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Midtown Detroit Neighborhood Placemaking

By Rene Rosencrantz Wheaton

Location: Detroit Michigan
Population: 713,777

Comerica Park, the Spirit of Detroit, and the Ren Cen—Detroit has its share of easily indentified landmarks, but what of its neighborhoods? Do they get recognized?

People are starting to take notice of Midtown Detroit. Years of work to revitalize and brand the area has started to pay dividends.

“In the early 1990s the neighborhood really started redeveloping,” said Susan Mosey, president of Midtown Detroit, Inc. “There was more housing and more institutional investments taking place but no one had a good sense of the district’s identity.”


In 2000, efforts began in earnest to give the area of Detroit, which has such prominent residents as the Detroit Medical Center (DMC), Wayne State University and the Detroit Art Institute, a name.

Getting those institutions, along with other area stakeholders, on board with the Midtown moniker was an important step in the process. “Early on we basically had no budget, but it was important to get all those different elements on board,” Mosey said. “People from the big anchor institutions to the small entrepreneurs all played a part.”

Branding Midtown
The branding has gotten much more sophisticated since those early days and now includes a new logo that captures the spirit of the Midtown. Strategic marketing and communications efforts are now being made to increase traffic, revenue flow, promote the area, and increase development and investment to the area by increasing Midtown’s geographic profile.

Some of the area’s assets are pretty easy to recognize—higher education, cutting-edge medicine and the arts—but others can be fleshed out more for the public through the branding campaign.

Being in Midtown Detroit puts you within walking distance of 10 theaters, 9 museums, over 40 restaurants, 12 galleries, and boutique shopping.

wayne state university
The UCCA has over 60 members representing the area’s academic, cultural, medical and service institutions, corporations, businesses, and community organizations. UCCA committees are responsible for the completion and/or operation of over 30 programs and projects in the Midtown district.

Building a Web Presence
Mosey said Midtown Detroit, Inc. will soon be launching a new website, complete with mobile apps, that will help highlight the growing list of assets—Henry Ford Health Center, Tech Town, and New Center Council—the area has to offer.

There continues to be a lot of players in the Midtown Detroit revitalization efforts. In fact, Midtown Detroit, Inc., which was preceded by the University Cultural Center Association, is comprised of more than 100 stakeholders. The budget has gotten larger since those early days too, with more than $1.8 billion in investments in the area since 2000.

Midtown Loop Greenway
One of the big investments has been the creation of Midtown Loop Greenway, a greenway trail that will follow existing street patterns along Kirby Street, John R. Street, Canfield Street and Cass Avenue, and connect the campuses of Wayne State and the Detroit Medical Center.

“It’s an ambitious project with plans for 1.8 miles worth of trails and LED pedestrian lighting, native plantings, seating, public art, and dog stations,” Mosey said.

The first phase of the Green Loop, near the Detroit Art Institute, has been completed, and work on the second phase will incorporate the area near the new Whole Foods Market, at John R and Mack. Plans are to have Whole Foods Market open in the spring of 2013.

The project fits in with the sustainability efforts that have been taking place in Midtown and with the efforts to make the community more walkable.

Green Alley
Another project that fits with those ideals is the Green Alley, which was a project created in partnership with Green Garage, a nonprofit organization that is focused on building skills, jobs, services, and products with green goals. The project took one of the district’s worst segments of alley and turned it into a greenway for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“It is a demonstration project that uses sustainable products like old brick pavers and induction lighting,” Mosey said. “It’s a prototype for what we want to do with other alleys in our neighborhoods.”

The area has been attracting a young demographic that expects to have walkability and alternative modes of transportation.

“Making the area usable for pedestrians and bikers is a key fundamental in attracting people to the corridor,” Mosey said. “So far, people have been responding to the work that has been done. I’ve definitely noticed more pedestrian traffic.”

Live Midtown
As if that wasn’t enough, the Midtown area also has an incen-tive program called Live Midtown, which offers financial funds to people who choose to live in the Midtown area and who work at the DMC, Henry Ford Health System, or Wayne State. While Midtown Detroit has a wealth of assets, Mosey admits it has its fair share of difficulties, including crime, both real and perceived, to overcome. “We have a lot of security efforts in place,” said Mosey. “We are lucky enough to have the Wayne State police force within two minutes of anywhere in Midtown.”

Midtown Detroit, Inc. also has grant programs that will provide businesses with security upgrades like cameras, lighting, and alarm systems.

“Wayne State police will also come and do an audit of a business’s security needs,” she said.

Government grants and institutional investments have been invaluable to the Midtown area, but the people of the community has been the lifeblood of the revitalization efforts.
“We’ve had a tremendous response from people,” Mosey said. “There’s a lot of diversity here. There are newcomers that want to create connections to help with the rebuilding of Detroit, and there are people who have been here a long time that are welcoming the opportunity to get involved. It’s really great to have an engaged community that cares about
what’s happening.”

For more information on Midtown Detroit, Inc.’s many initiatives, visit their website at For more on the Live Midtown program visit

Rene Rosencrantz Wheaton is a freelance writer. You may contact her at 810-444-3827.

Want more?
Read “Detroit: The Democratic City,” by Phillip Cooley, from the League placemaking book. Cooley is a part owner of Slows Bar B Q and a General Contractor with O’Connor Development. He serves on the board of Greening of Detroit, Roosevelt Park Conservancy, Center for Community Based Enterprise, and co-chairs the Mayor’s Advisory Task Force for the DetroitWorks project.



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