John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
An effort to turn neglected spaces into pleasant zones for taking a load off.
Detroit has a surplus of neglected public spaces and abandoned properties. Put those two negatives together, though, and you can at least make something that's a boost for the communal good: transit stops built from the demolished remains of houses.
That's exactly what a team of designers, artists, and locals have done with "Door Stops," a project to infiltrate the more blighted and underserved areas of Detroit with mobile DIY furniture. Made from old doors salvaged from destroyed properties, the shelters are colorfully painted to put a smile on the faces of folks in the vicinity. (Not that you could tell it from the above photo – maybe the bus is running late?) The first of the stops went out into the city late last year; today, the A' Design Award & Competition announced that it is gifting the effort with a silver medal in "Social Design."
The lightweight structures are meant to go into places where people could use a good sit-down, such as a bus stop with no bench. Their locations are not meant to be permanent. When the need arises – such as an alteration in transit service – commuters and other city residents can talk among themselves to deploy them elsewhere. The point is to have fewer places where people hang around looking miserable, the "Door Stops" team explains:
Bus stops advertise the transit system to the public. A stop that looks dirty or neglected, or whose waiting passengers look hot, cold, wet, confused or vulnerable sends a devastating message: you’re lucky you don’t have to ride the bus. The use of public transportation is typically read as being without means; that the people, place and service of public transportation are at best, secondary considerations in the economic and environmental operations of the city. We wanted to change that.
To cynics who say that Detroit needs much more than new public furniture, well, at least these guys are trying make the city's future a little brighter. The shelters are a "very small tool, yes, but one that addresses a number of immediate and long-term, tangible and intangible concerns," they say. "It begins small but has the ability to aggregate into a larger, cumulative impact."
Here are examples of a couple of the door-benches. If the funding comes in, version 2.0 will have solar panels and GPS markers: