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Moving the Needle on Green Innovation

Paul Vachon

Today’s citizens benefit from a legacy of research about the relationship between urban green spaces and public health. Studies commissioned by the National Institute of Environmental Health Services cite evidence linking greater physical activity, increased social interactions, and lower overall mortality rates with frequent exposure to parks, greenways, and forested areas.

This research goes back to the late-19th century when landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted articulated the City Beautiful movement. Detroit’s Belle Isle and Cultural Center came out of this effort. In the 21st century, the spirit lives on with Detroit’s newfound emphasis on reviving existing green spaces and creating new ones.

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is the preeminent organization in this endeavor. In progress for several years, the group’s Riverfront project provides a nearly uninterrupted 3.5 miles of pedestrian pathway along the East Riverfront, from Hart Plaza to East Grand Boulevard. The northward Dequindre Cut offers an inland egress. “One of the things we’ve learned is that the RiverWalk system is much more powerful than any individual park by itself. It allows the visitor to experience not just one, but five parks in the course of an afternoon,” said Mark Wallace, president and CEO of the Conservancy.

As the Riverfront continues to mature, it will serve as an invaluable link between properties, including Gabriel Richard Park, Atwater Beach, and Milliken State Park.

The two-mile stretch west of the Joe Louis Arena site to West Grand Boulevard will complete the Conservancy’s vision, linking Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park to the new Riverfront Park via a waterfront easement.

The Detroit RiverWalk and the Dequindre Cut Greenway are open from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily and patrolled by a 24-hour security team.

Paul Vachon is a metro Detroit freelance writer.