Blog: Courtney Piotrowski

New urbanists are salting cities with temporary-to-permanent gathering places. Courtney Piotrowski, a founder of Detroit landscape architecture firm livingLab, drills chair bombing and other gorilla placement tactics into our heads.

Why not locate livingLab in Detroit?

The first time I was asked 'What made you decide to locate livingLAB in Detroit?'  I have to admit, I was mystified.  Why wouldn't we?  Didn't everyone feel the shift?  A shift from a torrent of media attention focused on a dying Detroit to a story of innovation and opportunity.  We wanted to be a part of the excitement – what other reason would we need?  
Admittedly, if you simply listened to NPR, read Forbes or even the Huffington Post this past month you might wonder why any business chooses to locate in Flint or Detroit.  They ranked as the #1 and #2 Most Dangerous City, respectively, last year.  Do we use diligence each day walking to our offices?   What about while grabbing a sandwich at lunch?  The answer is yes.  I know this is not the answer you want to hear, but for now, it is the honest one.  But here's the thing, we are landscape architects and city planners; we love cities, and this one is growing on us each and every day. And this one has the history and character that is only created over several hundred years.

Our office sits at street level facing the Boll YMCA on Grand River Avenue.  Typically, I would not be an advocate of professional services at the street level, but here in Detroit street life is important.  Connectivity is important – connectivity of spaces, but also connectivity of people and communities.  Being on the ground floor, literally, has allowed us to get to know our neighbors who include our local police officers, the couple that stops home to walk their dogs at lunch, the kids at the YMCA and the lovely older woman who feeds the pigeons.  We know them because they walk by our window.  We have bonded through a pane of glass.

And there's more. Our friendly barista, Lauren, at 1515 Broadway knows where our office is and how we like our coffee.  Charlie, the bartender at Detroit Beer Company knows we have our weekly meeting late afternoon on Tuesdays so we can take advantage of $5 growlers.  At Foran's Grand Trunk Pub they know lobster bisque is on our agenda for Fridays.

So while it's a nice story about how the four of us have gotten to know our neighbors, these new relationships have helped us generate new business leads. And these aren't the "hey, let's do some cold calling" type leads.  These are solid leads that will grow our business and bring benefit to the city.

This is what makes setting up shop in Detroit worth it; the connectivity, the cultural energy, a sense of place and the engagement between people.  These are the elements that are often lost in a 9-to-5 suburban office environment.   These relationships and this connectivity is healthy for us and for the city and it is the single most important reason we're in Detroit.