Successful neighborhood investment starts with listening
Detroit continues to justify its moniker as a Comeback City with new restaurants, brand-name retail, residential development and a new hockey arena.
Much of the initial revitalization has been concentrated in the urban core of Midtown and downtown, where people and businesses are concentrated, but it has taken more time for growth to reach the neighborhoods.
While JPMorgan Chase & Co. is investing significantly in those areas — along with investments in TechTown and in Eastern Market — the company also is investing in struggling neighborhoods. Chase invested more than $100 million in Detroit between 2014 and 2017 and now expects to reach $150 million by 2019.
“We’re very focused on developing a robust, small business community, like what’s developing here in the Live6 area,” said John Carter, Michigan Market Leader at JPMorgan Chase, which has been doing business in Detroit for more than 80 years.
Live6, the Livernois–McNichols (Six Mile) corridor in Northwest Detroit, once had thriving residential neighborhoods and shopping districts. But as the economy waned and population loss soared, stores shuttered and jobs disappeared.
Tosha Tabron, Vice President for Global Philanthropy with the firm, said JPMorgan Chase made investments based on conversations that occurred over long periods of time with multiple partners and stakeholders. Now, area businesses are opening and thriving, jobs are being created and homes rehabbed and developed.
Still, she recognized, more work and more conversations are needed.
Beyond the gate
“Part of creating a great community is having amenities — bars, restaurants, coffee shops — as well as everyday business services like dry cleaners, banks and pharmacies. But the commercial corridor is just one part of the strategy,” said Michael Forsyth, co-director of Live6 Alliance, a nonprofit working to activate vacant spaces and enhance public safety. “It really starts with the people and anything we can do to provide economic opportunities.”
It starts with dreamers like Jevona Watson.
By day, Watson works as an attorney. In whatever downtime she has, and with funding from Motor City Match, the northwest Detroit native is working to open Detroit Sip, a coffee shop on McNichols Road just west of Livernois.
Watson envisions Detroit Sip as a place where students at nearby colleges can study or hang out.
“University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College students could live here for four years and never really venture outside of the gate,” she said.
The gate around Detroit Mercy has been a source of contention for area residents since it was built in the early 1980s. For some, it implied the university was closing itself off from the surrounding community. Will Wittig, dean of the School of Architecture at Detroit Mercy, acknowledged the community and “many” on campus hate the fence, though some parents view it as necessary.
Nevertheless, Wittig said, the university wants its students to be active in the neighborhood.
“We want, eventually, that there is no boundary, there is no edge between the university as an island and the neighborhood as its surrounding context,” he added. “Our dream is to be a true urban university — to be integrated into a thriving neighborhood.”
In 1994, Detroit Mercy founded the Detroit Collaborative Design Center to “create sustainable spaces and communities.” Its neighborhood revitalization strategies beautify vacant spaces, turn auto-centric streets into walkable spaces with bike lanes, and create common areas such as Lollo Park on Puritan Avenue in the Live6 corridor and The Alley Project on Detroit’s Southwest side.
Although Marygrove College recently announced plans to discontinue its undergraduate program, it will continue its graduate teaching program and, administrators hope, also boost interaction with the community.
“It is my dream … to have the vibrant population of people on campus that were there when I was a student at Marygrove (in the 1970s),” said Marygrove President Beth Burns. She pointed to the Charles McGee sculpture gifted last year to the Community Commons, a placemaking space created to unite the community.
Leveraging partnerships is essential, said Michael Smith.
The director of strategic neighborhoods for Invest Detroit said his organization partners with stakeholders involved with community leaders who can guide them to the opportunities and around inevitable obstacles. Invest Detroit is working with JPMorgan Chase and Detroit-based commercial real estate developer The Platform on commercial and residential investment.
The hope is that success in these neighborhoods leads to them being models for future neighborhood development and encourages future investment.
“Unless this work produces results that are sustainable, it won’t be replicable,” said The Platform founder Peter Cummings, known for his development of Orchestra Place in Midtown and for his recent purchase of the Fisher Building in New Center.
Cummings said he sees Detroit as “the great urban lab of America.” One test is in redeveloping the large Fitzgerald neighborhood — bounded by Livernois Avenue and Wyoming Street and Fenkell Avenue and West McNichols Road — which requires rehabbing more than 100 homes and 230 vacant lots in the 10 blocks between Detroit Mercy and Marygrove. Cummings said once residents see money being successfully invested in their neighborhoods, they’re going to want to invest in their own homes.
“We need to work with people like Tosha and John (at JPMorgan Chase) to figure out how we can come up with an affordable, sort of small loan program to help those people, who I think are the real heroes in the city of Detroit. Those people who have hung on and who’ve made their payments and who’ve kept the fabric of community alive.”
Many residents in the Live6 corridor cannot afford to attend Marygrove or Detroit Mercy, both private schools, said resident Raymond Ware.
Ware, who turned his barbershop into Metro Detroit Barber College in 2009, said the area needs more trade and vocational schools to give residents education options.
Detroiters also could use education on how to assess, invest in and develop their own neighborhoods, said Chase Cantrell, founder of Building Community Value, which works with community leaders, entrepreneurs and investors to re-imagine and rehabilitate communities.
“We use the term placemaking, … being able to give people the vision and the understanding that they have power to actually determine their own futures, determine how their communities can look,” Cantrell said. He said community educators would be able to direct people to the resources they need to get through the process.
Cantrell and Smith also agreed it’s important that developers and investors ask residents what they actually want and what role they want to play in the redevelopment of their neighborhoods.
“It starts with listening. When you ask any member of the community — it doesn’t matter if they’re 3 years old or 98 — ‘What’s your dream for the community?’ people have an answer,” Smith said. “It could be education. It could be opening a small business.
“So the goal is to ask and then the goal is to plug them in and connect them to the resources. Build that bridge.”
This story was originally published by Crain Content Studio for JPMorgan Chase & Co.