Detroit's lower east-side residents hear redevelopment plans
Affordable housing, retail and recreation are among the enhancements planned for a reinvention of Detroit's lower east side.
The city's Planning and Development Department unveiled revitalization plans for the city's Islandview, West Village, Indian Village and East Village areas during a community meeting Thursday evening.
The projects are the culmination of an 18-month process for the neighborhood that's one of three targeted for revitalization with $42 million from the Strategic Neighborhood Fund. The city in May announced plans to raise an additional $130 million to continue revitalization efforts in seven other Detroit districts.
The project footprint spans about two square miles from Mt. Elliott to St. Jean and from Mack to Jefferson Avenue and is consistent with the city's vision for creating "20-minute neighborhoods" to provide residents with close access to shopping, dining and other amenities.
"We have to create almost from scratch a pedestrian, mixed-use center," said Maurice Cox, the city's planning director.
The effort calls for the rehabilitation of some city-owned homes as well as new low-income and market-rate housing and a targeted retail corridor. At least 40 percent of the housing will be low-income, officials said.
Among the projects is a $1.1 million redesign of the Butzel Playfield with park entrances, improved recreation areas and landscaping. The city will bring in a landscape architect to draw up plans this summer to build it by next spring, said Esther Yang, a design director for Detroit's planning department.
"What can we do to make this an attractive community?" she told about 100 people gathered for the project meeting at the Solanus Casey Center on the city's east side.
Another $1.1 million in streetscape improvements are slated for a one-mile stretch of Kercheval Avenue to make way for cafe seating, protected bike lanes and on-street parking. The city plans to invest $450,000 into improvements in five pedestrian crossings and it will overhaul access to the riverfront along the Beltline Greenway.
Officials presented colorful renderings of the concepts and plans, which were shaped by public input.
In some of the images, mid-block crossings link pedestrians to the riverfront. In others, a mixed-use building towers above an intersection.
The prospect of seeing more retailers impressed Mae Powe, a longtime east-side resident. "We really need some nice stores," the retiree said.
Also in the audience was DJ Smith. The city resident and business owner supports development but hopes it won’t become too expensive for those who already live there.
“Change is good. I just hope the people in the neighborhood will be able to stay and not be pushed out,” he said. “They should benefit, as well. It’s very important.”
Julie Wainwright, who lives in the area and is active with the Mount Elliott Business Community Association, echoed that sentiment.
"I like the idea of change as long as it's with the consent of everyone here," she said.
Mac Farr, executive director of the nonprofit Village Community Development Corp., said residents have long waited for improvements.
"A lot of people are interested in not just creating another plan to add to the pile. This is a city that has gone through so many plans we have planning fatigue," said Farr, an Indian Village resident.
He said he believes the planned improvements are "spot on" for the neighborhoods. "What I’m interested in is the implementation piece," Farr said. "I just want to see it happen."
Basic service improvements and code enforcement, he said, are also key to neighbors.
"I think where residents want to see more of an impact is in infrastructure, storm drains, sidewalks and getting trees down," he said. "There are still very basic things that they (the city) have not yet mastered."
Jennine Spencer, another Detroiter and community activist who works with a nonprofit, attended Thursday's meeting to learn more. She said many seniors and those on fixed incomes live in the area, so city officials should keep their interests in mind as part of the plans.
"It needs to consider more long-term residents," she said.