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Champions of the Neighborhood

Detroit organizations leading neighborhood revitalization 

By Daniel A. Washington 

Page 20

With a penchant for being the underdog, many Detroit residents have responded to challenges facing their communities and driving the change they want to see, piece by piece. They are working at the grassroots level to revitalize many of Detroit’s proud and historic neighborhoods with increased public and private sectors partners.

“We have gotten a lot of support from the foundation sector and even some corporate donations, but we are really seeing investment at the grassroots business level. Small businesses have also stepped up to really help revitalize the communities in which they live and work,” said Tom Goddeeris, executive director of Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC).

Live in Osborn, a community initiative to attract new residents and businesses to the Osborn neighborhood and others in northeast Detroit through revitalization, is aggressively addressing a number of problems that have plagued its community. In a collaborative effort with Matrix Human Services and others in the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, Live in Osborn is boarding up more than 1,000 windows and doorways of vacant homes.

“When you think of revitalization, most times it’s an attempt to take the midtown and downtown approach. But there has been such a lack of investment in the neighborhoods that you must look at community hubs, those who have invested and residents that are engaged and make a difference to really help to move the needle,” said Quincy Jones, executive director of Osborn Neighborhood Alliance.

Block clubs, associations and organizations have reformed and emerged to fight against crime, blight and a lack of small businesses to service communities across the Detroit’s neighborhoods. Organizations and individuals from both the public and private sectors have increased funding and attention to revitalize the city’s neighborhoods collectively.

“I can’t keep up with all of the new places popping up in Midtown,” said Rico Razo, city of Detroit District 6 manager. “We have the Midwest Civic Council of block clubs who organize the 48210 and 48204 community, the Springdale Woodmere Block Club who bring added safety to 48209, the Original United group in 48217 and several Woodbridge safety and community development groups.”

Midtown, northeast and southwest Detroit are not the only communities taking action in the revitalization of the city’s neighborhoods.

Last year, the University of Detroit Mercy, along with Capital Impact Partners collaborated to create LIVE6 Alliance, a nonprofit focused on planning and development while enhancing quality of life and economic opportunity in Northwest Detroit – with a particular focus on the McNichols and Livernois corridors.

“We are focused on more than just businesses,” said LIVE6 Alliance Acting Director Lauren Hood. “I am hoping to really focus energy and dollars to making Livernois and the surrounding area become known as the ‘cultural corridor’ with a number of attractive offerings for the neighborhoods and those visiting the area.”

Some of the newest offerings include: Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles, Good Cakes and Bakes and Art in Motion. The increase in the number of eateries and art-related establishments have been credited for helping a resurgence in population to the area according to city officials.

Early this year, Crain’s Detroit Business reported on Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles success in its first year. The goal of the restaurant upon its opening in January, 2015 was $1 million in sales – exceeding expectations, more than $2 million of sales were generated and nearly 50 employees were hired from the surrounding area.

“I own several other properties along Livernois. I am currently renovating many of them now. The goal is to provide retail space for other ‘small’ businesses that fit in with the vision that we have for The Avenue of Fashion,” said owner Ron Bartell in a Crain’s interview. “I’d like to attract businesses that aren’t common in the ‘neighborhoods,’ businesses that provide access that sometimes overlooks urban consumers.”

The rise in communal accountability has helped stabilize neighborhoods throughout the city making them more desirable places to live and work, with many of them recently becoming hotbeds of creativity and business ventures outside of the downtown business district.

“I could go on and on, but the nonprofits, organizations and block clubs truly held the city down for many years when it didn’t have the resources to effectively make a positive impact in the neighborhoods,” said Razo.

With a renewed energy and sense of pride, individuals in Detroit’s communities continue to work to revitalize on a larger scale with the help of partnerships with the local government, Detroit Land Bank (DLBA), The Kresge Foundation and The Skillman Foundation.

Rebranded and launched in 2014, the DLBA has assisted in providing homeowners with the opportunity to own side lots, purchase newly renovated houses and witness blight issues resolved on a number of blocks in neighborhoods across the city.

“The Detroit Land Bank is dedicated to improving the lives of those in the community, we understand a lot of talk is being had about downtown and the significant amount of money that is flowing, but we don’t own anything downtown,” said Craig Fahle, director of public affairs at the DLBA. “Nearly all of our resources are invested in the communities – whether it is through renovation, demolition or communication to the neighborhoods – we are focused on the neighborhoods and on improving them.”

The DBLA has successfully auctioned off more than 800 houses to residents, eliminated more than 70 houses identified for harboring illegal activity and restored more than 800 property titles that are now available for purchase.

“We are working hard to reward the large number of loyal residents who have taken it upon themselves to maintain properties that they don’t even own,” said Fahle. “We are eager and excited to see the tide changing and more people investing in the neighborhoods that for so long seem to have been abandoned by the public and officials.”

From block clubs to large philanthropic organizations and small businesses to large corporations, many partners hold a piece of the urban revitalization puzzle.