A Tale of Two Parks

September 1, 2008 61 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A quick visual lesson on the Do's and Don't's of urban park planning.


Campus Martius Park: Detroit, MI

Dedicated: November 19, 2004 - Size: 1.2 acres

Campus Martius Park is a re-established park in downtown Detroit, Michigan.  Originally constructed in 1805, the park is the "point of origin" of Detroit's coordinate street system.  The original park covered several acres, but was lost in the early 1900s as downtown's streets were reconfigured to accommodate automobile traffic.  The original Campus Martius Park was replaced by Hart Plaza a few blocks away.  However, many residents complained about the lack of green space in downtown since Hart Plaza was a primarily hard-surfaced area.

The new Campus Martius Park was dedicated on November 19, 2004. It includes two stages, sculptures, an Au Bon Pain Cafe, public spaces and a seasonal ice skating rink. At 1.2 acres, the park is smaller than its predecessor, as a full restoration of the original would have required the demolition of several buildings.

The park's skating rink is designed to resemble the one at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Campus Martius Park is the home of the annual Motown Winter Blast, an event that draws 450,000+ people to the downtown area every year.



Since the announcement, construction and opening of Campus Martius Park, a boom of activity has taken place along its borders.


1.  Compuware World Headquarters

 The Compuware World Headquarters opened in 2003.  The 18 story office building features a Borders Bookstore and Michigan's only Hard Rock Cafe, both of which opened shortly before the completion of Campus Martius Park.  This structure and its retail shops serve as one of the main anchors for the park.


2. One Kennedy Square

One Kennedy Square anchors the west side of the park,  Completed in 2006, the $54 million, 10-story building is the first new multitenant office building to open in downtown Detroit in 15 years.


3. 1001 Woodward

1001 Woodward (dark tower in background) was originally constructed as the First Federal Building in 1963. In 2006, developers announced plans to convert the tower into 144 residential units.  Unfortunately, that plan fell through with the crash of the housing market.  However, the building was purchased in early 2008 and will be refurbished as an office building.


4. Cadillac Square Park 


Cadillac Square Park is a re-established park in downtown Detroit, Michigan. The city of Detroit is currently working to increase the amount of park space in the area by constructing the new park, which is immediately to the east of Campus Martius Park. Cadillac Square Park opened in the late summer of 2007. The city moved Bagley Memorial Fountain to Cadillac Square from its former location on Campus Martius.

In January 2008, the City of Detroit announced plans for a new Cadillac Centre, a $150 million mixed-use residential entertainment-retail complex attached to the Cadillac Tower. Designed by architect Anthony Caradonna and patterned after the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the contemporary steel and glass 24-story skyscraper complex to be located on Campus Martius Park planned to begin construction in the fall of 2009.[



Main Street Park - Jacksonville, FL

Dedicated: June 20, 2008 - Size: 0.8 acres

The Main Street Park and Streetscape project was created to enhance a main corridor of downtown Jacksonville by improving a previously harsh pedestrian environment. The project included the transformation of an unsightly surface parking lot into Main Street Park, a new three-quarter acre “pocket park” which is designed to complement the Main Library and create an open greenspace in the city’s urban core. It features a series of grass terraces lined with shade oak trees, up-lighting and historical lighting, along with a courtyard.

 These parks illustrate the importance of planning and implementing a vision over an extended period of time.  Campus Martius Park was created to become a central gathering spot for Downtown Detroit residents, office workers and visitors.  Because of this, it features a mix of uses and seasonal activities that have the ability to draw from a large pool of users.  On the other hand, the Main Street Park was designed to serve as an island of green space in a sea of surface and garage parking.  Because of this, the new space struggles to attract a sufficient amount of visitors on a regular basis.

Despite the location, amount of money budgeted, or size, two critical features stand out when determining the success or failure of urban public spaces.

1. The public space must respect and complement surrounding land and building uses.

2. The public space must incorporate a mix of amenities that have the ability to draw a diverse amount of users on a continuous basis.

Campus Martius Park serves as a great example of a space that has successfully answered those issues.  While the Main Street Park's lack of use suffers because of early decisions that ignored the surrounding uses, it's not to late to incorporate a mix of amenities into the space.  If we can focus on bringing amenities to the park that attract Jacksonvillians our $700,000 investment can become an important asset to the urban community.

Article by Ennis Davis