Detroit's east riverfront will not, after all, become the near-exclusive domain of high-end condominium and apartment dwellers.
In a bold, new, and more democratic vision unveiled Wednesday evening, city planners showed off a blueprint to create three zones of public parkland on the riverfront where once private development had been scheduled to rise.
And that's just a start. The city also plans to create two new Dequindre Cut-style greenways down to the riverfront from the neighborhoods north of Jefferson Avenue to ease public access to the waterfront. Jefferson Avenue itself will undergo a redesign to make it more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. And there's even a new sand-filled Atwater Beach planned near the Milliken State Park and Harbor.
The vision reverses a long-held presumption that the riverfront running east from the Renaissance Center would fill up with pricey residences and shops to boost the city's population and tax base. Instead, this new vision boldly accepts that the value of public access to the riverfront outweighs the value of a few more condos and shops.
“The riverfront belongs to all Detroiters,” Maurice Cox, director of the City of Detroit Planning & Development Department, said of the new vision. “Thanks to the involvement of hundreds of residents, we have principles that frame an international riverfront that can be accessed and enjoyed by all.”
Cox and other business and civic leaders unveiled the plans at a public meeting at the Department of Natural Resources' Outdoor Adventure Center on Atwater Street on the east riverfront. The new vision has been in the works for more than a year and shaped in meetings with residents.
Will this new vision actually happen? That depends on all the usual variables of money and political will. But certainly, with the city solidly behind it, the vision appears more likely than not to become reality.
The boundaries of the East Riverfront district are St. Antoine to the west, East Grand Boulevard to the east, Larned Street to the north and the Detroit River to the south.
Three sites south of Atwater Street – which had been slated for private development – will become public park space instead. This will add nearly 8 acres of additional park space to the district.
The planned Jos. Campau Greenway, which runs from Vernor down to the river, will receive new lighting, furnishings, paving and landscaping. The Beltline Greenway, to be located between Belleview and Beaufait, will connect from Kercheval to the Detroit River. Along with the Dequindre Cut, these greenways will connect the riverfront for thousands of residents living throughout several east-side neighborhoods.
Among the first steps toward implementation: The Jefferson Avenue improvements will begin this year from Rivard to East Grand Boulevard. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy also will break ground on an extension of the RiverWalk from Mt. Elliott Park to the Belle Isle Bridge along the former Uniroyal site. The RiverWalk extension will also connect to Gabriel Richard Park.
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