Detroit's far southwest highlights difficulties of reworking the city
Published: December 29, 2010
For example, the Michigan Department of Transportation has invested nearly $127 million since 2002 in projects on Interstate 75 and Fort Street located at least partially in the 48217 ZIP code, says spokesman Rob Morosi. Another $42 million project — the replacement of the Fort Street lift bridge over the Rouge River — is slated for 2013 or 2014.
Some projects are more clearly aimed at local residents. The Detroit Water and Sewage Department recently spent roughly $169 million on the Oakwood Basin & Pump Station on the Rouge River, and is in the midst of a $59 million sewer improvement project for the neighborhood that will help prevent flooded basements
Other investments suggest a future industrialization of the area. Marathon Oil is in the midst of a $2.2 billion improvement and expansion.
These ongoing and planned investments highlight one of the difficulties of the Detroit Works Project: How will the Bing administration use such measures to determine an area's future in the plan?
Whatever the outcome, Joe Rashid, a community organizer with the Southwest Solutions nonprofit group is watching. "It's an area that fascinates me," he says. "It's hard because I see a thriving community down there. ... They're strong, they're organized," he says. "But then you see how many people are getting sick and how bad the asthma rates are. It is almost like, could those people be repopulated into another area?"
Kim Sommerville and Jackie Vandergrift don't want to move. Both were born and raised in the area that used to be filled with factory workers and tradespeople who earned enough money to maintain their modest homes and send their children to college. Sommerville and Vandergrift, now middle-aged, have returned to the 48217 after living in other states.
They like the strong housing stock parts of the area have, and they value the "friendliness" of the people. But they don't like that they need to leave the ZIP code to shop, dine or find recreation for their children. And they wouldn't mind if Detroit outsourced police, fire, trash collection or other services to neighboring suburbs.
"We want to make the value of 48217 go up," says Sommerville, a para-educator at Mark Twain Academy, a Detroit Public Schools elementary facility. Kurt Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, says keeping residents in an area with some of the 48217's characteristics is paramount to the city's survival.
"I think the immediate thing is to get your best neighborhoods stabilized and to make sure you don't lose any more people," Metzger says. "You've got to hold on to the educated middle class you have, small as it is, but you can't afford to lose any more."
But he admits, that can't be done in all areas of the city because the resources just aren't there. "You've got to triage. You've got to prioritize," Metzger says.
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