Shared Opportunity, Inclusion Vital to Unlocking Neighborhood PotentialMarch 1, 2016
Ron Bartell has seen gentrification firsthand while living in Washington, D.C. and how rising property values and new residents moving into neighborhoods was better for residents than stagnant home values and abandoned buildings.
Bartell, owner of Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles and a former NFL player, said he can also relate to feelings of exclusion that many Detroiters and longtime businesses share, however, especially as he tries to build up his business around the Livernois corridor.
“Even for me, when I came back to open my restaurant, I was told ‘no’ by lenders multiple times even though I owned the property free and clear,” he said.
Bartell said success only came after investing thousands of his own dollars in the business, which he said points to lenders’ unwillingness to help businesses that are not located downtown.
Bartell was part of an impactful Conference discussion on the role of inclusion, gentrification and the socioeconomic impact of Detroit’s revitalization. The panel, “Shared Opportunity: Questions of Inclusion and Gentrification,” was led by The Detroit News’ Nolan Finley and WDIV’s Devin Scillian, and built on conversations that took place at last year’s Mackinac Policy Conference and Detroit Policy Conference addressing Finley’s characterization of “two Detroits” as the city emerged from bankruptcy.
In answering a question on a perceived lack of inclusion, panelists agreed that more work is needed to support the city’s black neighborhoods and businesses beyond downtown and midtown.
Rashida Tlaib, a longtime Detroit resident and the community partnerships director at the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, said community leaders and city officials must be willing to have the hard conversations about gentrification. Tlaib said new business is not necessarily bad for the city as long as thoughtful effort is made to financially support and talk with businesses that have existed for decades and have weathered Detroit’s bankruptcy.
“Is it a bad thing? Absolutely not. But I want to hear from my neighbors who love this city so much and have not left,” Tlaib said. “It’s important to acknowledge that (gentrification) is happening. Do we want to throw people out? Absolutely not. We need to have a good balance of businesses, and right now we do not.”
While recognizing Mayor Duggan’s work to close the gap, Ken Harris, president and CEO of the Michigan Black Chamber of Commerce, said he is pleased to see organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber elevate the dialogue on key issues like inclusion to a state level.
“We have a long way to go and it starts here and with intentional dialogue in the neighborhoods on how we can rebuild this city together,” he said.