By Lester Graham | Michigan Radio
Many Detroit neighborhoods need help. A lot of blocks are little more than a couple of occupied homes, a few abandoned houses, some burned out structures, and overgrown vacant lots.
Between 1970 and 2010 Detroit lost more than 228 thousand occupied housing units according to a recent report by the Urban Institute.
These neighborhoods, the worst neighborhoods, are not the city’s priority.
Instead the Mayor is helping better neighborhoods.
Detroit’s downtown business districts are booming. Corporate offices are moving in. Retailers are opening new stores. Empty buildings are being rehabbed into upscale apartments.
Detroit’s neighborhoods are not doing as well.
“I get asked it seems like everyday, ‘You’ve got all this investment in downtown and Midtown. It’s great. I like it. But, when’s the investment coming to the neighborhoods?,’” Mayor Mike Duggan said during his recent State of the City address.
The Mayor went on to say neighborhood investment starts now. He announced a neighborhood development program amounting to 30 million dollars in public/private investments. Invest Detroit, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and philanthropic entities are putting up the money.
“We’re starting in three neighborhoods to prove it makes a difference: in the Livernois/McNichols area, in the West Village area on the east side, and in southwest Detroit near Clark park,” Duggan explained.
These three neighborhoods already do better than most of the city. Livernois-McNichols, the Fitzgerald neighborhood, includes Marygrove College and abuts University of Detroit Mercy. The West Village area on the city’s near east side is full of apartment buildings, nice duplexes, and a few trendy restaurants, with more retail stores planned. The area near Clark Park is better known as Mexicantown. It’s been vibrant for a while. The city has offered people displaced by the coming Gordie Howe bridge to Canada incentives to move to Mexicantown, benefitting it further.
This approach is like reverse battlefield triage. Instead of helping the most damaged areas of the city first, Mayor Duggan is helping those neighborhoods with greater potential.
As a strategy, it might make sense.
If you live in one of the struggling neighborhoods such as MorningSide, it’s frustrating.
“If we can’t –we the city- if we can’t save MorningSide, then what hope is there for Detroit’s comeback?” Eric Dueweke asked.
Dueweke has lived in MorningSide for 24 years. He also happens to be a Lecturer in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan.
We spent a couple of hours driving around MorningSide. Dueweke showed me some of the potential of the neighborhood and some of the struggles. MorningSide has a potential advantage over other neighborhoods.
Dueweke had a brief conversation with the mayor about the street where Dueweke lives, Three Mile Drive.
“And he says to me, ‘I know Three Mile. I drive up and down Three Mile once a month or so,’ And he said –this is last spring- ‘We’ve got some work to do on Three Mile.’ And I said, ‘Yes, we do, Mr. Mayor.’ So, I think if the Mayor understands Three Mile and he understands we have these issues and we still aren’t getting changes to the system, what must other neighborhoods that don’t have that advantage have to go through,” Dueweke said.
The advantage? Duggan’s grandparents lived on Three Mile and as a child he spent a lot of weekends there.
Today MorningSide is certainly not the worst neighborhood in Detroit, but it’s not the best. It’s more or less a microcosm of the city. There are many vacant homes. The city promised demolitions of some gutted homes last year.
They’re still standing.
But then, Dueweke drove me past block after block of 1920s era brick Tudors and other nice houses.
Dueweke says MorningSide’s business district along Warren Avenue is a little better. In the last couple of years a few of its vacant buildings filled with small retailers. Still, about half of the buildings are boarded up.
Dueweke says it’s not as though Duggan has done nothing for MorningSide. Street lights, more regular garbage pick-up, a new small park.
“And so, I don’t want to minimize the fact that he’s done a lot. But, what I feel is the kind of modus operandi of the administration for the most part is: Well, we hire all these smart people and these experts and we understand what the issue is and what needs to be done and so, yeah, we don’t really need your help, people out there in the neighborhoods,” Dueweke said.
That’s a sentiment people in more than just this one neighborhood express.
As Mayor Duggan turns his attention to investment in the neighborhoods, he says he wants the residents to have more say in what happens. He says in the Fitzgerald neighborhood 40 meetings were held to see what neighbors wanted.
And the Mayor says if the investments in those three neighborhoods work, there will be 30 million more dollars to invest in other neighborhoods. He expects the program to keep investing.
People in MorningSide hope the Mayor remembers his grandparents’ neighborhood when and if those investments come in the future.
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