‘Knight Cities’ podcast: Renaissance of Detroit riverfront invites public participation

Make your way to the edge of downtown Detroit, and you will find a river. Until recently, it wouldn’t have been a very inviting experience. But today, the Detroit riverfront has become one of America’s best waterfront parks.

Knight Cities podcast

Mark Wallace is president and CEO of the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, the organization responsible for turning the waterfront into a great place for people.

Here are five things you should know from my conversation with Mark.

1.     The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy was founded to provide public access and a high level of stewardship for a very important public space. Conservancies raise private funds and sometimes generate direct revenue streams for special places, recognizing that public resources are not adequate to support them.

2.     Everyone shows up, everyone feels welcome and everyone feels like they have something to do on the Detroit riverfront. 

3.     One reason for the riverfront’s widespread appeal is that people know it is safe, secure and clean. That’s the minimum expectation.

4.     But another reason for its appeal is that the community was involved from the beginning. More than 100 community meetings were staged before construction began.

5.     When you are launching a place people haven’t visited before, you have to program it actively. But as more people get to know the Detroit riverfront, others are invited to program it. As Mark described it, “We have a big house, and we like people to come over and host their parties at our house.”

Listen to my conversation with Mark here. And sign up for the “Knight Cities” newsletter to get alerts as soon as new conversations are posted.

Look for new “Knight Cities” content posted every week. You can follow us on Twitter at #knightcities or @knightfdn. And if you have ideas for people you’d like to hear from, please email me.

Carol Coletta is vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation. Follow her on Twitter @ccoletta.