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A Landmark City

Rainy Hamilton observes Detroit’s progress through each rejuvenated building

Page 40

By Rainy Hamilton

RainyHamiltonDetroit – the D! It has become cool and fashionable to live in our great city. Detroit is my home, and I’ve lived here all my life – educated through the Detroit Public School System and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture. Detroit is in my blood.

I’m not surprised that the city I’ve known and loved is finally being recognized for what I’ve known all along: Detroit is the jewel of the Midwest. So, it’s hard to believe that I’ve been practicing architecture here for over 30 years. When I entered the workforce in 1979, I thought we would have completely redeveloped our city in short order. Well, today we continue on this quest with high hopes and a continued passion for Detroit. The plans we dreamt of are really happening.

When one considers all that Detroit has to offer, it seems impossible that Detroit has been one of our country’s best-kept secrets. Sure, our reputation has been tarnished from concerns of crime, poor race relations and political corruption, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Detroit is on an international border and has one of the world’s largest supplies of fresh water. We have a phenomenal housing stock and a radial street pattern modeled after Paris. Detroit is now one of the most exciting places to live, work and play.

As owner and founder of Hamilton Anderson Associates, it pleases me to see so many young entrepreneurs taking the risk and starting their own businesses. I did this 20 years ago, following my dream and passion. I started our firm in my home on a single credit card with one computer and one contract in hand. Today, we celebrate our 20th anniversary. We are proud that we have practiced here in the city for the duration, designing some of our community’s most beautiful buildings, spaces and places.

Detroit is at a crossroads. We’ve reached the top of the vast hill and can see the other side as we gain momentum and progress becomes exponential. Our work on Detroit Future City is now moving into the implementation phase with projects identified to stabilize viable neighborhoods and develop infrastructure for new economies. The first phase of the M-1 Rail is well under construction. Existing downtown buildings are being renovated and adaptively reused for new businesses. The new Red Wings Arena and Entertainment District is appearing on the horizon. Midtown is above 95 percent City Rainy Hamilton observes Detroit’s progress through each rejuvenated building occupancy. New housing projects have been completed with more on the boards, including our designs for Orleans Landing.

New businesses and economies are a vital part of the rebuilding of any city. Our state leadership understands the value of creating a pro-business climate in Detroit. The local environment is open and receptive in this regard. In large part, this is due to the energy and excitement generated by Dan Gilbert’s efforts through Bedrock and the support of our community organizations like Kresge and the Ford Foundation. New leadership in city hall is also playing a key role in energizing the momentum of rebuilding Detroit. The mayor’s office is working cooperatively with city council. They are taking on issues of blight removal and allowing vacant residential properties to be sold to individuals that plan to renovate and occupy them. Even the notion of a city in bankruptcy has been a positive driver when the expectation of solvency is presented.

Ten years ago, I thought we would have been on phase five of M-1 Rail by this date, but today, it’s really taking shape. I do believe we will see a viable mass transportation system in place within 10 years. Our master plan for Belle Isle Park in 1997 has largely been adopted by the state of Michigan as a template for improvements in similar applications. Our population will be on the increase and new neighborhoods will emerge from the 39 square miles of vacant and/or neglected property. I remember, as a young architect, completing the Linked Riverfront Parks Project under the direction of the Coleman Young administration. Today, I am seeing the fruits of that plan implemented as the Riverfront Conservancy advances now to the west Riverfront. As coined by American architect Daniel Burnham: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”

My career has been shaped and energized by Detroit. Detroit has my heart.