Towards Self-Driving Neighborhoods in Detroit

A recent New York Times article outlines the unique difficulties present in jumpstarting Detroit’s stalled housing market. The article highlights the big question of where, in a sprawling city full of need, to target limited resources to help catalyze revitalization. The efforts of Detroit Land Bank Authority’s Rehabbed & Ready program to revive vacant houses for sale and major banks’ tentative steps to increase mortgage lending have been criticized for focusing on limited areas.

Goody Clancy, led by Director of Urban Design Ben Carlson, has confronted the same challenge in our work for the city on a framework plan for neighborhoods along West Vernor Highway in Detroit’s southwest area—including Springwells Village, Mexicantown, and Hubbard Farms. One of several plans now under way as part of a renewed city commitment to neighborhood planning and stewardship, the West Vernor Neighborhood Framework focuses on an area that has remained remarkably occupied and resilient in face of the depopulation affecting most of Detroit’s neighborhoods. Active community organizations, an advantageous location close to jobs and transportation, and a mostly-solid foundation of walkable streets and blocks near neighborhood services have helped West Vernor maintain twice the residential density of the city as a whole.

Goody Clancy’s planning approach targets not only a relatively strong neighborhood, but the strongest geographies within that neighborhood—where clusters of increased property value, city parks, and neighborhood services are present and already attracting spontaneous investment. The idea is that adding multifamily housing (filling a need unmet by existing housing stock), safer pedestrian infrastructure, and enhanced public spaces—all priorities voiced by residents—will help the areas that are already strongest achieve a sustainable real estate economy, a goal that is in sight. These centers of value will then endure as places of strength that attract more people and reinvestment in broadening circles around them. While spreading investment more widely may promise to help more people faster, we have seen such efforts fail in other communities as dispersed investments are devalued by continued vacancy and other challenges around them. We instead look to small, strategic, intensive clusters—just a few blocks and streets at a time—as the engines that can best help Detroit neighborhoods go further, faster.

Read the New York Times article here: