Which Way Forward? Equitable Mobility for Detroit in 2030

Detroit’s mobility ecosystem — the means by which citizens get from one place to another — has been a source of concern for decades. In a car-dependent town with an ailing public transportation system, how can all members of the community, regardless of location, socioeconomic status, age or ability, move freely and safely around the city? And how can designers leverage government, education, industry and community resources — not only to ensure equal access for all but also to ensure that a variety of voices have a stake, and a voice, in mobility conversations?

A joint project by the College for Creative Studies (CCS), Design Core Detroit, Ford Motor Company and the communications agency GTB has, since fall 2017, been tackling these questions in the 2030 Detroit Equitable Mobility project. As a result, two scenarios created by CCS graduate students will be featured at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in the exhibition, The Road Ahead: Reimagining Mobility, which runs from December 14 through March 31, 2019.

The 2030 Detroit Equitable Mobility project grew out of a Michelin research project on mobility and autonomous vehicles. Through Michelin’s Open Lab, UNESCO cities connect with corporate and community partners to exchange information on how to develop innovative mobility solutions.

As a steward of Detroit’s UNESCO City of Design designation, Design Core Detroit sought to understand how its partners could use human-centered design to achieve a mobile future for all Detroiters, a city with unique challenges but huge potential, in 2030.

The project consists of three phases. Led by CCS Professor and Chair of MFA Integrated Design Maria Luisa Rossi, students in the first phase (MFA Integrated Design and MFA Transportation Design) focused on education, health, employment and socialization among Detroit’s young adults to develop three long-term mobility scenarios (potential solutions).

“Placemaking” focused on building a sense of community ownership among Detroit youth. “Entry Point” looked at entrepreneurship training to address the scarcity of entry-level jobs in the city as well as the lack of preparedness among young adults for such jobs. And “Care Exchanging” sought to develop a community health plan to address such health issues as diabetes and obesity among Detroiters and limited access to meaningful healthcare. The purpose was to understand average Detroiters’ circumstances and to arrive at viable solutions to help improve their quality of life.

In the second phase of the project, students from MFA Integrated Design, BFA Transportation Design and BFA Interior Design utilized a human-centered approach by working with actual end users. Working with Detroit nonprofit Focus: HOPE, students used co-creation sessions to identify community needs and priorities. The third phase, which partners CCS students with students from University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture (UDM), seeks to develop distribution-based and hyper-local service models — with an eye toward sustainability and inclusion — in actual Detroit neighborhoods. This phase of the 2030 Detroit Equitable Mobility project is ongoing.

A bus service offering on-board entrepreneurial training and a billboard system with relevant community news for vehicles, bus stops and buildings were among the design projects students developed as they sought to close the gap between opportunity and access.

The CCS student scenarios appearing in the Road Ahead exhibition at the Smithsonian Design Museum are among 40 projects developed all over the country exploring topics around the future of mobility and the urban environment.

The greatest challenge for many students, throughout all phases of the project, has been to challenge their own assumptions about everyday Detroit life and to align professional design thinking with the way real Detroiters see themselves.

“What are their needs and what are their desires? I think what [students] learned was how to understand and how to empathize with people who are maybe quite different from them,” Rossi told Detroit Driven. “And how to keep their own creativity serving the purpose of creating a good solution for the user’s needs.’

“I think the process was very humbling,” said Shriya Garg, an MFA student in Integrated Design. “My whole approach to design turned a little more sophisticated and very, very, very human centered.”