Making Detroit more liveable

Jan 31, 2011

Today's topic for What's Working - "What can help Detroit?"

Morning Edition host Christina Shockley spoke with Susan Mosey, the President of the University Cultural Center Association (UCCA) at Wayne State University.

The UCCA aims to guide development, encourage reinvestment, and celebrate the cultural assets of Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood.

Lately, Midtown has become a source of optimism for Detroit.

You can listen to the interview here:

Buildings with historic significance that were crumbling into disrepair a decade ago have been renovated and repurposed, bringing residential and small-scale commercial space to the area.

Swaths of vacant land are being eyed for development and construction has begun on a greenway, or pedestrian walking path, that will eventually connect Midtown to Downtown and the Detroit Riverfront.

For the last ten or fifteen years, Mosey says the UCCA has been focused on building up the stock of residential property in Midtown:

“Clearly Detroit needs to attract a lot more population and create denser neighborhoods,” she says, “So a lot of our work revolves around trying to work with developers, non-profits, and others in the neighborhood to continue just building out product here. And products of all types and income levels, so that we can attract everyone from the workforce employees over at the major hospitals, all the way up to young professionals and empty nesters who are looking to come back to an urban, city environment.”

In addition to developing various types of residential properties in Midtown, Mosey says the UCCA and its partners have been successful bringing small, locally owned businesses to the neighborhood.

The combination of residential and commercial property is vital to Midtown’s long-term success, says Mosey. “Those two things sort of have to work together in tandem if you really want to create a viable neighborhood for the people that are here today and the people that you want to come tomorrow,” she says.

Besides the new residential developments and businesses popping up in Midtown, the area has long been home to a number of stable institutions, including Wayne State University, a handful of hospitals, as well as the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

In addition, the area boasts a large number of buildings that are historically significant. Through the utilization of tax credits for historic preservation, many of these buildings help fund their own renovation and re-purposing. 

While these assets and attractions have provided solid foundations for economic development in the area, Mosey is quick to point out that other neighborhoods in Detroit have their own set of assets that should be seized upon:

“Some neighborhoods in Detroit have a waterfront, some have wonderful public parks, some have other kinds of institutions that are there, some just have historic architecture,” says Mosey, “So, I think every community really needs to look at what their own assets are to build on, and then to create a strategy that really takes advantage of those.”

By combining resources and assets from philanthropists, developers, and the institutions in the neighborhood, Mosey says the UCCA is working to make Midtown a friendlier neighborhood to visit and navigate.

As an example, Mosey points to the M1 Rail project that will see a light rail line constructed along Woodward Avenue from Downtown to Eight Mile, right through the heart of Midtown. She says, “We believe that’s one of the key cornerstone projects for the neighborhood along with all this new residential and small business development.”

Over the past few decades, Midtown has been busy recreating itself as a vibrant, livable neighborhood just minutes from Downtown Detroit.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done, and Mosey says there are a few things she is watching for to signal the true arrival of Midtown. She explains:

“When we see a lot of these vacant lots either repurposed or rebuilt on, when we see lots of people walking around the neighborhood, enjoying a lot of new infrastructure amenities that are being put in, when we see the institutions fully engaged, not only just in the employment areas but also in neighborhood planning efforts so that that all becomes one coordinated effort for the neighborhood, then I think we will have advanced a very long way.”