Detroit RiverFront Conservancy Receives National Planning Award


American Planning Association (Jan. 22, 2014) Washington, D.C. –The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy (The Conservancy) will receive the American Planning Association’s 2014 National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation. This award recognizes a project that demonstrates a significant achievement for an area — a single community or a region — in accomplishing positive changes as a result of planning. The award emphasizes long-term, measurable results that have been in continuous effect for a minimum of three years.

The Conservancy was formed as a 501 (c) (3) in 2003 with the mission of developing access along Detroit’s riverfront. To date, more than three miles of RiverWalk are complete along the vibrant east riverfront.  The Conservancy’s ultimate goal is to transform 5.5 miles of riverfront from an unattractive and inaccessible landscape into a vibrant, economically successful downtown RiverWalk complete with plazas, pathways, pavilions and green spaces.

“Detroit’s revitalized riverfront has improved the quality of life for residents and visitors, while simultaneously providing an economic boost to the city,” said Ann C. Bagley, FAICP, 2014 APA Awards Jury chair. “The success of the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy at emphasizing Detroit’s beautiful new riverfront exemplifies what can happen when turning a comprehensive plan into reality.”

Launched by the City of Detroit, the Kresge Foundation, and General Motors, these public-private partnerships and others have been integral to the Conservancy’s success. Less than 10 years ago, the Detroit riverfront was industrial in nature with very little public access and marked with crumbling buildings and overgrown lots. Today, the revitalized riverfront draws three million visitors annually.

The riverfront also provides year-round programming opportunities that keep the community engaged. The public space is host to frequent health and wellness events, races, and a literacy program. As the Conservancy begins additional construction along the two-mile west riverfront, similar community outreach initiatives will be implemented.

“The RiverWalk has created a vibrant gathering space for Detroit residents and visitors, and brings a sense of community to this formerly blighted area,” said Marc Pasco, director of communications for the Conservancy.  “The RiverWalk and its sister rails-to-trails greenway the Dequindre Cut draw people from all over to walk, run, bike, attend a variety of events and spend time with family and friends.”

The RiverWalk has significantly benefitted the community by:

  • Hosting the annual River Days festival that draws 150,000 people each summer.
  • Increasing the area’s popularity, bringing in $1 billion in public and private investments to date, with an estimated additional $1 billion to come in the future.
  • Attracting three million annual visitors to the RiverWalk that also has generated approximately $4.5 million in annual tax revenue.
  • Providing employment by supporting 1,300 jobs annually.

The 2014 National Planning Excellence Award for Implementation for The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy the will be presented at APA’s National Planning Conference in Atlanta during a special luncheon on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. In addition, it will be featured in an upcoming issue of Planning magazine, APA’s flagship publication.

To view all of the APA 2014 National Planning Excellence and Achievement Award recipients, visit APA’s national awards program, the profession’s highest honor, is a proud tradition established more than 50 years ago to recognize outstanding community plans, planning programs and initiatives, public education efforts, and individuals for their leadership on planning issues.

The American Planning Association is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the art, science and profession of good planning -- physical, economic and social -- so as to create communities that offer better choices for where and how people work and live. APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, Ill. For more information, visit

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