What’s Detroit Without Its Alleys? A City Without Community.  

John George, president of Blight Busters in Detroit, third from left, and his wife, Alicia George, second from left, are helping lead many projects behind the Arts Alleys project alongside key players who are dedicated to improving District 8.    


Detroit’s hidden gems are right in plain sight. Alleys that crisscross 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 two.  


There’s something remarkable about the 17000 block of Lahser Road.  

From the old-fashioned Lahser Shoe Repair Shop holding up one end of the corner to the Redford Theatre practically holding up the other end of the corner – there are many nostalgic, yet still purposeful landmarks on that street in the northwest side of Detroit in the Old Redford Community.  

Also situated along that strip is the ever-popular Motor City Java House, founded by Alicia George, and Artist Village Detroit, founded by volunteers and several area partners who brought to life the near-extinct facility saved through the Detroit Blight Busters, a non-profit organization that rescues abandoned buildings and turns them into useful habitats for residents.  

Detroit Blight Busters meets every Saturday at Java House and has since 1988 under the leadership of John George, president of Blight Busters in Detroit.  

Over the past 15 years, Blight Busters has invested over $300,000 in facility improvements. Today it is located nearby in a 6,000-square-foot entertainment and shopping complex with five commercial tenants, three residential tenants and two 750-square-foot office spaces.  

Through the known, consistent work George and a host of others have done to help improve the city home by home and block by block, the City of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Detroit ACE recently announced major plans to activate neighborhood Arts Alleys around the city – starting with the alley behind Lahser Road.   

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 property maintenance 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, is funded with $3 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) approved by Detroit City Council. The Arts Alleys 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.    


A colorful example of what an alley in Detroit may look like after Arts Alleys activation.    


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:    

  • Jefferson Chalmers    
  • Old Redford    
  • Schulze    
  • NW Goldberg    
  • Springwells     

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.  

George told the Michigan Chronicle that his organization which creates safe, inhabitable spaces in Detroit is glad to be a pilot neighborhood in the Artists Village community center (at 17336 Lahser Road in Detroit), to reap tangible rewards 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 Blight 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 Detroit 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].”  

In late August, the Michigan Chronicle met up with George and talked about the community up close and personal, which is clearly his heartbeat. During a walking tour interview, George discussed the passion behind his and others’ work and without missing a step he began picking up trash and litter along the way, ever thoughtful about how his neighborhood should look.  

 George and his team of just as dedicated people have helped transform their alleys and neighborhoods that were not stabilized, but through Blight Busters, buildings like the now well-known Obama Building and others came to life.  

“Blight Busters’ role in all of this is to stabilize and clean up the community,” George said. “When you come into a neighborhood if you got broken windows and trash everywhere people are just going to keep driving.”  

George’s wife, Alicia George, founder of the Java House, told the Michigan Chronicle that the ARPA project for the alleys is the “right thing.”  

“I feel like we have progressed and evolved to this point. You know, we’ve been around for a long time. Trying to hold everything down in every way possible. So, it is always helpful when the city, the state, and the neighbors and other businesses … join in with you and see the vision that you have for your neighborhood.”  

And what a vision.  

On that particular day the bright, sunny weather matched the buoyant and bubbly energy felt by all around in that Northwest corner of Detroit where residents looked out for each other and their city.  

Local artist Chazz Miller is one of those residents who has helped turn his city upside down with a paintbrush and a heart for his own. Miller is responsible for the many colorful murals (including on the Obama building) that express his heart that beats for Detroit.  

On that day he was found painting a sunflower patch behind Artist Village.  

“My passion just comes from being an artist and a person who wants to make a difference and just using the tools that I have,” he said.  

Suheil Kashou is also another brilliant character helping bring the vision together and is the “sole” of the neighborhood as the longtime owner of the Lahser Shoe Repair Shop.  

He told the Michigan Chronicle that he is a proud business owner thankful for the opportunity to work and make a difference in how and what he does.  

 “I hope and I pray that we could all do something and give back to this community,” he said. “It is good to give back to this. The place that we love, really.”  

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.”    


For more information, visit detroitmi.gov/ace and detroitblightbusters.org/.   








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