By Rasha Almulaiki
Fifty-five years after the ’67 Detroit Rebellion sparked at a police raid on a bling pig on 12th Street (now Rosa Parks) and Clairmont, the city and community investors are reviving the commercial district that remain abandoned after the uprising left many Black owned businesses burned to the ground.
The Boston Edison and Atkinson Business District is one of several cross-departmental efforts of infrastructure developments across the city to cultivate prosperity across housing and industry sectors.
“After years of disinvestment. It’s starting at the basics,” said Keven Schronce, Head of the central region (District 5 and 6) for the Planning & Development Department.
“We will have sidewalk improvements, ADA accessible walkways, bike lanes, supporting multiple modes of transit (motorized and non-motorized. There will also be elements of site furnishings, murals that reflect the history of the area. Really reactive the area and stay true to what has come before for the residents. The city can only do so much, businesses and developers with residents need to play a part hand in hand.”
The business district will stretch through Rosa Parks Boulevard from Atkinson St. to West Grand Boulevard. One of the first steps the city’s Public Works Department is a nearly $9 million initiative called Clairmont Street/Rosa Parks Streetscape Project.
Over the last 10 years, private investment in rehabbing dilapidated housing has reinvigorated the neighborhood scape and drummed up interest more residents moving in, particularly on Atkinson St.
“Before the riots took place and learning what came after,” said Ishma Best, managing broker at PREP Realty. “We forget that Rosa Parks Boulevard (nee 12th Street) used to be a strip of commercial stores and now its just empty, vacant lots. All of the excitement for the neighborhood now, it just really has me thinking that perhaps it can be what it was in Detroit at the time.”
Since 2018, Best worked in rehabbing homes on Atkinson Street and lives in the community. This year, he worked alongside neighbors to revive the Boston Edison Association for neighbors to convene “in an organized matter for folks to express how they feel and live.”
AO Belachaikovsky resident and member of the neighborhood association. She spoke to The Michigan Chronicle about what community-need based developments residents would like to see.
“I want to walk everywhere,” said Belachaikovsky. “There are a lot of people in the neighborhood, and even though it’s the Motor City, they don’t have vehicles. I know from personal experience that the previous design of the commercial area was very pedestrian unfriendly, it wasn’t event car friendly. My hope is that any new construction and redevelopment really takes into consideration people who have money and people who don’t. Unfortunately, if all of the new business is aimed at people who have a lot of funds, it’s missing out on the commercial opportunity of long-time residents who have a personal stake in thriving the district.”
Other things the neighborhood association have considered include access to affordable child care center, grocery stores with fresh produce, and housing that accommodates multi-family units and adequate parking availability to adapt to the development’s projected increase in traffic.
Century Partners is a Detroit-based investment and real estate development company geared toward building sustainable, community-centered development.
“We’re in a really unique period where for the first time ever, Black neighborhoods are economically desirable,” said David Alade, co-founder and CEO of Century Partners.
Starting in 2015, the real estate firm has purchased and rehabilitated 25 units of housing on Atkinson st, between the Lodge freeway and Linwood St.
“If you look at Atkinson (street), the vacancy has decreased since we’ve been here in 2014 and 2015. The neighborhood is more diverse, property values have increased. To me, gentrification and neighborhood appreciation comes down to who really gets the positive benefits with development? Can we use economic appreciation to actually help Black folks who never gave up on our city? Who had the opportunity to leave but never did…how do we get them to economically benefit from a generational perspective?”
Through initiatives like the Strategic Neighborhood Fund, the city is incrementally building a framework of need-based neighborhoods throughout the corridor of Virginia Park, Boston Edison, and Atkinson St. By identifying infrastructure barriers, city officials hope to encourage a business community to flourish as a return to Black-owned business district that existed over 50 years ago.
“I always like to remind people Detroit has been in decline since the 1950s,” said Dan Austin, Director of communications, Detroit’s Planning Department, Housing & Development. “You can’t revert things in a span of 7 or 10 years. Projects like the street scape and strategic neighborhood fund are making a big difference.
While there might be some people who disagree, we are making sure it’s done through a lens of ensuring affordable housing and opportunities for small business owners, particularly of color, have an early entry to have a say in the future of this city.”