The Michigan Chronicle continues its up-close look at each of the seven city districts that are represented by seven city council members. After focusing on Districts 1 through 4 over the past few weeks, District 5, represented by City Councilwoman Mary Sheffield, is highlighted in this week’s edition. Under the relatively new City of Detroit Department of Neighborhoods, created by Mayor Mike Duggan and led by Charlie Beckham, Vince Keenan serves as District 5’s manager, along with deputy manager Erinn Harris.
According to the latest statistics from Data Driven Detroit, an organization that specializes in gathering and analyzing demographic data on the city of Detroit, District 5 has a population of 98,100 people, of which 87,311 are Black, 6,706 are White, 1.127 are Hispanic and 2,956 represent others.
Geographically speaking, District 5 is the largest of the seven districts. Its most southern boundary runs along the shoreline of the Detroit River from Clairpointe (east) to around Brush and John R. (west) where it heads north to East Warren Avenue.
The district then crosses Woodward Avenue and has such near west side border streets as Cass Avenue and I-94, where the district’s boundaries zigzag further west to include Rosa Parks Boulevard, Warren and I-94 (again), Milford, Tireman and Grand River. From Grand River and Grand Boulevard, District 5’s west border heads northwesterly along Grand River to Joy Road and east to Wildemere. Heading north again, the district’s west boundaries include streets such as Holmur, Dexter, Buena Vista and Linwood. District 5’s most northern point is Ford Street.
Beginning a pronounced southeasterly weave, District 5 includes border streets such as LaSalle and Davidson Avenue, before the district boundaries hug around the city limits of Highland Park and Hamtramck. On the outer southeastern fringe of Hamtramck, the district’s border streets include Huber, Sherwood and the Edsel Ford Freeway, east to McClellan and south to Mack, Montclair, Harding, Jefferson Avenue and Clairpointe, before connecting back to the district’s most southeast sector at the Detroit River.
Within the confines of District 5, there are numerous communities and neighborhoods, including some areas known for their distinctive street names, such as Mack and Bewick, as well as Dexter and Linwood. Other noted communities are New Center, Midtown, Historic Boston-Edison, Historic Virginia Park District, LaSalle Gardens, the North End, Poletown, Historic Indian Village, East Village, English Village, West Village, Gold Coast and Historic Berry Subdivision. The latter is home to the Manoogian Mansion, the official residence of Detroit’s mayors.
“District 5 is a very unique district with many interesting and historic neighborhoods,” said Sheffield, believed to be youngest council member in the 313-year history of Detroit. “There are stable neighborhoods, but there are also neighborhoods and communities that are struggling with challenges. There are numerous major and small businesses. However, I want to make sure that everyone, regardless of where they live or work in District 5, has a voice about what’s going on in the district.”
The district manager, Keenan, added, “If you look at District 5, there are numerous areas that have similar levels of interests and needs. What we have been working on is figuring out how to put together a blight strategy for each of these areas that have similar interests and pair them with other activities that are going on in the district because the mayor believes that every neighborhood has a future. We want to use our entire blight toolkit, which includes the nuisance abatement auction, demolition, existing inventory auction and non-structural blight tactics, such as addressing illegal dumping, to bring the district on the other side of blight.”
The district’s deputy manager, Harris, agreed.
“Our job is to make sure that what the mayor wants done in the district gets done,” said Harris. “Additionally, when communities and neighborhoods come up with good ideas of how to make things better in their areas, we figure out a way to capture the ideas and reflect them back in policy.”
Some well-known businesses and/or landmarks in the district include the historic Eastern Market, the Renaissance Center and General Motors’ World Headquarters, the Detroit RiverWalk, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (corporate headquarters), Greektown Casino, Greektown, UAW Solidarity House, Pewabic Pottery, Detroit Medical Center (DMC), Henry Ford Hospital and Ford Field. Interestingly, although Ford Field and Comerica Park are located across the street from each other, Comerica Park is not in District 5.
Additionally, two of the nation’s top African American-owned construction companies call District 5 home: White Construction and Jenkins Construction, both of which began in 1989. The district is home to two Black-owned hotels, Robert’s Riverwalk Hotel and Hotel St. Regis. The new downtown 7-11 is also African American-owned. Cutter’s Bar and Grill and Good People Popcorn are both Black-owned companies.
Also, Melvin Washington, an African American and one of the city’s top urban developers and historic preservationists, has put his fingerprints on many projects in District 5, such as rehabbing the historic Whittier Hotel which he owns. He also has made sure that there is affordable luxury living for seniors in the district with his rehabilitation/redevelopment of the Whittier Manor.
Educational institutions in District 5 include several dozen schools, such as Central High School and Northwestern High School, Benjamin E. Mays Male Academy, Spain Elementary School, Detroit Waldorf School, parts of Wayne State University, University of Detroit Law School, Chrysler Elementary School and Friends School. Detroit Public Schools headquarters is also housed in District 5 and the district is home to Detroit’s Main Library.
Culturally, the district has the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Motown Historical Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Historical Museum, N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art (African American-owned), and The Michigan Science Center (formerly The Detroit Science Center). Additionally, the Detroit Branch NAACP is located in the district.
Entertainment venues of note include the Detroit Repertory Theater, Flood’s Bar & Grill (African American-owned) St. Andrews Hall, Fisher Theater, Chene Park, Bert Warehouse (Black-owned) and the Roostertail.
The district has many parks, but non-bigger or most famous than Belle Isle, the nation’s largest city-owned island park. The State of Michigan now operates and maintains the 982-acre park. Other parks along the Detroit River, looking into Canada include William G. Milliken State Park, Henderson Park, Owen Park, Waterworks Park and Gabriel Richard Park.
While there are many interesting businesses, landmarks and amenities in District 5, there are also communities and neighborhoods facing serious challenges. Perhaps no facility in District 5 — or maybe the entire city — exemplifies blight and a major eyesore more than the ruins of the old Packard Plant site on East Grand Boulevard. Additionally, there is a great need to improve blighted and neglected city blocks, just northeast of Eastern Market along St. Aubin.
Even near upscale Historic Indian Village, a 100-year-old-plus enclave that has about 350 large and vintage homes, blight lurks just blocks away with abandoned and/or burned-out houses, as well as littered vacant lots. This level of blight is not generic to just the east side of District 5; there are examples of the same on the district’s west and northwest corridors.
But there is a plan in place to help eradicate blight.
“One of the most important things that we do is make sure that the mayor’s agenda on blight is carried out,” said Keenan. “He is committed to delivering needed services to neighborhoods and communities to help revitalize and maintain the areas.”
“Blight is a major issue in District 5, just like it is in other districts,” said Sheffield. “That’s why I’m totally involved in tackling blight. I interact with residents, community organizations and work with the district managers to make sure that the areas in District 5 that need attention are addressed. I’m very excited that Hardest Hit Funds were expanded and include more of District 5 to fight blight.”
Sheffield also said that crime in District 5 is of great concern.
“I feel very strongly that while we are eliminating blight, we must also strongly address crime in the district,” she said. “One of the things that I promised to do when I was elected was to work with residents, businesses and law enforcement agencies in communities to combat crime in the district and make a safer environment.”
In her efforts to fight crime, Sheffield recently convened a district-wide meeting at Central High School that attracted approximately 200 citizens concerned about crime. Based on her invitation, Detroit Police Chief James Craig was present and talked with district residents about what’s being done to fight crime and create safer environments for citizens. Joining the councilwoman and chief were representatives from the Detroit Fire Department, EMS, Threat Management, neighborhood police officers, Wayne County Sherriff, Michigan State Police and community organizations dedicated to safer neighborhoods.
Sheffield feels that despite crime and blight, there’s more good things happening in her district.
“I believe District 5 will be a major part of Detroit’s revitalization,” she said. “There are problems, but there are many more strengths. The major asset of District 5 is its proud people who are willing to stay and help build stronger and more stable neighborhoods and communities.”
Harris added, “We have a really good working relationship with Council member Sheffield. We meet every two weeks or so and tell her what we are doing in the district and she tells us what she is doing. Her staff is also out in the field talking and working with residents and organizations in order to improve the district, just like we are.”
Keenan said, “Our mandate from Mayor Duggan was clear from day one that we (all district and deputy managers) had to work closely with the council members of respective districts. The mayor said to make sure that we share all information in order for correct decisions to be made about the district.”
George Adams, president of the Euclid Block Club added. “We are concerned with blight, so we are cutting and maintaining grass, cleaning up and boarding up abandoned houses all the time. As far as crime is concerned, we have partnered with the NPO (Neighborhood Police Officers), which is working really well in terms of helping to reduce crime. I appreciate what the district managers and council member are doing to make this area better. I do see a stronger spirit of cooperation between the city and neighborhoods to make needed improvements in District 5.”