Detroit as a Cultural Landscape Palimpsest

by Brenda Williams, ASLA, and John Zvonar, FCSLA

Conference attendees in front of the Detroit Public Library
AHLP Detroit conference attendees in front of the Detroit Public Library. / image: AHLP

The Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation: Conserving Cultural Landscapes (“the Alliance”) met for its Annual Conference in Detroit, Michigan, in May 2019. The theme of the conference was “Detroit as a Cultural Landscape Palimpsest.” The group spent three days immersed in presentations and site visits focused on learning about cultural landscapes throughout the city. We learned how MoTown is addressing dramatic demographic and economic change through innovative approaches to create a positive, resilient future, while embracing, celebrating, and preserving cultural heritage. Following the palimpsest theme, the Detroit landscapes were viewed each day through the lens of a different time span. If Detroit is on your bucket list (and it really should be) you’ll find lots of great information and ideas in this post and associated links.

The Alliance is an interdisciplinary professional organization which provides a forum for communication and exchange of information among its members. It is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of historic landscapes in all their variety, from formal gardens and public parks to rural expanses. If you are not familiar with the Alliance, you can learn more about the organization on their website, ahlp.org.

During the conference, we learned of the importance of the Detroit region to Indigenous communities prior to the arrival of Europeans, and ways current Indigenous Peoples are continuing relationships with the landscape. The Honorable Grand Chief Ted Roll of the Wyandotte of Anderdon Nation, and Joshua Garcia, Wyandotte Nation Youth-Intern Ambassador, introduced us to the land of the Anishinabeg (First People). Representing the voices of Indigenous communities directly associated with the area, they led visits to and taught us about Wyandot sites.

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Collaboration with Indigenous Communities to Inform Design for Significant Landscapes

by Brenda Williams, ASLA

Randy Teboe, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) of the Ponca Tribe of Iowa, on site at Xe’ (Blood Run National Historic Landmark, for which Quinn Evans Architects' cultural landscape master plan won a 2018 ASLA Professional Honor Award in Analysis and Planning) with Dale Henning, archeologist, and project landscape architects Stephanie Austin, ASLA, and Brenda Williams, ASLA. / image: Dan Williams, ASLA
Randy Teboe, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer (THPO) of the Ponca Tribe of Iowa, on site at Xe’ (Blood Run National Historic Landmark, for which Quinn Evans Architects’ cultural landscape master plan won a 2018 ASLA Professional Honor Award in Analysis and Planning) with Dale Henning, archeologist, and project landscape architects Stephanie Austin, ASLA, and Brenda Williams, ASLA. / image: Dan Williams, ASLA

Over the last few years, my team has had the opportunity to focus on several landscapes that are deeply significant to Indigenous communities. This work has involved integrating knowledge of Indigenous communities in planning and design projects. Through efforts to incorporate the perspectives of Indigenous groups, we are learning to step outside mainstream cultural views to enhance placemaking.

Several projects have been greatly enriched through collaborating with individuals and communities whose knowledge of the landscapes span ecological, cultural, and spiritual significance. The resulting planning and design solutions are embedded with aspects that support meaningful cultural connections while also providing opportunities for improved education of the general public about American Indian cultures today and in the past.

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