Isle Park (the country’s largest island park) and the Grand Boulevard greenway at the city’s edge. The year was 1885, when Detroit’s population of just over 200,000 neatly fit within this fifteen square mile boundary; about one tenth of the present-day size of 140 square miles that contains about 700,000 residents. The location of the beltline also owes its origins to this period, as Detroit’s expanding industry capita- lized on its prime position within the vast Great Lakes shipping trade routes that connected Michigan’s rich store of natural resources (lumber, iron ore, silica, and copper) with coal, rubber, The Detroit Terminal Railroad has seen three centuries of development that have taken it from a piece of infra- structure that helped transform Detroit into an industrial powerhouse to a crumbling, visible symbol of its more recent decline. Now it could serve as a great connector once more—this time as a “greenway”, underpinned by a re- silient urbanism bringing “the beltline” back to life. Diane van Buren explains how when placed in the context of new urban conditions, an aging piece of infrastructure can become an asset. The former three-mile beltline rail corridor traverses the radical restruc- turing of Detroit, and consequently runs through the American economic, industrial, and transportation infra- structure of the twentieth century as well as current attempts to heal the local landscape through sustainable reuse and renewable energy. Physical remnants of the beltline infrastructure retain traces of this history, revealing the rapid rise of Detroit’s automo- bile and manufacturing industries, their eventual decline, and the recent recovery to overcome environmental issues. Contributing to the revival of the area are numerous stakeholders, From Railroad to Greenway: Healing the Detroit Beltline Diane Van Buren In 1897, a rail spur was built to ease the flow of goods from Detroit's urban factories to regional waterways. Manufacturing boomed and then relocated, trade shifted from rail to road, and the “Beltline” lost its original function. Diane Van Buren explains efforts to use the space of the former rail line for sustainable infrastructure but also as the backbone of a community of disparate groups now brought toge her by common cause.