by John Van Camp
As Detroit experiences an upsurge in development, there is an increasing concern about how to make this development as equitable as possible, so that residents not only share in the growth, but also have a real say in decisions that impact where they live and their quality of life.
Equitable development is a strategic and inclusive approach that allows and encourages community members, regardless of their income, to participate in and benefit from the economic development in their community. Without sufficient emphasis on equitable development, the disturbing divide between the “two Detroits,” one on the rise and the other falling behind, will continue to widen.
The concept of equitable development is at the heart of the Vista Partnership, a resident-centered community development initiative focused on a 20-block area in Mexicantown in southwest Detroit. The Vista Partnership is an alliance of residents, organizations, resource partners, public sector partners and businesses. It began two years ago through a grant from The Skillman Foundation.
Recently, two major articles were published about the impact and aspirations of the Vista Partnership. One, in the Detroit Hub, traces how Vista has engaged residents through a comprehensive survey of neighborhood needs and issues, and through workgroups, well-attended community meetings, lot activation projects, and more. The other article, in Crain’s Detroit, looks at Vista’s success in renovating the former St. Anthony Church and repurposing it for community use, and at the overall development momentum in the area, as well as the challenges of remaining vacant buildings and ongoing real-estate speculation that inhibits progress.
The real-estate market in this part of southwest Detroit has certainly changed from a dozen years ago. At that time, only 42% of the commercial and residential buildings on West Vernor Avenue between West Grand Boulevard and I-75 were occupied. Now, 85% of these buildings in this stretch are occupied. Southwest Solutions played a significant role in this resurgence through its efforts to revitalize and provide quality retail space.
Our overall portfolio contains 120,000 square feet of commercial space, which is leased to 35 different businesses and organizations. One of the goals of the Vista Partnership is to help accelerate commercial development in the Vista target area in a way that is conducive to small businesses and the needs and interests of residents.
Undoubtedly, the momentum of private investment will continue to push the real-estate market in this part of southwest Detroit. The challenge is to secure a place for equitable development in this market, too. The two kinds of development can and should co-exist and be responsibly balanced so that the benefits of development can accrue to residents and the community at large.
We believe that the Vista Partnership is not only important for the area in which it is engaged, but also that this resident-centered community development model has implications for many other neighborhoods in the city striving to ensure that resident participation and voice are truly valued.
While Southwest Solutions serves all of Detroit and its neighborhoods, our roots are in southwest Detroit. We hope that the Vista Partnership and its lessons learned can be adapted to other neighborhoods, promoting equitable investment with more opportunities for Detroiters.
– John Van Camp is president and CEO of Southwest Solutions