On November 9, Detroitisit will bring together urban planners, mobility innovators, community developers, neighborhood association leaders and design experts from the corporate, public, private and philanthropic sectors for the third annual Urban Design Summit sustainable focused on shaping the future of sustainable cities.
Having focused on the built environment in 2021 and climate, energy and social justice in 2022, the mission of the 2023 Summit is to leverage the forward-looking mindset of applying critical thinking conceptually based on solutions to urban development, mobility, community engagement, and preparation for the circular economy.
Register to attend on Thursday, November 9 here.
One of the three main themes is Neighborhood Development, which will explore the challenges and vision of neighborhood development in social areas including design, investment and planning, socio-economic dynamics, equity, The empowerment and interdependence of a built community.
Here, three of the speakers Jermaine R. Ruffin, senior vice president of neighborhoods, Invest DetroitMélanie Markowicz, executive director, Greektown Neighborhood Partnershipand Donna Givens Davidson, President and CEO, Eastside Community Networkshare some early ideas about the specific work they are doing in their neighborhoods as it relates to – and will lead to – thought-provoking discussions and ideas at the summit.
DII: What are your design and planning goals?
Ruffin: Our goals are to provide a higher quality of life than Detroit residents seek. Ultimately, we work to create generational wealth and neighborhood resilience that places residents in a growth pattern so they are not displaced. We’ve been talking to residents and shareholders about what they think is the right approach or the right investments to make in their neighborhoods and that’s the foundation of our work.
Markowicz: Greektown is one of Detroit’s oldest neighborhoods and one of the most visited. Today, much of it is owned by multi-generational Greek families. Thanks to the $20 million grant we received, the redevelopment of the Monroe Corridor will be transformative for Greektown, downtown and the state of Michigan.
We are redeveloping Monroe Street to become formally pedestrianized. Among other things, we are redirecting car traffic, with the possibility of regularly closing the corridor to vehicles and making space for beer gardens. The approach will support economic development, a greener and more sustainable neighborhood, a safer shared street, and much more, while valuing and embracing the culture and history of this community.
Davidson: Currently, much of what is done in Detroit is driven by market conditions in an effort to increase the market value of neighborhoods and commercial areas.
We strive to make policy makers understand that a city cannot be rebuilt without first meeting the needs of all its inhabitants. In many cases, it is cheaper for people to leave than to stay and struggle to meet their basic needs. We are working to raise voices and ensure as many people as possible stay.
DII: What is the economic impact of your work?
Ruffin: To date, we have created more than 78,000 square feet of commercial space, assisted more than 375 housing units, rehabilitated 86 single-family homes, and invested in 11 parks and 12 streetscapes. We have leveraged more than $262 million for neighborhoods with the goal of increasing the overall value and quality of life in Detroit neighborhoods.
Markowicz: I believe there are many economic opportunities associated with developing underutilized properties. In addition, businesses will certainly be affected by the increased traffic that will come from the pedestrianization of the Monroe corridor. There is a development boom around Greektown – other projects are all happening at the same time that I think will connect the area and give better access to Greektown from neighborhoods and also downtown, opening up opportunities for a more robust community and economy.
Davidson: When homes are taken away and made vacant, the value of all other homes in the neighborhood decreases. Conversely, if we prevent people from losing their homes or moving away, we retain value. We must protect the economic interests of people whose interests have been neglected for so long. So I think the work we’re doing is a stabilizing factor. We are working to stop the decline and create healthier, more sustainable neighborhoods.
DII: What are the community and cultural impacts of your work?
From a community and cultural perspective, Detroiters are protective of their neighborhoods and fear displacement. Many neighborhoods have experienced disinvestment over the past decade. When you experience this and see vacant and demolished properties, there’s a lot of skepticism. Involving people from the neighborhoods and working with them to understand how they fit into the process puts us in a unique position to ensure the preservation of the places. Rod Hardiman used this term – placekeeping – and I completely agree with him. It’s about allowing the community and culture to remain in place and progress as residents want it to.
Markowicz: Greektown consists of 72 parcels and just over 30 business owners, with human-scale architecture and real charm. Again, many businesses are owned by multi-generational Greek families and we want to incorporate that cultural heritage into everything we do. The redevelopment will include artwork and architecture reflecting this and we will promote the historic preservation of all existing assets with respect and integrity.
Davidson: Our community center has 1,100 members who take classes and have started their own clubs. We offer classes around racial equity and Detroit history. I think the goal is to develop a sense of pride and connection among residents and we promote that in everything we do. We believe that social cohesion is an important element of community health. We are also an African American community and the majority of residents here are African American – so we try to create a framework in which we celebrate who we are.
DII: What are the biggest challenges you face?
Ruffin: The biggest challenge in the neighborhood work we do is being consistent with building trust and partnerships. Staying engaged takes a lot of conversations.
Second, the size of the city. Detroit covers 139 square miles and we are currently focused on ten neighborhoods. The needs are much greater and having the money and resources is a challenge.
Markowicz: A challenge is to coordinate all the entities to be able to carry out this redevelopment. The infrastructure is over 100 years old and we need many partners to fix it. I am grateful that we have developed the collaboration and partners we have to make this vision a reality.
I think there is a lack of imagination in how to house people in the world. Homelessness is a growing problem everywhere. As a society, we need to figure out how to make sure we don’t leave people behind. Everyone deserves housing and our society must ensure that no one goes without it. This is a bigger problem than anyone can solve individually. We do what we can, but there are limits to what we can do with funding.
DII: What are the biggest opportunities?
Ruffin: There is a lot of talent, interest, enthusiasm and eagerness to be part of the city’s future, from both residents and stakeholders. The biggest opportunity we have is to create an atmosphere of collaboration and strengthen the economic development ecosystem so people know where to get support and resources. We have the ability to create an ecosystem that will thrive on its own with residents at the forefront, and that excites me.
Markowicz: The opportunities for Greektown are vast. If we can create this intimate space in Detroit that has that authentic charm and atmosphere, a green element, a community and cultural element, and it’s a local and tourist destination, it will be an exciting opportunity. I want to connect the urban thread between the downtown core and Greektown and beyond to make it a more accessible and safer place for everyone. Along with other projects happening around us, there will be a complete and dramatic change over the next five years.
Davidson: People! Living through the pandemic has changed the way some things look. We were able to move things forward quickly and collaborate to create solutions. This is why I think there is now more tolerance and interest in justice.
We also count on bright and caring young leaders, capable of envisioning a future different from the past and proposing innovative solutions.
Detroit has always been a place of innovation and I think it could become a place to show the world how different we can be.
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