Heart of the City
MSS 01 - 30 - 2010

The interdisciplinary focus of this trip has already begun to shape the direction of my hometown project. As a landscape architect, I must be aware of urban planning and architecture within urban landscape. These aspects of design are all interwoven into what is best referred to as our urban fabric. Analyzing spaces within buildings and spaces within city plans has provided me with ideas for my project, which involves the development of mass transportation in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Large-scale transit, other than weakly developed bus lines, has been absent from Detroit's northern suburbs for nearly half a century. One of the greatest differences between American and Southern European culture can be found in the way we, as groups or as individuals, choose to meet people. In America, friends and family meet in each other's homes and, occasionaly, at a restaurant, theater, or other building. In Southern Europe, as we commonly saw in Florence, Italy, people meet in public spaces. Thus, Europeans celebrate plazas. In suburban America, we say "plaza" to refer to the shopping plaza at some major intersection. In fact, many of our downtowns do not even have a real plaza, depending on Main Street as their primary urban open space. In Europe, as there often is no "Main Street" at all, plazas are not only found at the heart of the city, but at the entrance to the majority of transit stations. This comparison has made me think of how a plaza could be implemented in Rochester Hills, alongside a center for public transportation. Imagine having the ability to ride the bus, or even a light rail system, from your suburban neighborhood to the heart of downtown, where children can run around and old friends can meet. Surrounding you are a number of small shops, restaurants, and cafes. Along one side of the plaza lies the station, providing rail and bus access to a network of surrounding suburbs, as well as the big city. Not only would this concept create reasons for people to support their local downtown, it would create ties between the city and its suburbs. Pride in the city is what makes public transit work. One consistent characteristic I've seen in Southern Europe's greater train stations is that they are grand, showing that care was taken to show their importance. Architecturally, some stations are tall and bright, like a cathedral, while others are colossal and robust, like a monument. By bringing this concept down in scale, it could be applied to downtown Rochester. A celebrated transit hub, accompanied by access to open space, food, shopping, municipal buildings, and parks would effectively become a bustling urban center - the heart of the city. Top Right: Plan diagram of the central train station in Milan, Italy. Built during Mussolini's era, the five to six story station boasts power, celebrating Italian accomplishment. The plaza in front was large enough for people in our group to toss a Frisbee while commuters walked nearby or watched from surrounding sitting areas. Bottom Right: Section diagram of the modern TGV station in Avignon, France. Seating options in waiting areas create effective spaces for individual contemplation or group conversation.

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