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Carlie Smiley

Professor Ewing
Honors 1000
The City Beautiful in a City Park
The island of Belle Isle Park can sometimes be a strange sight to see when viewed in
such close juxtaposition to the city of Detroit. Located on the Detroit River, and joined to the
mainland by the MacArthur Bridge, the landscape and scenery of the island is a stark contrast to
the skyscrapers and storefronts of the city. Settled in the 18th century by French explorers, the
parks name translates directly to Beautiful Island. When it was first created as a public park, it
was seen as an escape from the city to a sort of faux visit to the countryside. People could have
picnics in the grass, take walks along the shore, swim in the shallow waters, everything you
couldnt do while in the busy city.
When my group took a trip to visit this place, we noticed that the name Beautiful Island
was well deserved. All around us were beautiful fountains and sculptures, the leaves on trees
were beginning to change color, families of ducks were swimming in streams, and the view of
the riverfront was simply breathtaking. Collectively, my group came to the consensus that the
city of Detroit is moving towards The City Beautiful and I agree with this group observation.
The idea of the City Beautiful was a part of a movement that began in the late 1890s and
the early 1900s.1 The movement itself was centered around urban planning with the intent of

1 Gould discusses the beginning of the City Beautiful movement

adding beautification and splendor to cityscapes. This movement was a large focus in the
planning of Detroit in the 1900s, and some elements of that plan can be seen at Belle Isle. For
example, the Belle Isle Aquarium and the elaborate Belle Isle Conservatory both opened in 1904.
The James Scott Memorial Fountain2, which contains elements of Greek and Roman architecture,
also added to the City Beautiful model.3 All three of these attraction added to the ways in which
people enjoyed the idea of visiting the island.
In the times from the early 1900s up until present day, the views towards Belle Isle, as well as
the economic conditions of Detroit, have been constantly changing. During the economic
recession of the 2000s, the facilities at Belle Isle took a hit. Lack of funds and lack of visitors
forced the Belle Isle Aquarium to close its doors in 2005.4 This lack of visitors had,
unfortunately, extended to the entire island. Funding for public facilities dropped and as a result,
those facilities began to become unmanaged and under kept. However, as the country and the
world moved out of the recession, there were programs put in place that encouraged people
within the community to get more involved in events on Belle Isle5 and there was a surge in the
resources being allocated for the island. This resulted in a great increase in the conditions of the
facilities on Belle Isle. For example, in the 2014 annual report of Belle Isle Park from the DNR,
it was stated that Belle Isle saw tangible improvements from refurbished park shelters and
renovated restrooms to universally accessible parking spaces and removal of hazardous trees.
2 The James Scott Fountain for Belle Isle talks about the dedication of the fountain
3 Castro discusses the elements of the City Beautiful model that come from Greek
and Roman architecture models
4 See City to Close 100-Year-Old Belle Isle Aquarium
5 Moore discusses one of these programs that encouraged people within the
community to get involved in events and programs on the island

Many of these efforts are due to significant investment by state, federal, private and non-profit
partners.6 The Belle Island aquarium also reopened in 2012, attracting more visitors to the
island. A combination of cleanlier facilities, newly renovated spaces, and the re-opening of the
aquarium caused attendance to Belle Isle to soar. In the same 2014 report, it was said that
attendance to every major attraction on the island had increased from the previous year,
especially to the aquarium where attendance there was up over 125 percent7 from 2013.
I believe that this increase in attendance at and funding for Belle Isle proves that we as a society
are headed towards embracing and encouraging the City Beautiful once again. During our
groups visit to the park, we watched as families enjoyed time with recreational activities, parents
took their children to play in the gardens of the conservatory, and teenagers posed for pictures
next to the fountain. The sidewalks were clean, the restrooms were well kept, and the
landscaping was tidy. At the end of our trip, we concluded unanimously that Belle Isle perfectly
exemplifies the City Beautiful. The fact that more and more people are coming to the island to
enjoy its resources and the beautiful sights just goes to show that we as a society are moving in
favor of incorporating elements of the City Beautiful movement into the city of Detroit once

6 Belle Isle Annual Report page 2

7 See graph on page 9 from Belle Isle Annual Report

Photos from group trip:

Works Cited
Belle Isle Park Annual Report February 10, 2014 February 10, 2015. Rep. Department of
Natural Resources, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Castro, Ricardo L. "Looking to the past Can Be Effective Design Technique: [Final Edition]."
The Gazette [Montreal, QUE] 19 Dec. 1987: n. pag. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
"City to Close 100-Year-Old Belle Isle Aquarium." Click On Detroit. Click On Detroit, 14 Jan.
2005. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Gould, Whitney. "Early Planners Envisioned a `City Beautiful' Dreams of Early 1900s have been
Coming True, and Inspiring Others." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 2. Apr 15
1996. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
THE JAMES SCOTT FOUNTAIN FOR BELLE ISLE. Bulletin of the Detroit Museum of Art,
vol. 8, no. 3, 1914, pp. 5050. 10 Nov. 2016.
Moore, Brianna. "New Belle Isle Conservancy Encourages Community Participation." Michigan
Citizen: 2. Nov 2011. ProQuest. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.

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