Urban Recreation: Detroit and Beyond

After more than a year indoors, nature and the great outdoors are calling. Michigan is home to some of the most serene lakes, best hiking trails and natural landscapes, and the push to get outside has become a top priority after the pandemic. With continued urban recreation developments, a city’s economy can grow as tourists and recreationalists merge together to take advantage of social opportunities and accommodations brought on by developers and urbanists.


As the warmer weather begins to settle in, vacations are ramping up across the country. In Michigan, with over 11,000 inland lakes, 650 public golf courses and 100 public beaches, there is something for everyone to do this summer. While Michiganders are aware of what makes the state special, others are getting a first-hand look into what makes Michigan a top contender for travel plans.


Urban recreation is not a new concept, but it’s becoming more known as urban areas are beginning to expand in development. Combining the love of outdoors with an urban landscape causes the creation of leisure activities in metropolitan cities across the country.


Overtime, urbanization has affected metropolitan cities across the country. For Detroiters, the continual development of downtown’s landscape allows its residents to not only live and work in the space, but dine, shop and play within its limits — creating a tourism hub and encouraging citizens near and far to partake. For Detroit, one of the most urbanized cities in the state, it’s automobile history helped to create an identity for the city. Recent developments are adding to the city’s vision and upward growth.


“Detroit was a city built on cars and it had to transition with the world’s economy,” says David Lorenz, vice president for Travel Michigan. “People believe in Detroit again and, most importantly, Detroiters believe in Detroit again.”

VP of Travel Michigan, David Lorenz

Although the city suffered a crushing economic blow during the 2008 housing crisis, the city has since risen like a Phoenix. With millions of dollars thrown into reimagining Detroit’s infrastructure, the city has seen continuous improvement both economically and through development.


One of the major urban recreational developments that has hit Detroit is its Riverwalk. Voted the Best Riverwalk in the country in the 2021 USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards, the Detroit International Riverwalk is sprawled over five miles of the scenic Detroit River. Equipped for fishing, leisure bike rides or a ride on the Detroit Princess, the Riverwalk is one of the city’s most prized gems for peace within the city’s limits.


“Recreation is not always 1,000 miles per hour,” says Lorenz.


Undergoing renovations slated to be complete in 2022, the Riverwalk will see additional attractions and space to bring even more people to its turf. With more than three million annual visitors it was one of the few places Detroiters sought reprieve from the pandemic as it was open during stay-at-home restrictions. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is the responsible arm for the Riverwalk and recently broke ground on the final leg of the extension that will connect the Riverwalk to Belle Isle.


“When we started transforming the riverfront 20 years ago, we had an ambitious vision and our promise was to connect the entire East Riverfront,” said Matt Cullen, chairman of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy. “We are proud to break ground and deliver on that promise. Our community came together around this project — and I am pleased to say that the founding partners — the City, The Kresge Foundation and General Motors — are still with us supporting the project today. This final piece along the East Riverfront is a lasting gift to the generations who live, work and visit Detroit and critical to our long-term vision of revitalization from bridge to bridge.”


Urban recreation is not limited to rivers and bike trails. Detroiters with a passion for animals and the outdoors can visit the Buffalo Soldiers Detroit to not only pet, feed and ride the horses, but to learn the history of Buffalo Soldiers and their impact on American history.


Additionally, animal lovers are invited to take a quick drive outside of Detroit city limits and land at the Bowers School Farm. Located in Bloomfield Hills, a suburb of Detroit, the farm features 93 acres of land home to horses, sheep, goats, chickens, pigs, cattle and llamas.


Despite an undeserved reputation as a desolate, crime-riddled city, visitors will find that Detroit is just the opposite. The city is on the upswing and tourists and residents can help shift the narrative.


“People are going to want to visit these places and throw out old dated misconceptions about the area,” says Lorenz.

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