In past years, the Detroit Design Festival has had a playful tone, with crowd-pleasing events like DLECTRICITY, that delight viewers with spectacles focused on the more ephemeral aspects of design. But this year, Detroit has a lot to celebrate, as it was announced in late 2015 as the first city in the United States to receive City of Design status from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—making it part of an elite club of 47 other cities from 33 countries that are members of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. The 2016 Detroit Design Festival programming embraced this new status, and brought together a powerhouse cohort of thought leadership to unpack ways that design and architecture may be used in pursuit of equity, adaptation and innovation—not just functionality or beauty.
“The thing about the City of Design distinction is transforming from disparate designers to a ‘city of design,’” said Garlin Gilchrist, a native Detroiter and director of innovation and emerging technology for the City of Detroit, speaking on a panel about sustainability. This and many other panel discussions were staged during the two-day Detroit City of Design Summit, organized by the Detroit Creative Corridor Center and Creative Many Michigan. Before a packed crowd at the Jam Handy building, moderators and panelists tackled issues that might typically be considered outside the range of architecture and design: gun violence, education, economic pluralism, and the history of hip-hop as allegorical feedback on the lived urban experience. The perspectives presented by the panelists opened the field of what constitutes design, and what interventions can be made through a process of redesign.