Land Use Examples

Detroit Waste to Energy Facility

 These days, it is really important to consider the well-being of the environment when planning any projects: climate change impacts show that the consequences of environment pollutions are very serious. Located between Midtown and New Center, the Detroit Waste to Energy facility captures energy from waste and turns it into a reusable form, setting an example of how to lessen environmental problems [1]. This is monumental land use and aligns well with one of the elements of the city’s recent goal, where it set itself the goal of choosing greener infrastructure. This energy facility is a big advancement towards an environmental friendly city [2].

Zug Island

Zug Island is a geographically perfect spot to build a steel industry thanks to the Rouge River. It can use the river water for industry to cool down steel during its process [3]. Zug Island’s first industry was “The Detroit Iron Works” and following furnaces were soon built nearby [3]. This is an impressive example of how a heavy industry and residents can co-exist. The “Detroit Future City” plan addresses that industries such as these left infrastructure behind when they left the city, and most of this infrastructure is still reusable and intact [2]. In order to maximize the use of infrastructure, the city should arrange and plan its land use wisely .

Fig. 1, Zug Island. Source: Center for Land-Use Interpretation [3]

Motel Museum

In line with the Detroit Future City plan Tris Vonna-Michell, an artist, was part of the effort to re-imagine a brighter future for the community. As a collective journey of urban revitalization he created a multi-level art instillation in a motel. The project was named ‘Motel Museum’ encouraging public engagement through artistic instillations in the motel, using each level in the space to build upon the last [5]. As an individual, Vonna-Michell’s goal was to create the skeleton of the space, so it would be able to remain once he left Detroit. In making the skeleton, public engagement was evoked through the form of the motel. It had adjustable walls which provoked emotions and conversation as the viewer questions the multiple viewpoints and whether they were looking in or out of a space. Vonna-Michell hoped that through multiple viewpoints and feelings associated with looking both in and out of the space, the public would come to a realization that they are physically standing in a middle point much like Detroit’s current situation [5]. Thus, it juxtaposes the great city of Detroit in its prime to the current desert city.

Using a motel as the springboard for this project is crucial because Detroit is lacking any visitors which consequently means most of the visitor accommodation, such as motels, has become abandoned. It is revitalizing and forming a different use for an empty structure. Re-using an abandoned space also brings new movement to the space. The public are involved in the instillations by moving in the space. As the individual moves through the space, they experience different sounds from indoor motel lobby, domestic activities, street life and the ring of casinos [5]. This progression of sounds with each level provides a feeling of a one-way documentary of the city they live in. Each section only lasts a small time frame before it evolves with a new recording. A person’s verbal reactions in the spaces are recorded, which provides a transfer from material, to picture, to audio.

The whole instillation provokes citizen engagement from the audience. In attending and walking through the motel space, they are forced to interact with a version of the past and present scenarios of Detroit. The subject of the changes that have occurred and what changes can occur in the future becomes salient to the viewers.  The photographs and instillations, presented by Vonna-Michell, are useful when planning for a city. It provides a different perspective of how to view a space, providing a truthful but unconventional view of past and present Detroit [6]. It creates another perspective on spaces in Detroit for planners walking through the ‘Motel Museum’, and they can draw from this when redesigning spaces. This project reflects point three in the 12 imperative actions in Detroit Future City plan, ‘We must use innovative approaches to transform our vacant land in ways that increase the value and productivity and promote long-term sustainability’ [2].

art trisvonnamitchell
Fig 2: Image of Tris Vonna-Michell’s work (Birkenstock, Blättler, & Loichinger, 2011)

Motels and Detroit

The very essence of a motel came from the words motor and hotel, whereby individual’s car drive and park straight in front of their accommodation [7]. The architecture reflects the idea of a ‘motor hotel’ with low one or two story buildings that are surrounded by parking spaces. The image reflects single connecting rooms with the doors facing out to the parking lot. As a large highway system began to develop in the 1920s, journeys by car in long distance adventures also rose [7]. Thus the need for inexpensive, easily accessible accommodation with parking was crucial. Motels peaked in 1960s, which is around the time Detroit and the car industry also was striving [7]. The hotel industry was the demise of the motel, with newer, nicer hotels being built along the highway interchanges.

Great Lakes Steel Works

First built in 1929, Great Lakes Steel Works was originally called National Steel Works until it was bought by U.S. Steel in 2002 [8]. This plant, along with others, contribute to the health problems that affect neighborhoods near these large factories. Detroit, since it is a center for Car manufacturing–or was more so than is now, has pretty terrible smog conditions. This poor air quality, and toxic run-offs unequally affect those in low-income majority people of color neighborhoods. In the video Designing Healthy Communities, the documentarian attacks how living in these industrialized neighborhoods affects the health of the residents. He follows the story of an elderly obese woman, who is raising all her grandchildren who all have asthma. These medical conditions are direct results from non-sustainable, earth-polluting factories being placed in low-income or heavily minority populated communities [9]. 

great lakes steel works
Fig. 3: The entrance to Great Lakes Works [1].


Works Cited

  1. Detroit Waste to Energy Facility. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from
  2. Detroit Future City. 2012 Detroit Future City. (2nd ed.). (2013). Detroit: Inland Press.
  3. Zug Island. (n.d.). Retrieved February 25, 2016, from
  4. “Historic Detroit.” National Theatre -. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.                                                   <;.
  5. Detroit-Berlin – Interview with Tris Vonna-Michell (Berlin). Berlin: checkinarchitecture, 2008. Video.
  6. Birkenstock, E., Blättler, R., & Loichinger, H. (Eds.). (2011). Tris Vonna-Michell. Münsterschwarzach: Benedict Press.
  7. Jakle, J., Sculle., K., & Rogers, J. (1996). The Motel in America. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  8. Great Lakes Steel Works. (n.d.) Retrieved February 24, 2016, from
  9. Designing Healthy Communities. By Beverly Baroff and Richard Jackson. Dir. Harry Wiland and Dale Bell. Video Project, 2013.

List of Figures

  1. Birkenstock, E., Blättler, R., & Loichinger, H. (Eds.). (2011). Tris Vonna-Michell. Münsterschwarzach: Benedict Press.
  2. Great Lakes Steel Works. (n.d.) Retrieved February 24, 2016, from
  3. URL:
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