Connecting Detroit Neighborhoods With Better Streets and Public Spaces

This intersection redesign would incorporate bump-out parking, bike lanes, crosswalk, landscape improvements, and sidewalk bordering techniques to make it more comfortable for pedestrians. Image: Economics of Place
This intersection redesign calls for sidewalk extensions, bike lanes, high-visibility crosswalks, and landscape improvements to make it safer and more comfortable. Image: Economics of Place

Can safer streets and livelier public spaces help knit Detroit back together?

The Michigan Municipal League thinks so, and it is working hard to show southeast Michigan how. Recently the organization teamed up with some partners to address a problem area in southwest Detroit, or Mexicantown.

Sarah Craft at the Economics of Place blog explains:

Vernor is Southwest Detroit’s main street and is populated with densely packed storefronts, restaurants, and independent businesses. Due to Southwest Detroit’s proximity to Canada and the international bridge crossing, the area unfortunately has quite a bit of industrial land use and suffers from a high volume of truck traffic.

Vernor’s vibrant commercial district is divided by about a half mile “gap,” created by complicated intersections, a former industrial complex, wide one-way roads, a viaduct, and an unnatural bend in the road. In an effort to better connect the east and west sides of Vernor, the League partnered with Southwest Detroit Business Association (SDBA) and Archive DS to collect resident ideas, concerns, and desires to reduce the gap and better connect the community.

These proposed changes to a bridge are meant to help restore a gap in the city's fabric. Image: Michigan Municipal League
Improving this desolate crossing for pedestrians and cyclists could restore a gap in the city’s fabric. Image: Michigan Municipal League

Here are some of the ideas that surfaced:

Over the three-day process, ArchiveDS designers worked long hours in SDBA’s storefront office to get to know the community, collect ideas from residents, and create stages of potential improvements. Because development is often a slow, expensive process, ArchiveDS developed a number of solutions to more immediately improve the area, with long-term recommendations to look forward to when financing and leadership allow.

For example, Southwest Detroit has many independently operated taco trucks, ice cream vendors, and small, independent businesses. Currently these vendors are scattered across empty lots and sidewalks throughout the district.

To capitalize on this aspect of the community, ArchiveDS recommends building small sitting areas in underused parking lots for food trucks to park and sell on a regular basis. The endeavor doesn’t have to be highly organized, as it is at Mark’s Carts in Ann Arbor, but can be a simple space for residents to gather, have a meal, and enjoy the outdoors.

Larger, more long-term changes will certainly benefit the gap and ArchiveDS pulled in elements of the community into the recommended changes. As seen above, the viaduct between Livernois and Dix is a harsh divide of the east and west sides of Vernor. The team recommends incorporating local art, a clearly defined pedestrian/bicycle area, and creative lighting to make the space more comfortable and welcoming.

The League says it will help pull together funding to make the proposal happen. If it all comes together, it will be exciting to see how these changes affect the neighborhood.

Elsewhere on the Network today: BikeSD describes how San Diego’s regional planning efforts have eroded public trust over the years. Plan Philly shares some eye-popping visuals showing how a little paint can transform a drab parking lot. And Urban Cincy posts an analysis of how the region overspends on driving infrastructure.

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