Thriving Streets: Southwest & Midtown (or Cass Corridor--what do you call it?)
(top: Ice Cream vendor, Hubbard Street, Southwest Detroit; bottom: Goodwells Market, Cass & Willis, Midtown/Cass Corridor)
Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend time with Juan Martinez, principal of Ceaser Chavez Academy on Waterman Street in southwest Detroit. Juan had grown up in the neighborhood, and we got to talking about his favorite spots from childhood, and how many of them are still around--Duly's Coney Island on West Vernor and the Holy Redeemer Church on Junction-- and what makes a great neighborhood. He noted this past Sunday's feature John Gallagher's Midtown (and southwest) article in The Detroit Free Press which I'd highly recommend (along with John Gallagher's book, ReImagining Detroit )
Among the topics that come up in these discussions are themes of new use--urban agriculture, artists' work space--and along with those questions about displacement of existing communities and the interplay between neighborhood history and urban flux. The ability to use seemingly undervalued and/or seemingly vacant land is inextricably linked to power and along with that questions about race and class. At our panel on 11/6 Ron Scott spoke of living in the Woodbridge neighborhood in the 1970's, and, from the audience, Cedric Tai inquired about the pressure and attention around Midtown as the epicenter of attention, both corporate and commercial. It was pointed out that a parallel critical mass of creative activities was present decades ago on these same streets. Those streets were known then (as now by many Detroiters) as The Cass Corridor --through the 1980's the center of much of Detroit's counter)cultural life and that this renaming/re-branding of the same land mass as Midtown is in part a real estate effort.
Contiguous memory and ties to an urban fabric are what Juan Martinez shared with me. That the health and strength of a neighborhood is in part based on variety, business, civic and religious institutions, neighbors and casual associations. When those ties are broken, through social change, economic instability and wholesale change, the community shifts. It is through a careful attention to balance--of memory, of stewardship--that make great neighborhoods and streets. After speaking with Juan, reading John's article, I thought of Jane Jacobs--both her attention to her New York City neighborhood and later in Toronto. Let us all be great neighbors to one another, and stewards of great complex social streets that are attentive to both continuity and change--with mutual respect and appreciation.