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The neighborhood's role in Detroit's revitalization

Feb 26, 2015

Credit Paige Pfleger / Michigan Radio

What's the future of Detroit's neighborhoods?

That was a question discussed by a panel at the 2015 Detroit Policy Conference

The panel included former city councilman Ken Cockrel, TechTown Detroit's Bonnie Fahoome, Victoria Kovari from the city's Department of Neighborhoods, and Tahirih Ziegler from the Detroit Local Initiatives Support Corp

Craig Fahle from the Detroit Land Bank Authority moderated. 

An audience member asked the panelists if Detroit needs fewer neighborhoods to improve the city as a whole. 

"Neighborhoods don't disappear," Victoria Kovari said. "They change." 

Citing the neighborhood of Delray and the bridge project as an example, Kovari explained that the Department of Neighborhoods is trying to help residents and neighborhood groups navigate the changes they are facing. 

The panel then discussed the biggest barrier to turning around neighborhoods, including resources, lack of organization, few customers for small businesses, and few job opportunities. Neighborhoods that are succeeding in the city have overcome some of those barriers by place-making, TechTown's Fahoome explained. 

"I've lived through a lot of comebacks that weren't," Cockrel said, "but this feels real."

The successes of neighborhoods like Southwest Detroit revolve around building bonds with neighbors and generating a sense of pride and a sense of identity in your area. One way to do this is to give entrepreneurial opportunities to youth. Fahoome said it's important to "motivate young people to get interested in how they can start to see a path for themselves." 

Ken Cockrel urged that in order for transformation to take place, it can't be done in a top-down fashion. It has to go both ways. "Residents have a say in determining the future of their neighborhoods," he said. The former city councilman described Mayor Duggan's approach to the city as "unique" and "refreshing," explaining that the coordination under Duggan helps different entities leverage their resources for the greater good of the city. 

Regardless of the panelists' differing ideas on what success in the neighborhoods can look like, they all agree that they're very confident neighborhoods will turn around. 

"I've lived through a lot of comebacks that weren't," Cockrel said, "but this feels real." 

You can watch clips from the 2015 conference here

--Paige Pfleger, Michigan Radio Newsroom