Being safe doesn’t mean it has to be ugly

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Rendering of the new U.S. Embassy in London, which achieves security, not through roadblocks and concrete barriers, but through landscape architecture, such as ponds, berms and low-wall gardens
Rendering of the new U.S. Embassy in London, which achieves security, not through roadblocks and concrete barriers, but through landscape architecture, such as ponds, berms and low-wall gardens

Several years ago, the FBI announced it was looking for 10 acres in or near downtown Detroit to build a regional headquarters. The project fell through when the FBI could not find suitable space. Some people lamented the loss, but from an urban planning stance, Detroit dodged a bullet.

Security requirements for government buildings today have grown so severe that they produce bunker-like buildings surrounded by high fences and razor wire. Such security measures may be necessary in today’s age of terrorism. But bunkers off-limits to the public do little or nothing to create the lively walkable places that are today’s norm for urban revitalization.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s regional center on Warren east of I-75 in Detroit, which opened a decade ago, is one example. When ground was broken back in 2004, city leaders hailed the project as a gem, and architecturally, the building is quite fine. Designed by Detroit-based SmithGroupJJR, it features spacious interiors and a rich array of stone, metal and glass surfaces. But the building is set far back from the road behind security fences that it would take a tank to smash through. ….

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