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Detroit's Palmer Park Master Plan
Log Cabin Farm Included a Detailed Planning List

By David Mangum, CNU-A, LEED AP ND, Gibbs Planning Group


The consensus master plan of Palmer Park in Detroit was the result of two-years and 2,500 volunteer hours donated by the planning and design team led by Bob Gibbs of Gibbs Planning Group, Birmingham, Michigan. The plan called for restoring, where possible, the park plan of Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot, and improving entries, circulation and open borders. Other aspects included a redesigned golf course, a community farm, active and passive recreation, natural area restoration and an expanded and improved log cabin and lake complex.
Photos: Gibbs Planning Group

Member firms of the Michigan chapters of ASLA and the Congress for the New Urbanism collaborated with the community-based, People for Palmer Park, to initiate yearlong planning work for the 300-acre, 120 year-old Palmer Park on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot designed the park in the late 1800s.

It is estimated that the participating firms contributed a total of 2,500 volunteer hours during the plan's creation; a rewarding effort for the professionals who appreciated the history, cultural significance, natural beauty and community importance of the park. Initial implementation has already begun with the redesign and resurfacing of the tennis courts. PFPP is actively pursuing grants for projects pursuant to the grand vision for Palmer Park.


Palmer Park contains a two-story log cabin designed by noteable architects Mason & Rice in 1887.

PFPP had formed in response to an announcement that, due to budget constraints, the city would be closing the park. In a true grassroots effort, PFPP began maintaining the park and programming events that would increase interest, foster community and restore the beloved park. Two years after forming the 501(c)(3) non-profit, it became clear to the group that a general vision was needed to guide their actions beyond the initial stabilization efforts. The partnership with ASLA and CNU began with an introduction from Tim Karl, Detroit's landscape architect. He understood that any investment beyond general maintenance, whether by the city or private grant, would need to be justified by a master plan. This would meet the communities' desires, address neglected infrastructure and ensure a strong future for the historic park. Extensive research with the Olmsted Archives in Brookline, Mass.

uncovered the original plans (at the time it was called "Log Cabin Farm"). A trip to the Olmsted Papers at the Library of Congress to find correspondence between the firm and the Palmers, Gibbs Planning Group (project lead) recruited 12 firms and a small group of college students to participate in the master planning of Palmer Park.

Seven alternative plans were created by the volunteer group of landscape architects, planners and architects to illustrate the potential for the park. This allowed the community and city representatives to reach a consensus on the preferred design. Additional designs for road-diet, bike facilities, stormwater retention and community buildings and shelters were also presented to the community.

Two years and several public meetings later, the consensus master plan and supporting documentation was completed. The plan called for thoughtfully restoring Olmsted's original design, while improving entries and circulation. The goals were to create active and passive open space, a community supported urban farm, a redesigned golf course and natural area and sustainable stormwater management.

As seen in LASN magazine, June 2016 Stewardship.

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August 18, 2019, 12:54 am PDT

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