Since its founding in 1806, the city of Detroit has had its share of ups and downs, perhaps more than any other major metropolitan city in the United States. And yet, Michigan’s industrial heart continues to beat through the economic and social hardships, cultivating a unique brand of modern design for aesthetic reverie and, more importantly, as a means of innovation and urban development.
This endeavor proved fruitful on December 11, 2015, as Detroit became the first US city to become a City of Design. It was so designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), an elite international group (comprised of 47 cities from 33 countries) dedicated to the collaboration of designers in a social and industrial context.
Popular fashion and design magazine Elle Décor attributes this honored distinction to one particular homegrown organization known as the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, or DC3. In an article entitled, “Detroit was Named America’s First Official ‘City of Design’” author Lauren Martin writes, “Detroit was able to secure its place as a City of Design thanks in part to the application submitted by the [DC3], an organization committed to fostering creative fields in the state.”
After a quick click and scroll-down on the DC3 home page, you can see that Martin was right on the mark. The site states humbly, yet plainly, its charitable work, including programming events like the Detroit Design Festival and Drinks x Design, and advocating for policies and practices that value creativity and innovation.
The benefit of the UNESCO brand has been far-reaching indeed. It has revitalized a creative culture that once buzzed from Detroit’s commercial district during the automotive boom of the early 20th century. Now, events like the before mentioned Detroit Design Festival have gained momentum, drawing in even more freelance professionals with over 70 workshops and exhibitions.
In 2017, Detroit was invited by fellow UNESCO member Saint Etienne to the 10th International Design Biennale as the “Guest City of Honor.” There, 70 Detroit natives of many different professions put on a series of exhibitions that explored the current standing of design in their community, and its potential positive impact if nurtured properly.
According to the UNESCO website, Detroit’s design scene has done just that, employing more than 45,000 people and generating over $2.5 billion dollars in wages. Not end-all amounts by any means, but a nice head-start towards a more prosperous future.
The 7th annual Detroit Design Festival is underway right now (running from September 26-30, 2017). This particular festival celebrates the UNESCO distinction directly, reveling in the fact that Detroit is currently the first and only City of Design in the United States.
The event also promises a more meta-perspective. Exhibitions and events are geared towards a general overview of the influence of design on personal and professional life, and how we can use this knowledge to build a better world.
Far too often a city is judged on hearsay and the extrapolation of what locals would consider fringe elements. And, in this media-saturated, drama-driven society, it’s no surprise that some people would consider Detroit destitute and without hope. But, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to local and international organizations like DC3 and UNESCO, urban and, perhaps, impoverished communities are given new life as they harness the limitless potential of design.
Simply put, no circumstance is too tough for Detroit. Economic and political troubles, be damned. By cultivating and celebrating design openly together, they’ll have more than enough methods and materials to not only rebuild their infrastructure but to stand at the forefront of all modern metropolitan cities as a hallmark of social and industrial well-being.