A 'Bittersweet' Move: Detroit Loses Urban Visionary Chad Rochkind, Returning to NY

Chad Rochkind, an imaginative and energetic urban strategist, is returning to New York after five years in Detroit -- where he introduced fresh ways to celebrate the city and its assets.

Leaving this spring or summer "is incredibly bittersweet," the 33-year-old posts Monday afternoon on Facebook. He and his wife, Corinne Rochkind, "love Detroit and we always will."

"This city has given us so much: It’s where our daughter [Riley] was born, where we bought our first house and where we both found our way professionally. We will miss this place dearly."

Chad Rochkind: "I can see so many mistakes that I made, so many ways in which I wasn't quite sensitive or aware of Detroit-specific dynamics."
(Facebook photo)

He's a 33-year-old consultant whose career is portable, and the farewell post has no hint about professional plans. His wife, 32, is a senior interactive designer at Vectorform in Royal Oak.  

Chad Rochkind runs Human Scale Studio, which works with civic leaders, foundations, nonprofits and others "to build places and policies that value humanism, beauty and the commons."

He organized the first Open Streets Detroit events in 2016 and 2017 on 3.5 miles of Michigan Avenue with the Downtown Detroit Partnership, creating a traffic-free stretch from downtown through Southwest Detroit for entertainment, fitness demonstrations, recreation, vendors' booths and other community activities. A repeat is tentatively planned this October, with no date yet.

In late summer 2015, he led a People First Project that created a street "parklet" in front of Astro Coffee. Seating, planters and landscaping were installed in a parking lane with the goal of "starting a long-term process for transforming Michigan Avenue," as Rochkind told Matthew Lewis of Model D. It lasted a week before eviction by the Michigan Department of Transportation. 

The urbanologist, a 2016 winner of a $184,000 Knight Cities Challenge grant, also has worked with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Corktown Economic Development Corporation, Assemble Sound, United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Kresge Foundation and Hudson Webber Foundation.

The couple -- who "met at a fateful party in San Francisco," as he posts Monday -- bought a Southwest Detroit home after he earned a master's degree in historical and sustainable architecture at New York University in 2012. His 2007 undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan.

The debut of Open Streets Detroit on a Sunday last October. (Photo by Ken M. Smith)

In the 600-word relocation announcement, Rochkind lists "cherished memories" that include "the rush of installing the parklet, meeting in people’s living rooms and making them feel their own power, and endless thoughtful conversations about the city."

"I will never let go of these memories and all that they mean to me. . . . Corinne and I hope that we have treated this city with the respect it deserves.

"In my work, I have tried to honor what existed here before I arrived, while also trying to push the city beyond what it thinks is possible. I've advocated for a human-centered future in the heart of the Motor City, and I've got the scars to prove it. I hope that I have pissed off all the right people and made all the right people proud.

"Looking back, I can see so many mistakes that I made, so many ways in which I wasn't quite sensitive or aware of Detroit-specific dynamics. But please know that I approached this city and my work with a deep and abiding love for this place and its people.

"It's really the people who make this city special: all of the funkiness, and blackness, and beauty. I will cherish the people the most."   

Email Signup
Send us your email address and we’ll send you the best of Detroit!