Dispatch from Detroit
Emilie Evans
March 3, 2014

Detroit is an exciting place to live and work. There is energy on the ground here, fueled by passionate advocates, entrepreneurs, artists and others all working to move the city forward.

I work as a preservation specialist for both the Michigan Historic Preservation Network and the National Trust for Historic Preservation focusing on issues at the intersection of preservation and rightsizing (the readjustment of a city’s infrastructure and physical footprint to accommodate its current and projected population).

Through my work and partnerships on the ground, I aim to bring preservation to the table as a proactive participant alongside other decision-making entities involved in city planning, neighborhood revitalization, and also demolition campaigns around the city in a way it hasn’t been in the city previously. To achieve this, I work at the macro level alongside citywide organizations like the Detroit Land Bank and Detroit Future City as well as at the neighborhood level through strategic workshops and education of property owners, developers, and CDCs about the tools available to do good preservation work. 

Preservationists are taught, and our professional experiences reaffirm, that preservation and rehabilitation are critical neighborhood revitalization tools. But in a rightsizing context – with Detroit, and cities like it, being inundated with millions of dollars in demolition money – it’s challenging to have that message heard across the board. I recently wrapped up a two-week intensive surveyof 18,000 historic properties in Detroit using smartphones and volunteers as part of a project to provide a preservation perspective to help inform demolition decisions. Detroit is a different landscape than we learn about in school and necessitates new ways of thinking about what preservation means. The threat of demolition of thousands of historic properties – some viable and some not – is ongoing and imminent.

While I’m the only person from my organization in Detroit, I have colleagues across disciplines that help support and contribute to the work I do; the opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and projects here is invigorating and inspirational. The collaborative environment in Detroit is unparalleled.

I love this city so much that I’ll be getting married here this May! In addition to the venue in Detroit, we’re supporting the community as much as possible through our Detroit- and Michigan-grown menu items, local musicians, and local beers and wines.

In my spare time, I love to shop for produce at Eastern Market on Saturday mornings; ride my bike along the Dequindre Cut, a formerly defunct railroad passage; lounge on the beach at Belle Isle, weather permitting; and explore the architecture of the many neighborhoods of Detroit. This winter has provided many opportunities to become adept at snow-driving and windshield-scraping. And last spring I managed to squeeze in a couple of Tigers games too.

At the end of the day, I hope to have helped change the conversation around preservation in Detroit, repositioning it as a proactive and positive force that contributes to neighborhood revitalization through the retention and celebration of Detroit’s historic built environment.   

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