Blog: David Knapp

David is currently employed with Albert Kahn Associates (AKA) in the Architectural Design Department. With AKA, David was involved with the firm's 2010 Corporate Strategic Planning Board as well as held the first position as Spokesperson of their "Professional Development Team". 

He was the Project Designer of one of the "Lower Woodward Façade Improvement Program" façade improvement projects and authored the program’s Design Guidelines while employed at Madison|Madison International. 

David is a LEED Accredited Professional. Currently he is serving as the LEED Project Administrator for a new $53 million corporate campus in Okemos, Michigan. 

David is also an active associate member of the
American Institute of Architects (AIA) and serves on the National Associates Committee as the Michigan Regional Director. In Detroit, he is Co-Chair of the AIA Detroit Urban Priorities Committee. 

David is an active community leader through current and past board and/or advisory board positions with: AIA Detroit, AIA Michigan, Cityscape Detroit, Detroit Synergy,
Michigan Land Use Institute, and Southwest Detroit Business Association.

David is a lifetime member of the Detroit Regional Chamber, a graduate of Detroit Regional Chamber’s "Leadership Detroit Class XXVIII" and a member the Creative Team for Detroit Renaissance’s "Road to Renaissance".

He has been awarded the Presidents Scholarship from the Michigan Architectural Foundation, the Trustees Scholarship and National Buckeye Award from The Ohio State University. Additionally he has received numerous certificates of appreciation from AIA Michigan and AIA Detroit.

David grew up in Livonia and currently lives in Detroit where he is restoring a historic duplex in Detroit’s Midtown district.

He will be writing about urban housing, sustainability and how Detroit and Metro Detroit are going to prepare for a sustainable urban housing market.


David Knapp - Most Recent Posts:

Post No 4: Conclusion


The intent of this series of posts is not to bash the suburbs, or blame the politicians, the suburban developers or anyone for that matter. We’re simply responding to short-term market forces. This series was however meant to induce a reflective thought process and pose a few questions. What will our region look like ten, twenty and thirty years from now? Will our children ever have the opportunity to learn about cultural diversity outside of a textbook? Is what we’re doing sustainable? Absolutely not. Again, we think in the realm of the short-term, not for our succeeding generations. It’s quite selfish if you think about it. But it’s what we want right? 

If anyone has had the good fortune to experience traveling abroad, you’ll notice that the way of life is vastly different from ours. Housing there is far different from the way the majority of us live here. You’ll also notice that these cities have been around for hundreds of years longer than our cities. And to be honest, they haven’t changed all that much. Housing patterns in large part remain similar to that of centuries past. Buildings there are sometimes two to three hundred years old. And sprawl is non-existent. Here, we design and build for the short-term.  The shelf life of homes we’re building today keeps shrinking as the price of quality and more sustainable materials increases. But we fail to recognize the long-term, total ownership costs, replacement costs, social costs and environmental costs of our decisions to move further away from our economic and cultural center. 

I’m not proposing we all pack up and move back into Detroit or its wonderful inner-ring suburbs. Not only would that be too idealistic but I fear that it might be too much of a culture shock. I’m confident that it will happen gradually and organically when we realize that it’s not as bad as we’re lead to believe. I do however ask that we consider our future decisions. Can we take advantage of some of our city’s assets i.e. its existing neighborhoods, vacant land (yes vacant land is an asset), vacant buildings and create highly sustainable housing units and neighborhoods that will last for centuries? We have an untapped opportunity here to once again be an influential region if we can find a model to fix the urban housing crisis and create the sustainable neighborhoods of the future. 

Can we recapture our lost urbanity where socialization is again something that is culturally acceptable in as far as it’s a common daily practice? 

Yes we are the Motor City, but as globalization tightens its clamps on our main economic engine, is it too much to ask: do we really need one, two, even three cars anymore? I highly doubt that if we were to introduce a more comprehensive mass transit system that our region alone will cripple the auto industry. Let’s stop living for the sake of upholding a meaningless moniker, and start living smarter, healthier, more sustainable, and well-prepared to embrace the future.

Post No 3: A Random Encounter

Today, in thinking of how I’d start this post one case presented itself to me at the beginning of my day. I started my Saturday morning at Eastern Market. As my girlfriend and I often do, we were meandering through the crowds stopping at the many merchants who drew us in with their colorful array of fresh flowers, produce, jellies, nuts and spices. Many of which it was difficult to not have a short conversation with. One woman told us a few basic steps to keeping the hibiscus that my girlfriend couldn’t refuse to buy healthy all year-long. One man telling me the story behind a local company that prepares custom stir-fry vegetables and then vacuum seals them as to eliminate the need for preservatives. They too looked too good to pass up.

Finally, the unsuspected pinnacle of our trip occurred when someone literally chased me down about 30 feet away from his post and caught my attention with, "Excuse me sir… Excuse me sir". 

When I realized it was me he was after, my girlfriend and I turned to address his attention. We saw an older man, slightly frailed by his age, rough-shaven, but otherwise gentle in his demeanor wearing a red apron marked with his farm’s logo.  "I notice you have the word Copenhagen written on your shirt. I went to college in Denmark. What does your shirt mean?" 

I explained to him that it was an AIA Committee on Design shirt advertising its annual conference(s) this year. One which took place in Detroit earlier this spring, and the second, which will go to Copenhagen at the end of the summer. After about five minutes or so we were on our way again but further culturally-enriched by learning first-hand about Scandinavian design from this gentle, gregarious, and incredibly knowledgeable stranger. 

"You’d never expect that from just a random person." my girlfriend noted.  I couldn’t agree with her more. And it kept me thinking for the rest of the day.   

The truth is that was no freak occurrence. While this man was very interesting, what happened wasn’t necessarily extraordinary by any means. We should expect that from everyone. Everyone has a story, and everyone has something we can learn from which will enrich our lives in some way or another. It’s opportunities like that which present themselves everyday in walk-able urban environments.  It’s how innovation occurs. Proximity, diversity and the exchange of dialogue is a driver for turning ideas into reality. Why do you think companies chose to locate where they do? The people. Why do creatives flock to urban centers? To work within a social density and diversity where ideas flow and grow steadily through daily discourse. 

Unbeknownst to us, our current construct has been created deliberately to avoid any sort of such social interaction. Zoning regulations are in place to prevent diversity of uses. Our introverted subdivisions address the main streets at only one, two, maybe three access points. Sometimes they’re even gated. The trend nowadays is to completely eliminate sidewalks as to ensure that we minimize the walking we have to do again to mitigate social interaction. Who needs walking?  We can drive!

Life is just getting easier. The best thing here is that in getting two and from work, we no longer have to worry about talking to anyone. In the morning, we simply back out of the our cul-de-sac-facing garage, drive to work and either arrive in a parking garage that’s connected to our office building via skywalk, or navigate our way through a vast sea of surface parking (never full to capacity) set back far from the main street and walk into our office buildings only to return home, straight into the garage, door closed. Social situations: averted! Whew. 

It’s not all that far-fetched to think that pretty soon we’ll have moving sidewalks in our parking lots and skywalks. It’s like we’re cattle on the conveyer. How dehumanizing is that? Is this what it’s coming to? Ok, maybe it’s not that bad, but big picture here, it’s not sustainable. 

How many opportunities do we have each day to stimulate our thought and overall cultural awareness through spontaneous or random conversation? In a world driven by the digital, we see that it’s now easier to meet someone online, at home in front of a computer rather than engage in actual in-person conversation. What will our social construct look like in 10 years? In continuing our current patterns, we’re perpetuating the fragmentation of our valuable and eroding social construct.

In a region blessed with so many creative people, a scattered wealth of innovative companies, so many different cultures and races, we’re unfortunately plagued by political, socio economic and racial polarization. We’re inadvertently maintaining that divide rather than proposing ways to rectify the situation. We design subdivisions and entire communities to "price-out" diversity. The generic commercial and retail strip malls that "support" our needs are zoned to be exclusive, and again with the "easy-in-easy-out" park your car mentality. This fragmentation is highly inefficient way to live and is short-sighted.

Our vehicles are a defense against the formidable attacks of casual and spontaneous conversations. Road rage is our only form of social communication that we experience in our daily commutes. To move farther away from the city is the best way to avoid the possibility of talking to or god-forbid living next to someone who’s different than us. 

Generica: A pretty bleak reality don’t you think? 

Post No. 2: It's not free.

Land. A finite resource. One that some on Wall Street will tell you is the best investment you can make.

But to us, it’s an infinite dispensable commodity. One which since we initially settled this country was ours for the taking. And to lay claim to it was to devour it.

Today, we uphold that mindset and continue to consume land at alarming rates disregarding any signs that would tell us otherwise. Arthur C. Nelson, PhD, professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in his Brookings Institution paper
Toward a New Metropolis: The Opportunity to Rebuild America, says, "more than 3,000 square miles of land annually is converted to residential development over one acre in size." Fortunately for us, most of this sprawl takes place at the expense of farms, virgin landscapes, forests and other wildlife habitats. Consume-on!

The effects of sprawl are finally starting to show. Not only are we gobbling up land at increasing rates, but we’re all paying for it too! It’s not like we haven’t been paying for it in gas taxes, transportation taxes, and federal highway project costs. Cause we have! What about the new sewers, water mains, and other public utilities that go out into our new sprawling one acre residential tracts?  Who knows? Who cares?

I’ll tell you one thing that I do know, it wasn’t free. Who’s paying for it?...  Right. 

The reality here is that most of us fail to realize how a lot of our tax dollars are being spent. Locally, it’s even a bigger a disaster. We continue to be at the bottom of the list in terms of the percentage of federal dollars reinvested in transportation projects proportionate to the tax dollars we send to Washington.  States and regions above us on this list all have alternative transportation systems in place and is one of the main reasons for our lackluster reinvestment figures.

What am I getting at here? We need to stop subsidizing other region’s transportation projects and we need to stop subsidizing the proliferation of our own sprawl.

In Michigan, specifically in Metro Detroit, it needs to start somewhere and it needs to start now! We have to curb sprawl and start treating our land like an investment. We need to stop building roads and stop building one acre-lot residential housing out beyond the periphery. We need to quit adding new on to our already aging and dilapidated infrastructural systems because it will only further perpetuate the financial burden passed back onto us tomorrow. We absolutely must balance our transportation spending between road maintenance (notice: not "road proliferation") mass transit and other means of transportation.  And I don’t mean splitting the dollar 98%, 1% and 1% respectively. Let’s invest more in mass transit, cause without it, at the rate we’re going, we won’t be able to afford to be motorists in the Motor City.

Plan now for a better future. Long-term thinking… right? Who knows, maybe then Washington will be willing to kick back a few more dollars of our own money? 

Sounds like a plan to me.

Post No. 1: A Time Of Crisis

Recall shortly after 9/11 we saw gas prices soar to over $3.00/gallon. Today, we see gas prices peak above $4.00/gallon with seemingly no end in sight. Both instances: crises. 

The first; an unfortunate price gouging at the expense of terrified American consumers, the second; market forces finally catching up with the destruction of our own devices.

While what I’m about to say will sound absolutely asinine, I can’t tell you what a relief it is to see gas prices climb so high. I didn’t think it would happen so soon!  Finally, we’re literally paying for the choices we’ve made for the lifestyles we had! 

Whether it’s losing a home on foreclosure, purchasing the dreamy oversized-SUV or deciding that driving an average of 50 minutes each day is an efficient way to spend our time and money. At the time we made these consumption-based decisions, the ideal of overall cost or total ownership costs were things never considered. 

Oh yeah, and one more minor thing… was there ever any consideration of how our decisions would impact our environment? Right. I thought so.

The reality is we’re in a crisis. Not just a gasoline price crisis, but an urban crisis.  We’re in a housing crisis (one in which the federal government has had to significantly bail us out of), an environmental crisis (which no one seems to really care about in truly understanding the severity of it), an economic crisis and a social crisis. 

Some issues are of much greater concern than others. Some are local and some global.   

Here in Metro Detroit, like most other parts of the country, all of these issues are intrinsically linked and highly visible. It’s a part of our culture. It has been for a century. As a result, a lot of us here have jumped ship for greener pastures. 

But I ask, are these pastures really greener? Sure, in the short-run, but how about in 20 years when watersheds in the southwest evaporate and can’t replenish themselves and Merriam-Webster has to redefine the word drought?  How will moving further north beyond the M-59 corridor impact our long-term commute times? As housing patterns continue to push further away from our economic center that is Detroit, what will that vision of bucolic living that some of us desire look like 10 years from now?   

The centric problem with all of the issues stated above is that it’s in our cultural mindset to think only in the short-term. We think only for now, and not about what impact our actions today will bear in the future. 

The intent of this series of blog posts is to briefly touch upon some of the ramifications of how we’ve chosen to live and develop our land, and how it’s now finally beginning to catch up on us, and how if we don’t plan for the future today, we’ll only bury ourselves further in this seemingly insurmountable struggle that we’re dealing with today. 

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