A desolate stretch of McNichols being targeted for an upgrade. Much more planned throughout the city.

For some time now, Mayor Mike Duggan has been enduring a steady stream of criticism related to the obvious yawning gap between the rapid-fire development taking place in and around downtown versus the comparatively slow and nowhere near as visible revitalization of the neighborhoods where the overwhelming majority of Detroit’s struggling black population actually lives. Some questioned – legitimately – whether there was any way it could be said that the city was demonstrating the same level of commitment to the (black) neighborhoods as it was lavishing upon the (white) downtown.

I was definitely among those critics. But now might be the time for all of us critics to take another look. The saying goes that only a fool never changes his mind, and there is considerable merit in that saying. And the $125 million neighborhood revitalization proposal released last week by Mayor Duggan to strengthen the business corridors in those neighborhoods should be reason enough for just about any fair-minded critic to consider the fact that just maybe the man’s commitment to neighborhoods is for real. Granted, yes, it is most certainly an election year. And also, yes, it’s not unfair to question why the neighborhoods seemingly had to wait so long. Nor is it paranoia not to trust the Kool Aid sold by those who insist that downtown always has to come first, and that everything else will trickle down from there.

But $125 million is one hell of a big trickle. And there does have to come a time when you say, ‘OK. So maybe you actually meant what you said.’

Let’s take a look at the sequence of events:

In April came the rollout of the plan for the revitalization of the Fitzgerald neighborhood on the city’s northwest side near Livernois and McNichols. During an afternoon press conference on a vacant lot, Duggan announced the $4 million investment, which is designed to turn the community around within two years. The struggling square quarter-mile area currently is defined by 131 vacant homes, 242 vacant lots, and more than 600 very determined families who never left.

In July came the announcement that the city had been awarded a $2 million Wilson Foundation grant for the design and pre-construction of the Inner Circle Greenway, a 26-mile recreational pathway running through a number of Detroit’s neighborhoods.

“A non-motorized pathway, the Inner Circle Greenway connects the city’s neighborhoods and residents to Detroit assets like parks, commercial corridors, the riverfront and downtown. The Greenway makes use of existing paths like the Detroit RiverWalk and Dequindre Cut, will upgrade existing bike lanes like those on the Southwest Detroit Greenlink and build new on and off-road infrastructure to complete the 26-mile loop. With the funding from the Wilson Foundation, the uncompleted areas of the greenway project can move into the design and pre-construction phases,” said a press release issued by the City.

And then in September came Detroit Design 139, an exhibit featured at 1001 Woodward through the end of that month highlighting 38 development projects either planned or already underway around the city of Detroit – not just downtown. Design 139 “offers a window view into what Detroit’s neighborhoods will become over the next decade or so. This is not just a dream or a vague concept; this is a map of plans that are either already underway or that at the very least have starting dates attached for 38 planned neighborhood transformations,” is what I wrote at the time.

And now this.

“By making the business districts more attractive and pedestrian friendly, the city aims to recapture some of the estimated $2.6 billion in spending Detroit residents do annually in surrounding communities, according to a study soon to be released by the Detroit Economic Development Corporation (DEGC).

“To address this, the Mayor said he will submit his proposal to Detroit City Council in the next two weeks and request its approval for the sale of $125 million in bonds to fund improvements to the city’s commercial corridors.  Approximately $80 million of the bond revenue would fund major infrastructure improvements along the city’s key commercial corridors, such as Livernois-McNichols, West Vernor and East Warren. The other $45 million will complement existing road funds to improve 300 miles of city roads and replace hundreds of thousands of broken sections of sidewalk across the city. Corridor improvements would include landscaping and reconfiguring traffic lanes to add bike lanes, improved street parking and in some cases wider sidewalks to allow for outdoor café seating.

“In addition to the $125 million in projects funded by the bond funds, the city also plans to spend another $193 million of budgeted city, state and federal dollars (for a total investment of $317 million over the next five years) to improve a total of 300 miles or major roads and residential streets across the city and replace 300,000 broken sidewalk sections.   This means 75% of the total funding will go toward traditional road and sidewalk improvements, while 25% will toward corridor enhancements.

Together, 23 neighborhoods across the city will see their commercial corridors improved. Corridor improvements will be done in conjunction with on-going neighborhood planning projects that aim to create framework strategies to boost neighborhood and economic development. The work will impact 17 areas throughout the city, including:

  • Southwest/West Vernor Corridor
  • Islandview/Greater Villages
  • Grand River/Northwest
  • Livernois & McNichols
  • Rosa Parks/Clairmount
  • Banglatown
  • Russell Woods
  • Jefferson Chalmers
  • Delray
  • Eastern Market
  • Osborn
  • East English Village
  • Corktown
  • Brush Park
  • East Riverfront
  • I-94 Industrial Corridor
  • Warrendale & Cody Rouge

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