Bankruptcy and Southwest Detroit: What’s the conversation in the neighborhoods?

Bankruptcy and Southwest Detroit: What’s the conversation in the neighborhoods?

As part of our ongoing bankruptcy coverage at NextChapterDetroit.com, WDET is hosting a series of community meetings around the city. They’re sessions where we can answer residents’ questions about the bankruptcy and about how the city can restructure going forward. We also like to hear from the residents about issues in their particular neighborhoods and what they’d like to tell city leaders about getting problems solved.

Our next meeting is Wednesday, June 25 – from 6 to 8 p.m., at Urban Neighborhoods Initiatives’ All Saints Community Center. That’s at 8300 Longworth in southwest Detroit. U-N-I along with Congress of Communities is our hosting partner for this meeting.

WDET’s Sandra Svoboda spoke with Dennis Nordmoe. He’s the executive director of Urban Neighborhood Initiatives, also known as U-N-I. Here’s that interview. It also aired on The Craig Fahle Show.

And here’s the transcript of it:

Sandra Svoboda: For people who aren’t familiar with U-N-I, tell me about your group.

Dennis Nordmoe: Urban Neighborhood Initiatives started back in 1997 as a way of exploring how we could develop neighborhoods, urban neighborhoods, in a very comprehensive way, to just bring out all the positives and make them the kind of neighborhoods that people want to stay in, neighborhoods where they would think of them as positive places to live, work and play and attractive places to invest further as they prosper rather than to leave as soon as they can afford to go somewhere else.

SS: A lot of people listening probably know about southwest Detroit in terms of Mexicantown, the busy west Vernor area, maybe Clark Park. You’re located a little outside of that, what’s it like in the neighborhood area that UNI is located in?

DN: We’re located about a mile and a half west of Mexican town. It’s a very densely populated, working class neighborhood, nice bungalows and smaller homes, dating from the 10s and 20s of the last century. One of the extraordinary things about it is it has its own little downtown and really functions in many ways like a little village or a small town rather than as a part of mass society, kind of metropolitan experience. SS: What are some of the particular challenges to your area in light of what’s happened in the city of Detroit and the bankruptcy?

DN: Of course we went through some loss of population as the housing crisis emerged but I would say the most troubling thing has been just the decline over the years, and it goes back many years of intensive police activity that roots out the low level kind of crime that kind of eats away at things. We don’t have the serious crimes that people read about in the papers and hear about on television but when you come out to your car and you see broken glass in the street, you know this is not a good thing. We understand that the police have to be active in the parts of the community where there is very serious crimes but they can’t just put us on the back burner until they get everything else in order in the rest of the city. We’re beginning to see more police activity now. We’re very hopeful about where we’re going.

SS: We’re coming out as part of WDET’s Next Chapter Detroit and WDET community meetings this week. We’ll be out there at your All Saint’s Neighborhood Center. What else do you think we’ll hear from residents in addition to the problem you just described?

DN: Well, I know that everybody is concerned about education. We have actually some of the better schools in the city but people will still be concerned about that and express their issues. Young people want jobs. We do a fairly good job of helping young people get jobs through our programs but that’s an issue. Parents want activities for their children and that’s actually an area where we probably rank pretty well citywide but still it’s a concern. Transportation here is poor in terms of connecting to the rest of the city. If we for example had a bus route on West Vernor that would be active every 20 minutes instead of once and hour that would connect people to the downtown hub of transportation, that would be a huge issue. Frankly though there’s a part of the population that has been here for along time but hasn’t done so well economically and they’re struggling with very practical issues like how to get a new roof. How to get a furnace that just doesn’t devour what little income they have.

SS: As the city moves forward and restructures coming out of bankruptcy, what kinds of things do you think the administration should focus on, particularly for your neighborhood there around Urban Neighborhood Initiatives?

DN: The city is apparently making a commitment to do a lot more clean up of derelict properties including a major abandoned school. That’s a very hopeful thing for our area. And also they’re beginning to make the inspections that apparently they were supposed to be making all along that can really improve the quality of the environment that we see in rental homes and commercial properties in this area.

SS: My final question, we’re looking from questions from the community that people have about bankruptcy. Are you hearing those? What do you think we might hear in that regard?

DN: I’m not hearing a lot of questions about that. They’re concerned about whether things are going to get better and they’re pleased with the improvements that they recently witnesses both in police activity and in the handling of the garbage collection and bulk trash pick up. These are really hopeful things that are coming out.