At this historical moment, the urban planning and design professions are confronted with the twin challenges of unprecedented rapid urbanization on the one hand, and declining post-industrial regions on the other. In this environment, there are many different and often conflicting ideas about urban heritage and its relevance for contemporary urban planning and design. In this paper, we look for commonalities and a way forward from among a range of competing urban design models. We examine the illustrative case study of the geography and landscape of Detroit, USA. We consider seven contemporary urban planning and design ideals that dominate the contemporary planning and design discourse and their different views of the past and urban heritage in relation to the approaches in Detroit. From these, we draw a synthesis approach, making several recommendations and observations with a focus on the capacities of so-called “placemaking” approaches. In this paper, urban heritage is understood and examined as contributing a pattern of infrastructure that provides a helpful supportive framework, and (importantly) a set of structural limitations (e.g., historic plot boundaries), that can serve as a generative resource for new urban planning and design. We conclude that the necessary framework for democratic participation and opportunity within urban space can be provided most directly by leveraging the assets of urban heritage.
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