New ordinance could allow Detroiters to change their neighborhood’s name

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Indian Village on Detroit’s east side has been on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 1972. (photo by Jessica J. Trevino, Detroit Free Press)

Detroit residents may soon get a chance to rename their neighborhood if an ordinance is approved by city council. 

Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield is sponsoring legislation for a Neighborhood Renaming Ordinance that, if passed, will allow Detroiters to submit an application to give their neighborhood an official moniker or rename an existing one. 

“In the midst of the revitalization that is happening in our city and as neighborhoods begin to redevelop, there’s going to be a desire to want to change names,” Sheffield told the Free Press Thursday. “But it’s important that council has a voice and it’s important the neighborhood is also engaged in the process, too.” 

Across the country, statues have been taken down, sports teams have changed their names and buildings are getting new titles. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over the summer stripped the name of slave owner Lewis Cass from a state office building to the Elliott-Larsen Building. 

“In light of what’s really going on nationally, we’re seeing a lot of monuments being taken down and people wanting to research on what names really stand for,” Sheffield said. 

A draft ordinance is under consideration by the city council’s Neighborhood and Community Services Standing Committee. Next, a public hearing will take place and residents can suggest changes to the ordinance. After that, it will be up to city council to approve. Sheffield said the goal is to have it pass before city council recesses in November. 

One contender for renaming is Indian Village.

Resident Jared Ten Brink, who wrote a letter in July calling for a name change of his neighborhood, said the ordinance is a positive development and one around which he and about a dozen other residents are mobilizing.

They started a petition this week for the application and have collected 30 signatures as of Thursday. Their goal is to get 50% or roughly 375 people to sign on. Since the application asks for a 20% percent buy-in, Brink said they would settle for about 150 but they want a majority to be on board. 

In his letter, Brink, 41, of the Nottawasseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi said the name is historically inaccurate because there is no record of a Native American settlement on that site.

Historic Indian Village on Detroit’s east side. This Historic District is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 1972 and has many architecturally- significant homes built in the early 20th century. (photo by Jessica J. Trevino/Detroit Free Press)

“If Land O’Lakes Butter can remove the American Indian woman off of their packaging, we can remove American Indian references off of our neighborhood name because the name wasn’t chosen to uplift or empower people, it was chosen to sell houses,” Brink said. 

An Aug. 3 neighborhood association meeting didn’t lead to a resolution, Brink said. But it did lead to their newsletter being renamed to “The Indian Village Newsletter” instead of “Smoke Signals.”

There are some neighbors who disagree with the name change. But Brink said the ordinance, which proposes a formal process, may help. 

“I think we can create a new identity and we can create a new neighborhood perception together. But it is still a big shock for people,” he said. “That’s one of the big things … that can come out of something like this. It’ll really empower communities to decide how they want to identify.” 

Though they have a few dozen signatures to date, Indian Village residents may be calling their neighborhood “The Village.” 

Still, some Detroit residents don’t want to change their neighborhood name. 

The idea for the ordinance came after some Virginia Park residents expressed concern when the city proposed possible name changes for their community, Sheffield said.

Some ideas included “Henry Ford Neighborhood” or “Herman Kiefer Neighborhood,” Julian Witherspoon, president of the Virginia Park Citizen District Council, said. 

“We are adamant about being known as the Virginia Park neighborhood. …We have a history of accomplishments,” Witherspoon, 63, said. 

Witherspoon said the ordinance may give Detroit residents “a voice at the table” to express opinions and concerns. 

Under Detroit city code, parks can be renamed. Sheffield said her ordinance is another formal process to now change the name of neighborhoods. 

If approved, Detroiters can start submitting applications between June 1 and July 1. The person who submits the paperwork must be 18 or older. 

The proposed name — either an individual or an entity — should come with an application package including signatures of 20% of the residents who live in the neighborhood; the historical, cultural or social significance of the new name; a map or photographs of the area; a summary of public outreach with neighborhood, business and commercial property owners associations. 

The Department of Neighborhoods would receive and review the application — like checking for duplicates or inappropriate suggestions — which would then be forwarded to city council for approval. There would also be a public hearing prior to the potential name change. 

“I think there’s going to be a lot of different forthcoming possible proposals that we haven’t seen yet,” Sheffield said. “But we want to have an effective process in place to make sure it happens with transparency and with community at the table.” 

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