If you want insight on the complexity and concerns many Detroiters have about neighborhood developments, then listen to feedback on the City’s effort to shape future growth in the North End.
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This week, the City began to hold public meetings for its upcoming planning study in the neighborhood, just north of New Center and east of Woodward Avenue. The study is intended to be a guide that will help determine, among other things, future land use, the kinds of developments that should be allowed, cultural and historic preservation, and road improvements. The effort could take up to two years.
The North End has seen constant change for more than a decade, from seeing hundreds of homes vanish due to tax foreclosures and demolitions, and, more recently, a surge of outside real estate investments and an influx of new residents. During a Monday night Zoom meeting, many residents expressed wariness about whether the City’s planning study may be too late to stop unwanted development.
“What’s the purpose of this study?” said Electra Fulbright, one of the founders of the Historic North End Alliance, a group that includes the neighborhood’s many block clubs. She and at least five other residents who spoke Monday want the study to result in residents influencing future development. “If that is not what we are doing, then as many others have just said, this is a waste of our time. We need to … ensure the things the residents are asking for are things that will happen in the North End.”
City Planner Calvin Johnson addressed the concerns of various residents and said the study could serve as a “guide” for developers about residents’ concerns.
“The purpose is that we are going to deal with more than just development in the area. Developers do have rights. We don’t want developers to come in and railroad the residents. Does that always work out? Absolutely not.” Johnson said.
The neighborhood has long been a proud Black community. Oakland Avenue was once a hub for jazz clubs and Black musicians. It now has many empty lots, but there is also much innovation, including the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, which is among the community farms supporting the effort to build a Detroit Food Co-op in the North End on Woodward Avenue. There’s also the American Riad project, an international real estate plan with a new ownership model, Islamic-inspired architecture and a goal of thwarting gentrification.
The subprime mortgage crisis resulted in a massive loss of homes. The largest land owner, by far, according to the property database ReGrid, is the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which controls property lost through tax foreclosure. Several residents during the Monday meeting expressed frustration that the City has allowed developers to gain access to Land Bank properties while denying residents the chance to buy them.
The North End has fewer Black residents compared to last decade, according to the 2020 Census. Black people make up 77% of the population compared to 88% last decade. White people now make up about 14% of the population, and 4% of residents identified as multiracial, 3% as Latinx and 2% as Asian, according to census tract data.
Home values grew by more than 15 percent in the past year, one of the highest rates of growth in the city, based on 2020 property tax assessments. Recent sales of homes ranged from $292,000 to $375,000, according to MoveInMichigan.com. But rising property values are accompanied by growing concerns of gentrification. North End artist Bryce Detroit created Hood Closed to Gentrifiers, a campaign to address what an onslaught of investment means for a majority Black community.
Shirley Davis of the North End Neighbors community group, told BridgeDetroit for a previous story that many residents have the same concern. “Much of the investment, the fixed-up houses, it’s changing the nature of the neighborhood,” Davis said. “Yet, a lot of longtime residents, we still can’t get loans to fix up our homes. And when it comes to getting more affordable housing, those kinds of developments move slow.”
The North End planning area is bounded by East Grand Boulevard to the south, the City of Highland Park to the north, I-75 and the City of Hamtramck to the east, and Woodward Avenue to the west. The City has budgeted $400,000 to hire two consultant teams; one to lead community engagement and the other focus on technical. The City hopes to have selected the contractors and begin work in January.
On Tuesday, there is another presentation and public meeting that begins at 5:30 p.m. North End groups can request City officials to hold an informational meeting. City Council must approve the contractor who will carry out the study. To keep tabs, go to this City site.
Sign up for the City of Detroit’s North End planning project email list.