The Decommissioning of Parks in Detroit, Michigan: A New Strategy

Open Access
Bush, Erik Ryan
Graduate Program:
Landscape Architecture
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
April 29, 2013
Committee Members:
  • Sean Burkholder, Thesis Advisor
  • Larry James Gorenflo, Thesis Advisor
  • Kenneth Tamminga, Thesis Advisor
  • Revitalization
  • Urban Greening
  • Parks
  • Park Management
  • Urban
  • Detroit
  • Ecosystem Services
  • Social Benefit
The city of Detroit, Michigan, is in a severe financial crisis. In an effort to balance the municipal budget, numerous city services have been cut, one of which is park maintenance. Detroit has made the decision to decommission nearly 1,600 acres of park space and reposition nearly 550 acres of park space, leaving it to become overgrown and, at first glance, unusable for residents. This research accepts the reality of Detroit’s currently unsustainable park management costs, looks at the methodology of this decommissioning, and determines if and to what degree social and ecological factors were taken into account. The extent to which Detroit considered social/demographic characteristics was evaluated through Geographic Information System (GIS) –based analysis. I hypothesized that the city of Detroit chose to decommission parks based solely on maintenance costs in an unsystematic way and did not readily consider social/demographic characteristics. This research proposes a new strategy for decommissioning parks that takes into account social issues, in particular by taking into account the needs of populations identified as at risk. These user groups comprised people aged 15 and under or aged 65 and over, based on an assumption that these population cohorts have a greater need for public space and limited access them. Next, ecological characteristics were considered. Characteristics such as tree cover, soil condition, and proximity to water were prioritized as general characteristics to consider for ecosystem services potential because they are relatively easy to measure and could have important implications for the city of Detroit. Areas ranking high in regard to these characteristics could be decommissioned and would require little or no management yet still provide valuable ecosystem services. This analysis resulted in the identification of two distinct types of parks: parks primarily for people and parks primarily for ecology. This dichotomy was developed based on the city of Detroit’s own two-park classification system: this research simply modified Detroit’s existing system. This two-fold strategy was implemented to provide social benefits to the people who need them most and to determine which parks had the most potential to provide ecosystem services to the city. The overarching goal of this strategy is to produce a more cost-effective method for decommissioning parks, one whereby they will still provide benefits to the people of the city.