A present-day alley in Artist Village in Detroit, left, before the ARPA-funded Arts Alleys project. A colorful example of what an alley in Detroit may look like, right, after Arts Alleys’ activation.
Detroit’s hidden gems are right in plain sight. Alleys that crisscross through neighborhoods, parking lots and pathways are at the epicenter of some redevelopments through federal funding, which will renovate five neighborhoods across the city. This two-part series delves into the project that will impact hundreds of thousands of residents and denizens who will benefit from this transformation. This is part one.
A city is only as strong as its neighborhoods, businesses and its people. The City of Detroit recognizes this notion as Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit ACE, the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship, recently announced major plans to activate neighborhood Arts Alleys around the city.
Funded by $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars with support from the Ford Foundation, the project will radically transform commercial and residential alleys in five neighborhoods across the city and turn them into local gathering spaces where residents can showcase art and so much more.
The project is a big component of Duggan’s Blight to Beauty initiative.
The City of Detroit’s blight remediation team oversees the execution of Duggan’s Blight to Beauty strategy, which uses enforcement, remediation and maintenance strategies to promote standards and improve the look of properties throughout the city.
Transformations of this project will include infrastructure improvements for alleys making them renewed and able to be used again.
The project, called the Arts Alley Initiative, was approved by Detroit City Council. The project is being conducted first as a pilot for possible future neighborhood alley activations by residents in neighborhoods throughout the city, according to a press release.
The Arts Alleys project will build on work already being done by community groups and neighborhood associations that have activated alleys in their neighborhoods with art and creativity. It also builds on the work being done by the city to clear brush and trash from thousands of alleys across the city. Over the past two years, alleys behind nearly 2,000 residential blocks have been cleared and reclaimed.
“Alleys in our city for years have been havens for illegal dumping and overgrowth and we’re steadily changing that,” said Duggan. “Activating neighborhood alleys in this creative way is going to help turn them into real community assets and attractions.”
The Detroit Arts, Culture, & Entrepreneurship Office will execute community engagement throughout key areas in the city. The five pilot Arts Alleys will be in the Jefferson Chalmers, Old Redford, Schulze, NW Goldberg and Springwells neighborhoods.
ACE will collaborate with residents in these areas, their neighbors and other stakeholders through the summer and fall to develop designs to overhaul an alley in each neighborhood. These transformations will bring new landscaping, improved surfacing and amenities while partnering together with local artists and residents to imbue these improvements with a sense of history, beauty and imagination.
Sidewalk Detroit, a Detroit-based, Black-owned company, is currently working with the city to conduct the community engagement phase of the design process. After the design process for each alley is completed this Fall, ACE will issue an RFP for general contractors in early 2023, with improvements to begin later in the year.
The City’s Arts & Culture Director Rochelle Riley said that beautified alleys will add to residents’ quality of life.
“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us the importance of safe, accessible green spaces in our neighborhoods,” said Riley. “We want to help communities create their own spaces for activities and enjoyment.”
The objectives of this project are to spur neighborhood development and revitalization, mitigate localized flooding through low-cost stormwater management strategies, create opportunities for the creative workforce and highlight neighborhood creativity. These spaces will become hubs for small business activations, events and sources of pride for residents in each community.
John George, president at Motor City Blight Busters Inc., told the Michigan Chronicle that his organization, which creates safe, inhabitable spaces in Detroit, is more than thrilled to be a pilot neighborhood in the Artists Village community center (at 17336 Lahser Road in Detroit), and benefit from the project.
“We met with architects, business owners, the community – everybody wants us to continue and expand, not only with restoration and beautification of the alley but with Blighter Busters and … they want us to run projects and programs,” George said of various local events. “There is going to be some significant improvements. … Our goal at Blight Busters is to save the world starting with Detroit. Anything that anyone can do to help us to that end excites me. We believe Detroiter is [on the cusp of a] greater comeback story in the nation’s history. You have to remember how far we feel and where we were at and where we’re poised to go. I’m optimistic [about that future].”
For more information, visit www.detroitmi.gov/ace and detroitblightbusters.org/.