A journey that started almost five years ago is now only almost over. I am finished with my architecture thesis. This endeavor consumed an entire academic year: one semester for research and one semester for design. I learned a lot through the process about my topic of research and myself.
For anyone who hasn’t followed along through the past nine months, the hypothesis of this thesis is: If part of the Pontiac Phoenix Center parking garage, in Pontiac Michigan, is adaptively reused into a mixed use, live/work, and entrepreneur focused facility, then the number of people who both live and work in the city of Pontiac will increase.
In September of 2018, I had the opportunity to speak to Mike McGuinness – Community Outreach Coordinator for Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence (and one of my thesis advisers), as well as many Pontiac residents and business owners. Based on the feedback and stories they shared with me, I knew that the goal of this project was never to provide a detailed solution to the problems that Pontiac residents face, but rather to start the right conversation about how to re-imagine an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable future for Pontiac and other small rust belt cities.
The Pontiac Phoenix Center parking garage is the perfect symbol to represent this vision. In short, it is a vestige of urban renewal that resulted in the demolition of 14 acres of downtown businesses and homes, the burial of the Clinton River, and the creation of a car-centric complex of high rise buildings around an parking garage with a rooftop plaza. Three out of the six proposed towers were never built and the city (who paid for the parking garage through a public-private partnership) was left with an overbuilt parking garage (2,500 spaces!) that has been slowly deteriorating for the past 40 years.
Although we cannot change the mistakes of the past, we can choose to use them as opportunities for the future. If you are interested in learning about how the Phoenix Center parking garage can be a catalyst for the future of Pontiac, please review my thesis book:
And if you found this research interesting, you may also enjoy this TEDx talk about the recent revitalization of a different small rust belt city: