FireBreak: Architecture + Community Agitation

Pitera, Dan

In a capitalist society, growth is good and shrinkage is bad. The life of a city does not fit within this paradigm. It includes not only expansion, but also shrinkage. In fact, it is not the city that is shrinking; it is the population. Land area remains the same. Infrastructure has not changed. Vacancy and abandonment become the differential. All efforts are directed into turning this around. However, “shrinkage” and “decay” are not pathological conditions that require reversal. Instead, they hold potential for strategies of development. Shrinkage reveals or uncovers other territories of operation rarely considered by urban design strategies. Because the urban space of Detroit has lain fallow for so long, its traditional “urban impulse”—its dense production-oriented fabric— has weakened and the ecological system has adapted. Wetlands are developing. Ringed neck pheasants have moved in. As a result, Detroit is a comprehensive landscape and urban hybrid. This hybrid Detroit is the residue1 of a shrinking population and continued disinvestment. This talk will not suggest “cleaning-up” or erasing this residue. This residue can coexist simultaneously with a revitalizing urban fabric, It should be apart of this new fabric. The residue itself—the “gap,” the vacancy, the abandonment—has become the space of social, cultural, and environmental actions, interactions, and reactions. What is seen as void of culture is actually culturally rich.

Through time, neglect, and abandonment, the space of speculative development—the urban single family home— has been revealed as a possible alternative urban public space that is different than the riverfront park or the central square. FireBreak is a series of guerrilla insertions, which is part of our research probing into potential strategies of activating this uncovered public territory, It seeks to investigate “shrinking” and “decay” not as pathological conditions that require reversal, but on their potential as strategies for development. Located in Detroit, Michigan, FireBreak builds upon works of other community residents who have -been operating in this space through their everyday rituals. These existing activities of Detroit harbor clues for potential next steps. With this in mind, FireBreak projects one possible alternative of urban interference that appropriates or reclaims public space within the burned houses of Detroit.

1Residue is defined here as the intersection between verb and noun. It is not necessarily on end-product, but the by-product of an action. It-is a resultant, but often the “other— an unintended resultant.