Blog: Mark Nickita

Mark Nickita is the cofounder of the award-winning multi-disciplinary design firm Archive Design Studio. A resident of Birmingham, Mark was selected by Crain's Detroit as one of its 40 under 40 business leaders, is the winner of several architectural & urban design awards and sits on the Birmingham Planning Board. Mark will be writing about Metro Detroit's need for livable, workable, and walkable urban neighborhoods.

Post No. 2

Live a Pedestrian-oriented, Walkable Lifestyle

Some people judge the quality of life in an environment by its walkability or the condition of its pedestrian-orientated infrastructure. Another gauge of this lifestyle quality is the potential to live "car-free" or to what extent you can reduce your dependence on the automobile. Unquestionably, the Detroit transit situation should be improved and the need for an enhanced bus or new light rail system is evident and long overdue. 

However, the current system does provide a basic level of service that will allow the potential of minimizing car trips. The Woodward Avenue route for SMART (Detroit’s regional transit system) is very dependable and is one of the most utilized in the overall system. A $1.50 bus ride from Birmingham to the Detroit River takes between 40 and 50 minutes and the bus comes every 15 minutes during most of the day. 

As an example, a SMART ride from a loft in Downtown Ferndale near Nine Mile Road to an office in Detroit’s New Center would take 20 minutes. This includes no parking, no gas costs, no potential accident and a nap. As another scenario, you could live in a house or loft in the Downtown Royal Oak area and take a 15-20 minute SMART ride to Birmingham for dinner and a movie. The conditions for these situations exist today and, with current increasing ridership trends, are likely to get better. 
Additional walkable lifestyle potential can be achieved with a decision to reside in one of the many pedestrian-oriented environments along Woodward Avenue. As an example, the choice of living in the Greater Downtown Detroit area (Downtown, Midtown, New Center), Ferndale, Royal Oak, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Berkley or Birmingham, to name a few, can result in establishing a real walkable lifestyle. This location decision will allow for the ability to walk or bike to many daily-required trips as an option to using the automobile. 

A Case Study: Birmingham

As an example, I will share a personal scenario. My family and I have lived at the edge of Downtown Birmingham and near Woodward Avenue for many years. My daily commute consists of a 2-minute walk to the enclosed bus stop on Woodward Avenue. I then take a 40-minute bus trip while listening to the radio (I especially enjoy the traffic reports – extra fun on rainy/snowy days) or my iPod, and grabbing a nap. Arriving at my Guardian Building office, I walk 1-minute from the bus drop-off on Woodward Avenue to the building lobby. Going home – I do it all in reverse.

A typical Saturday Morning may consist of an 8-minute walk to a Birmingham coffee shop via one of a few bakeries for a fresh scone or croissant. After reading the newspaper and chatting with a friend (I run into an acquaintance almost every trip into town), I walk to the jewelry store to get a battery for my dead watch and wait 5-minutes while its changed. A few minute walk to the local shoe store to pick up a pair that I had re-soled. Next is a 2-minute walk to the drugstore to pick up some aspirin, a few office supplies, and a candy bar. Then I walk next door to the video store to get a movie for the weekend. Another stop, Borders bookstore, to browse the magazines and the new non-fiction selections - add a 4-minute walk from the video store. Now one more place, a 2-minute stroll next door to Papa Joe’s Market for some fresh items for the refrigerator or Sunday dinner.

Saturday evening often consists of a family visit to town – including my wife, 7-year old son, 3-year old daughter and sometimes our dog. The evening begins with a stroll through the neighborhood with sidewalks and beautiful mature trees, to one of our favorite restaurants and maybe a movie afterwards. Many nights, especially in the warmer months, we will get some carry out food and wander to either Shain Park or Booth Park and sit at a picnic table while the kids play.   Achieve all of this without a car or even hiking boots.

Walkability is Within Reach

For those people who seek a walkable lifestyle it is important to realize it is currently achievable along Woodward Avenue’s linear urban condition. You can live, work and play without the requirement of car use in Metro Detroit as the options to walk, ride a bike and take transit along Woodward Avenue currently exist. The use of a car will be minimized and the trip lengths can be very short, given the limited distances to all of the amenities along Woodward Avenue.     The region’s best historic urban places, neighborhoods, grocery stores, restaurants, civic activities, theaters, and shopping are all along this linear urban pedestrian experience. Take advantage of it in its current state and encourage its enhancement for our future success.  It is the most important street in the State of Michigan – that is why its designation is M-1.

The Assets are Numerous

From the Detroit River and the city’s foundation over 300 years ago, to the downtown of Pontiac, the amount of physical assets along Woodward Avenue add up to an amazing collection. These community attributes include elements of aesthetic, economic, educational, artistic, and lifestyle importance.

Starting from a unique riverfront view of an international border (no other major city in North America can boast this) here are some of the assets of our Detroit Linear Urban Experience:

Downtown Detroit – the assets are too numerous to mention but include a significant job base, a riverwalk, major corporations, three major league sports teams, dozens of entertainment venues including Casino’s and the Fox Theater (a national leader in attendance), lofts, restaurants and on……

Towers - the third largest collection of pre-war skyscrapers in the world (The Guardian Building is like no other)

Campus Martius – a year-round, pedestrian-oriented central square (voted one of America’s best urban spaces)

Midtown (lofts and historical building conversions, restaurants, shops, galleries)

Symphony Place – Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall (world class orchestra – DSO)/ The Max, Detroit School for the Performing Arts, lofts and new retail (over $200 million of investment on one city block).

Detroit Medical Center – the region’s premier university/medical complex

Wayne State University and College for Creative Studies – over 30,000 students

Detroit Institute of Arts - $160 million renovation by architect Michael Graves– a world class facility

Cultural Facilities – Detroit Science Center, Detroit Historical Museum, Main Library

New Center – Fisher, Kahn, Cadillac and Argonaut Buildings – Architect Albert Kahn’s architectural gems

Henry Ford Health Center – One of the Michigan’s best medical centers

Boston-Edison District/Shrine Cathedral – Beautiful historic neighborhood and the recently renovated and expanded Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit’s main Church and religious center

Highland Park – Downtown

Palmer Park/Woods – Detroit Golf Club, recreation park, historic neighborhood within spectacular mansions.

Ferndale – Funky Downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment, residential lofts

Pleasant Ridge – beautiful neighborhoods with pre-war housing, sidewalks, tree-lined streets, parks

Detroit Zoo – zoological park with specialty exhibits

Royal Oak – Cool Downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment, theater, comedy club, residential lofts

Huntington Woods – beautiful neighborhoods with pre-war housing, sidewalks, tree-lined streets, recreational center

Berkley – Fun downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment

Beaumont Health Center – highly regarded medical facility

Birmingham – Posh Downtown – shops, restaurants, entertainment, theater, residential condos/townhomes

Bloomfield Hills – exclusive estate housing, tree-lined streets, large wooded landscape

Cranbrook Educational Community- internationally known creative environment – art and science museums

Pontiac – Entertaining Downtown – the urban hub of Oakland County – shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, residential lofts 

Compare Detroit’s Woodward Avenue to Other Cities and Their Linear Urbanism

are many other cities that have linear urban development patterns that can give us a comfort level with the concept of Woodward Avenue as a continuous amenity.

Los Angeles – Wilshire Boulevard [15 miles]

    Urban Districts: West from Downtown Los Angeles to Midtown to Beverly Hills to Century City to Westwood to Brentwood to Santa Monica

Chicago – South to North Shore [10 Miles]

    Urban Districts: North from Burnham Park to South Loop to The Loop to The Magnificent Mile/North Michigan Avenue to Old Town to Lincoln Park to Wrigleyville

New York City – Broadway  [10 Miles]

    Urban Districts: North from Wall Street to Tribeca to Soho to Greenwich Village to Chelsea to Times Square to Midtown to West Side to Upper West Side to Columbia University

Toronto – Yonge Street [10 Miles]

    Urban Districts: North from Harbourfront  to Downtown to Wellesley to Yorkville to St Clair to Eglington to Lawrence to North York

Paris – Grand Axis/Champs Elysees [12 Miles]

    Urban Districts: West from Place De La Bastille to The Louvre to Place De La Concorde to Rond Point Des Champs Elysees to Arc De Triomphe to Place De La Porte Maillot to La Defense

Detroit – Woodward Avenue [15 Miles]

    Urban Districts: North from the Detroit Riverfront/Downtown to Midtown/University/Cultural to New Center to Highland Park to Palmer Park to Ferndale to Royal Oak to Berkley to Birmingham