Everyone’s excited about the revitalization efforts taking place in New Center. Recently, we had the chance to sit down with Joseph Tangari, our new research assistant in Detroit. Joe is a five-star master-degree graduate student at Department of Urban Studies in Wayne State University.
Moving Detroit: How did you decide to get into Wayne State and urban planning?
Joe: I grew up in a rural town in Connecticut, and went to college in Boston. I’ve also lived in the Chicago area, and in Northwest Arkansas; I’ve lived in many different kinds of communities. Through living in these different types of communities, I became interested in how they become what they are. It got me thinking about the processes behind it- who is responsible for things like the way streets look, and where affordable housing is placed? Down in Arkansas, I got involved in some land use issues, so when I came here, it felt pretty natural to pursue a degree in planning. Wayne State’s program appealed to me, in part, because Wayne State has such a presence in Detroit; a city that’s undergone such cataclysmic change over the last 50 years that now, you can’t help but to see it as a laboratory.
MD: You’re right, Detroit is such a unique city. What interested you about the position with U-Haul?
Joe: There were actually several things that interested me in this position. First, the midtown New Center portion of the city intrigues me because it’s up and coming. It has this interesting mix of trajectories where you can still see some of the evidence of the city’s decline, but there’s also so much happening with things coming back that it makes for an interesting dynamic.
The other thing that sparked my interest was adaptive reuse as a practice. And, when I figured out which building it was, I was even more intrigued because it’s so large. Vacancy in a structure of this size in any neighborhood is a drag on local vitality. So, to see this building being brought back to use is great for the neighborhood. It will be interesting to measure what its overall effects are, both in terms of mitigating the negative effects of abandonment and blight and also in terms of the economic activity that it generates
MD: It will be great to see how this revitalization impacts the area. Can you tell us a little bit about the project you’ll be working on with U-Haul?
Joe: In conjunction with a handful of professors at Wayne State University, I will be seeking ways to measure the economic, social and environmental impacts of this adaptive reuse project on the neighborhood and the city at large. So, what we’re attempting to do is build a few models and develop metrics that will tell us something about the impact of this project. For instance, we’re using steam heat in the building. That means that we’re not piping gas in but instead, the steam heat is generated centrally and pumped through Detroit. There is an economy of scale there that leads to energy efficiency. They also create that steam by burning trash, and that has an environmental impact as well. So, that’s the kind of thing we can look at and measure when we’re trying to determine what the actual impacts are.
We can also use a more qualitative approach where we talk to local businesses and see what it means to them to have this building inhabited, and what did it mean to have it empty for three or four years.
There are so many different things to look at, and what we’re trying to do on the front end is build a series of models that we can use to measure what exactly the impact of a project of this size is on the neighborhood.
MD: Sounds like you will have your work cut out for you! Is there anything else you’d like to add? What can we expect to hear from you? Do you personally love moving?
Joe: (laughs) I have moved a lot- more than a dozen times. I’ve used U-Haul trucks a few times to do it. But, as far as what you can expect from me in terms of public updates is, as I discover things that we can measure and as I review the literature around adaptive reuse and around sustainability in building management, my goal will be to distill that and share it with our readers. I plan to act a bit like a community investigator and report on how the neighborhood feels about what’s happening as well as more quantitative measures of the impact of the project.
Thanks Joe, for catching us up to speed on what you and the team are working on. We can’t wait to see what your findings are as the Detroit New Center revitalization project continues to unfold.
What do you think about the project? What would you like to see measured? Let us know below in the comments!