Blog: David Knapp

David Knapp is not only an architectural designer with Albert Kahn Associates, he's an accredited LEED professional who understands the ins and outs of sustainable development. An active community leader, David will be writing about  sustainability and urban housing trends in Metro Detroit.

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.